MONTEGO BAY — Bob Marley would have approved.
As the sun rose bright and cheerful on Montego Bay's Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex Sunday morning, reggae godfather Bunny Wailer, last surviving member of the legendary Wailers, closed the 20th-anniversary staging of Jamaica's Reggae Sumfest, billed as the biggest show of its kind on earth.
White-bearded and dreadlocked, the 65-year-old music legend's fiery set ended three nights of marathon, 9-hour concerts that saw a stunning 47 acts perform from a massive outdoor stage for more than 20,000 locals and a smattering of tourists.
With huge speakers booming out over this North Coast tourist mecca from about 9 p.m to past 6 a.m. each night, Sumfest kicked off the final countdown to Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence on August 6.
With a theme of "Looking Back, Looking Forward", the 20th staging of the annual three-day event saw a who’s who of reggae and dancehall legends share Sumfest’s light-festooned, 64-by-48-foot stage with American stars and up-and-coming local performers.
Long-time fan favourite Beenie Man wrapped Thursday's rough-and raunchy Dancehall Night opener after household names like Elephant Man and Bounty Killer performed alongside current dancehall faves such as Tommy Lee, Konshens, Romain Virgo, Kip Rich and Popcaan.
Grammy-winner Lady Saw was crowned Dancehall Queen after a bawdy, crotch-clutching sample of her hits, with similarly explicit performances by female cohorts Spice, Tifa, Baby Tash and Stacious.
Reggae great Shabba Ranks, a two-time Grammy winner who has not performed in Jamaica since 2001, brought down the house Friday night with his first Sumfest appearance since 1994. While hot U.S. R&B crooner Trey Songz had thousands of panting women patrons in the palm of his hand, that night's reggae tribute lineup included John Holt, Yellowman, Leroy Sibbles, The Mighty Diamonds, Derrick Harriott, Leroy Smart, Frankie Paul and Pinchers.
R&B Grammy-winner R. Kelly, arriving with a police escort, headlined the closing-night show, offering almost 90 minutes of his hits and newer material. But it was Wailer and Damian 'Junior Gong' Marley, son of reggae godfather Bob Marley, who brought a thumping, old-school beat back to the roaring crowd.
Sumfest 2012 also showcased Jamaican food and art in a year when tens of thousands of ex-pats from the Jamaican "diaspora" in Canada, the U.S. and Britain are expected to return home to celebrate the island’s half-century of nationhood.
The show followed dozens of national and local Jamaica 50 celebrations across the island’s 14 parishes. Still to come are the World Reggae Dance Championship on Aug. 4, the Ocho Rios Seafood Festival on Aug. 5 and the Independence Grand Gala at Kingston’s National Stadium on Aug. 6.
The official events calendar can be found at http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/ . Toronto’s large Jamaican community is also hosting a series of independence events, with a schedule at jamaica50.ca