Summerstage Reggae reimagines Synergy’s Reggae Sunsplash

Burning Spear at Central Park.
Burning Spear at Central Park.
Photo by Vinette K. Pryce

Central Park Summerstage Concert Series 2022 executed an unintentional feat in booking a superlative lineup of reggae artists that represented a myriad of talents who performed and toured on the Synergy produced Reggae Sunsplash, which launched the first international reggae festival in the world 45 years ago.

The music presenters acclaimed for staging the largest outdoor summer concert series in the nation managed to deliver marathon performances by veteran artists who have all performed on the reputed Jamaica-based showcase.

Featuring Shinehead, Wayne Wonder, Lady G., Maxi Priest, The Wailers, UB40, Burning Spear, Sister Carol, Big Mountain, Red Fox, the lineup provided raving approval from reggaefarians grateful for the bountiful, August sessions in NYC.

“It’s like being at Jarrett Park back in the day,” a devout patron said.

Dressed in the red, green and gold colors associated with the genre, she added “I have seen people I haven’t seen in decades.”

There inside the Rumsey Playfield, the atmosphere was not unlike the scenario four innovative trailblazers created when they formed Synergy Productions to deliver a marathon treat of the bass-heavy beat.

Don Green, Tony Johnson, Ronnie Burke and John Wakeling blazed the trail at Jarrett Park, Montego Bay in 1977 headlining Jimmy Cliff for a premiere outing June 23-30, the following year.

In addition to annual, reggae concerts in Jamaica, Synergy launched a Reggae Sunsplash World Tour. The road version included a UK Sunsplash which featured Priest in ’85, a US Sunsplash in 1995 with lyrically potent Sister Carol at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles and Berkeley, California and Red Fox upped his cred by joining seven acts to rock the riddim at Poplar Creek, Chicago in 1994.

Twelve-time Grammy nominee Burning Spear gave an incomparable performance in 1982 delivering lively cultural chantings which he reprised at age 77 with the same vim and vigor he performed earlier in the month at Rototom Sunsplash in Benicassim, Spain.

His renditions of “Do You Remember The Days of Slavery,” “Marcus Garvey,” and “Ole Marcus,” excited patrons but his footloose exhibitions seemed the frenzied catalyst many mostly reacted.

Backed by his Burning Band, a trio of brass messengers punctuated each one drop with precision.

Sister Carol at Central Park.
Sister Carol at Central Park. Photo by Vinette K. Pryce

On that same bill, Carol East aka Sister Carol offered opening treats that marveled fans who had not seen her onstage in quite a while.

A staple at West Coast festivals, the Denham Town native performed at Reggae Sunsplash in 1987 but seemed more at ease delivering culturally empowering lyrics at Summerstage.

Popularly known as the Black Cinderella and Mother Culture she did not disappoint. Segueing from a recording she collaborated with Marcia Griffiths to close her segment deejaying a tune from her featured role in the movie “Wild Thing,” the veteran entertainer confidently commanded the stage edu-taining throughout her set.

Sister Carol is an accredited teacher, deejay, Grammy nominee and actress. Her feature role in the films “Married To The Mob” and “Rachel Getting Married” and her songs were integral in the film “Ricki and the Flash” in 2015.

When she is not on the West Coast, billed at Reggae On The River she spends her time as a transient commuter between New York and Jamaica. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic her philanthropic contributions to disfranchised neighbors eased the needs of residents in rural Jamaica.

Curiosity seekers were anxious to see UB40, the Bigga Baggariddim Tour headliners. Slated for the Manhattan summer fest, the British reggae ambassadors appeared minus toaster Terence “Astro” Wilson who died last year. The beloved rapper, Ali Campbell, Brian Travers, Michael Virtue performed in St. Ann, Jamaica in 2006 when the group debuted there with Robin Campbell, James Brown, Earl Falconer and Norman Hassan. However, since Campbell’s departure, Matt Doyle’s voice has replaced the distinctive sound unique to the group. Fortunately, the new lead singer ably filled the void demonstrating superlative and similar excellence as the original band that performed at Roseland, Madison Square Garden throughout the years and on Reggae Sunsplash tours.

They reprised their South African call to end apartheid — “Sing Our Own Song” — and when the horns sounded introductions to “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” “Red Red Wine,” and “Cherry Oh Baby” it was evident that the group had retained their initial appeal. Fans cheered for an encore hoping to hear another favorite — their only regret was that the song sheet did not include “Rat In The Kitchen.”

Wonder received special acknowledgement after his renditions of “I Love You In Ev’ry Way” and “No Letting Go.” His inimitable performance reminisced an appearance on Reggae Sunsplash with Buju Banton in 1992.

And Spanish Town native Lady G can rest assured she has retained the reputation she gained when she performed “Nuff Respect” at Reggae Sunsplash in 1988. As for the “Jamaican In New York” hip-hop deejay who scaled speakers and barricades to mingle with fans in 1991, Central Park seemed a homecoming he reveled.

Unlike Jamaica’s cleanup crew, Summerstage maintenance attendants did not have to contend with removing card board beds from the Rumsey Playfied venue. Hours after refreshing the field following the burning concert, they toiled fastidiously to restore television broadcast quality expected by national Good Morning American viewers who woke up to reggaeton from the venue.

Puerto Rican and Dominican Oxuma delivered Latin reggae and a vibe reggaefarians of all stripes appreciated.

 Catch You On The Inside!

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