Best known as the lead vocalist for legendary punk-reggae quartet Bad
Brains, H.R. performs with his reggae band Dubb Agents Saturday, Aug.
25 at the four-day Vermont Roots Reggae Festival in West Charleston.
The Vermont Roots Reggae Festival starts Thursday (4 to 10 p.m.) and
ends Sunday, Aug. 26 (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at the Dane Hill Farm in West
Charleston (Friday and Saturday are both 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.). Weekend
passes, which cost $80-$120 (discounts for students and advance
purchase), can be purchased in person at Pure Pop Records in
Burlington and the Paramount Theatre Regional Box Office in Rutland,
by calling (802) 775-0903, or by going online to
www.paramountlive.org. $30 single-day tickets available at the gate.
Age 15 and under are free. For further information and directions, go
online to www.vermontroots.org.
Four major headliners gone from the lineup. A different location. Just
what, exactly, is going on with the Vermont Roots Reggae Festival,
billed as “four days of love, camping, and music” in Vermont’s
Not to worry, says festival marketing director Rita Brown, of Warren.
“It’s strong,” she assures. “We’ve got an amazing, amazing lineup.”
So, what happened to big-name headliners like Lee “Scratch” Perry,
Half Pint, John Brown’s Body and the Refugee Allstars of Sierra Leone,
all of which were initially scheduled to perform at the festival?
Blame it on financial difficulties due to a lack of advance ticket
sales and uncertainties about the festival location, among other
things, says Brown.
“We’ve added more bands than we’ve dropped,” she says.
The biggest addition is arguably H.R., best known as the enigmatic
vocalist for legendary punk-reggae band Bad Brains, who will be
performing with his reggae band Dubb Agents.
Other headliners include a rare performance by Bob Marley’s
half-brother Richie Marley Booker, Miami DJ-turned-singer-songwriter
Kevens, the all-sibling roots group Morgan Heritage and ska-jazz
legends the Skatalites.
Other notables, says Brown, include Eric Smith, who she describes as a
“big, Jamaican upcoming star,” and Ricky Brown, the son of the late
great reggae singer Dennis Brown, who was reportedly Bob Marley’s
Joining the 45 or so bands will be “an all-star cast” of Vermont bands
like Lambsbread and the Samples, says Brown, including many bluegrass
and folk groups such as the Bluegrass Gospel Project, Cold Country
Bluegrass, Bob Degree & the Bluegrass Storm, Avi & Celia, the Jugtown
Pirates of Lake Champlain and soulful up-and-coming singer Myra Flynn.
The bluegrass and folk bands will perform during the first part of
each day’s performance, with reggae acts following.
“It’s going to be a nice format,” says Brown.
So, what about the change of location from the Hillcrest Farm in
Coventry – not far from the site of Phish’s mud-drenched swan song in
2004 – to the nearby Dane Hill Farm in West Charleston?
Blame it on Phish, says Brown.
“We changed the site because the ordinances in Coventry are just too
strict after Phish,” she says. “Even though our festival is no-alcohol
and we’re trying to make it real family oriented, we just decided to
move it to a great spot.”
“The switch was the most positive, wonderful thing that happened to
the festival,” she adds.
It’s not officially affiliated with the Vermont Reggae Festival, which
was started in 1986 by Bobby Hackney of the Vermont group Lambsbread
and went on to become one of the longest-running reggae festivals in
the country prior to its final show in 2002. The Vermont Roots Reggae
Festival will be making its third appearance in the Northeast Kingdom
after smaller-scale shows in 2005 and 2006.
Founded by Mike Lee, a volunteer at the first Vermont Reggae Festival
in Burlington, the Vermont Roots Reggae Festival set its sights high
for this year’s fest with a four-day format and many big-name headliners.
Adding to the confusion was the Vermont International Reggae Music
Festival, which was scheduled to take place the weekend of Aug. 11 and
12 – the same weekend of the previous two Vermont Roots Reggae
Festivals — in Rutland but has since been cancelled (next year’s VRRF
will return to its original weekend starting with next year’s fest,
Following the cancellation of the VIRMF, Brown – who is the founder of
the annual Mad River Music Festival in addition to working as a
wedding planner – was asked to help out the VRRF.
“I’m helping where I can to make it an organized, wonderful fest for
everybody,” she says. “I’m very happy to be able to support reggae
music in Vermont.”
“Vermont and reggae music are a beautiful thing,” she adds. “I’ve been
here 20 years and I’ve always looked forward to reggae in this state.
They’ve been a nice combination since I can remember.”
Here’s a closer look at three of this year’s headliners:
Friday, Aug. 24: The Skatalites — A venerable collective of topnotch
musicians who helped define the ska sound in the 1950s and ’60s, the
Skatalites infuse their infectious music with jazz and R&B
sensibilities. Though only two original members – drummer Lloyd Knibb
and vocalist Doreen Shaffer – remain in the group, the ambassadors of
the island sound are as vital as ever thanks to constant touring and
solid CDs in recent years.
Saturday, Aug. 25: H.R. & Dubb Agents – Best known as the lead
vocalist for legendary punk-reggae quartet Bad Brains – currently
garnering rave reviews for its recently released CD, “Build a Nation”
– H.R. (short for “Human Rights”) makes mellower and more mystic music
with his reggae group.
Sunday, Aug. 26: Morgan Heritage – Consisting of five offspring of
reggae vocal great Denroy Morgan, Morgan Heritage “have become
standard bearers for roots reggae,” according to the All Music Guide,
since forming over 15 years ago. The Brooklyn and Jamaica based group,
known for its fusion of traditional reggae with everything from rock
and R&B to hip-hop and dancehall, will preview tunes from its
forthcoming album, “Mission in Progress,” scheduled for release this
-By Tom Huntington, Arts Correspondent