Roots, Rock, Reggae, with Ozomatli, Bunny Wailer, Stephen Marley, and Ziggy Marley. At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Friday, August 11.
Reviewed by Ethan Stewart
When one day faced with the question, “Where were you when World War III broke out?,” I will smile and flash back to last Friday night at the Bowl, my mind flooded with the sounds of sweet reggae music. That’s when the crest of Milpas Street became a much-needed womb of positive vibrations for five beautiful hours as two of Bob Marley’s sons — Stephen and Ziggy — and his former bandmate Bunny Wailer took to the stage as part of the Roots, Rock, Reggae Tour.
With opener Jon Nicholson lost to traffic, Los Angeles’s Ozomatli kicked things off with their Latin-infused, hip-hop, shake-your-ass-and-feel-good music. No strangers to S.B., the 10-piece Ozo crew rewarded those who showed up on time with an uninhibited exercise in fun that culminated in a marching band parade out into the beer courtyard. Next up was Bunny, who — draped in a massive red, gold, and green scarf — dropped a serious dose of dancehall history lessons with such classics as “Don Dadda” and “Ballroom Floor.” Bunny then went on to cover Peter Tosh’s “I’m the Toughest” and a medley of Wailers’ hits, such as “Simmer Down” and “Mellow Mood.”
Then Stephen Marley brought the audience to its feet for more than an hour with his own tunes and his father’s timeless numbers. As the air filled with ganja smoke and Bunny skanked it up on the side of the stage, Stephen — decked out in denim from head to toe and with his flowing dreadlocks — sounded and looked hauntingly similar to Bob Marley during his 1979 Bowl performance. As such, Stephen’s take on his dad’s “Buffalo Soldier” and “Could You Be Loved” resulted in something like church for the crowd. Ziggy closed the evening with a rock-influenced set, staking new territory for the Melody Makers’ former frontman. At worst it sounded like Lenny Kravitz goes to Jamaica, but at its best it was powerful and moving music.
Having witnessed this tour’s kickoff at Reggae on the River the week before, I can report that the Bowl got the better performance, especially because everyone got to go home last week chanting, “Get up, stand up! Stand up for your right!” That was the encore sung together by Bunny, Ziggy, and Stephen, giving this generation the closest thing it will ever have to seeing and feeling Bob Marley live. And what better time to remember that timeless cry to arms.