When you listen to reggae music, you’ll find that your spirits are immediately uplifted. The music’s positive lyrics, rhythmic beats and bass-heavy sounds contribute to its relaxing quality. If you want to experience some of this feel-good, danceable music, head to the fifth annual Wendell Reggae Fest on Saturday, July 15, at Deja Brew Cafe & Pub at 57 Lockes Village Road. This family-friendly event will run from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and includes eight reggae acts from throughout the Northeast, as well as vendors, food and beverages.
Rhythm Inc., a reggae/hip-hop band based in Wendell and led by Simon White, hosts the Wendell Reggae Fest. White, a lifelong resident of Wendell, started the festival in 2017. The event went on a hiatus in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, but last year returned stronger than ever and drew a crowd of about 250. Wendell is a natural spot for the festival as it’s long been the home of many area reggae bands, including one of the area’s first and best-known bands, Loose Caboose.
When White started the festival, did he envision it becoming a yearly event?
“Absolutely not,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “When I first started, I thought it was just going to be a backyard party, and I still try to look at it like that, but it’s definitely a little mini-day festival, and everybody really loves it.”
White recently spent a couple of months in Kingston, Jamaica, recording his next album, working hard to ensure that this year’s festival lives up to audience expectations and is as successful as previous years. He’s doing this by bringing in some of the area’s favorite reggae musicians and touring artists from other parts of New England. He also has Western Mass Organic Garden Supply of Greenfield on board as a sponsor, which will help run the event.
The Leverett based band, ReBelle, is an intergenerational and intercultural band from Africa and America founded by Kalpana Devi and Emmanuel Manou. The couple started making music together in 1994 and have grown to become a much-loved band on the local scene. ReBelle’s blend of pulsating rhythms, tight harmonies, and inspiring lyrics have helped it to connect with audiences all over the globe, using music to promote social justice and peace. “Guided by Jah and inspired by the love of the Universe” is the guiding motto behind the band’s uplifting music.
Ianisoultree and the Soulrizer Crew from Springfield are another local band who will bring high-energy grooves to the Fest.
The group, led by vocalist/songwriter Ian I, who many of you may know from his work with the Alchemystics, plays a brand of reggae rooted in the modern roots sound developed in the 90s in New York City and the Caribbean. The band released an EP last month, “Soul2Sound,” which is available on all streaming platforms.
“This is our second year at the Wendell Reggae Fest. We had a great set last year and were invited back to close out the show in 2023. The vibe in Wendell is a unique one, many free spirits that have shown love for reggae many years,” wrote Ian I in a recent email. “Our band provides an array of high-energy material from rockers and reggae, to dancehall and modern Afrobeat, and features a Wendell-based dancer from Senegal, AbdouSarr.”
“I’m excited to have Ianisoultree, as they were great last year, and ReBelle, as they have been performing in the area forever,” said White.
Some other returning favorites included in the lineup will are Burnie T, a reggae drummer from Hartford who is originally from Dominica and who will be playing with a full band. Prince Negasi, a native of Jamaica, is also part of the Hartford reggae scene and, according to White, will deliver a DJ-styled set. Shanti Starr, an artist from Gambia who now lives in Wendell, has traveled the globe as a vocalist, composer, percussionist, writer and teacher, and will also perform. DJ Vibe Wise and DJ Live will also be on hand to keep the grooves going.
Adam Zucker of Easthampton is looking forward to bringing his band, Adam S.Z & Friends, to the fest.
“I’m excited as I used to play in Wendell at Deja Brew every month as a member of the Equalites where we did the first Friday every month for many years,” he wrote in a recent email. “I took some time off after my son was born. I’m back at it now, I have a band that performs my originals and choice covers.”
Of course, White’s own band, Rhythm Inc., will also be on hand to treat the crowd to one of their high-energy sets. The band’s most recent release, “Wishing Tree,” came out last spring. White hopes to have the music he recently recorded in Jamaica available soon.
You can see there is a lot of music is happening in Wendell this Saturday, so take advantage of it.
Advance tickets are $17 and are available at the Wendell Country Store. At the gate, tickets are $20. Kids 12 and under are free. Gates open at 2 p.m.
During the 1990s, a jam band explosion occurred here in the Northeast. Burlington was especially a hot spot, spurred on in part by the success of Phish. One of the bands that came out at that time was Strangefolk, an acoustic-driven folk-rock band that started as a duo fronted by two University of Vermont students, Jon Trafton and Reid Genauer.
The band toured heavily and released four albums; Genauer’s sweeping hooks and emotive delivery defined the band’s sound. He split with the band in 2000 and formed Assembly of Dust, a band that included some musicians he knew from his Strangefolk days and whose influences include Steely Dan, The Band, J.J. Cale and Little Feat. He’s released five albums with the band. Genauer has also worked as a storyteller, children’s book author and recorded as Reid Genauer and Friends.
He hasn’t done much with folk-rockers Assembly of Dust in recent years, but they are currently back together and doing a handful of shows. One of these shows will be at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls tomorrow at 8 p.m. Please note that this show was originally scheduled for July 15, but was moved to July 14.
Tickets are $22 in advance and $28 day of show. Advance tickets and more information available at sheatheater.org. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Sheryl Hunter is a freelance writer who resides in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national publications. She can be reached at Soundslocal@yahoo.com.