by Grace Vanriel Queens NY, December 5, 2015…..Billed as a pre-Christmas holiday event and hosted at the spacious Queens NY venue Amazura Concert Hall, the first ever A Night of Celebrating Life concert promised ticket holders “a diverse range of incredible musical talent that will deliver sweet melody and great performances.” With that said, the producers but together a high-quality, attractive and appealing lineup for lovers of classic Reggae music catering to a sophisticated audience. In fact, the only disappointment was the absence of Frankie Paul whom for whatever reasons did not make it to the stage for the evening’s presentation. However, the audience got past the loss with few grumbles because the rest of the lineup remained in place “as advertised,” and each artist shared their own unique expressions of excellence.
Perhaps best known for his song “Bun & Cheese” Robert Ffrench (sometimes spelled “French”) opened the evening with a great performance and selections that made him a great choice to jumpstart the audience in preparation for an evening of conscious music. With steady energy and excellent lyrics, he did a marvelous job so much so we investigated his work further finding out that he actually has a slew of great songs like “Rough and Tough,” “Mother-In-Law,” and “Youth Man,” to name only a few.
Little John originally received a major boost in Reggae as a member of the Sugar Minott’s Youthman Promotion and gave the audience a rousing set including songs like “River Jordan. ” However, before he was done he lead the audience to an unexpected moment by bringing to the stage Roots & Culture surprise guest artist Yami Bolo (who is another shining example of a Sugar Minott protege). In tandem they performed a heartfelt tribute to the late great Sugar Minott who during his lifetime was well loved and respected in NY and the world over. It was indeed a fitting tribute felt strongly by all in attendance.
While it was a quick touch the mic performance for the beautiful Kerryann Gibson, she was definitely on-hand and greeted the audience warmly before giving attendees two interesting songs before exiting the stage. Prior to the concert we admit to being unfamiliar with her music which is billed as a combination of Reggae/Pop/Soul. Assuming that the concert would provide the perfect opportunity to get to know a bit more about her through the musical selections, the plain and simple truth is that we didn’t hear enough to learn much of anything. On the surface Kerryann Gibson appears to be a promising singer leaving us to say in earnest that we hope to have another opportunity to hear more from her sometime in the near future.
Oozing style and grace, Lady G, came to lyrically kill the audience and that’s exactly what she did – it was a wake-up call that reminded everyone in attendance that while she tours extensively, we just don’t get nearly enough opportunities to catch her live on the NY Reggae scene. Lady G is a unique performer who is neither flat out raunchy or angelically inclined and remaining on that line, she straddles it to perfection. At the evening’s concert her energetic perfectly timed quick and edgy lyrics elicited just the right audience response and it garnered her overwhelming commands for an encore. Ready, willing and able she came right back out with her song with its double intended meaning “Man A Bad Man” which brought down the house. Lady G also gave us “Breeze Off,” a song for which she is very well known. Personally speaking? We’d like to see Lady G as a featured artist more frequently in the NY tristate area because performers like her keep you excited and wanting for more.
Countless hits among them and ever-ready energy marked the featured artist section of the concert with three outstanding Reggae legends taking the stage. Jamaican born Ken Boothe who got things started is recognized as one of Jamaica’s finest vocalist and was awarded the coveted Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in 2003 for his contributions to the genre. Boothe, dressed in a dapper burgundy suit filled the hall with melodic songs like “Moving Away” “Everything I Own” and “When I Fall In Love.” An early pioneer in the Reggae arena, audiences worldwide delight in his moving songs and that night was no exception….as expected he was superb.
Admiral Tibet also did an amazing job at entertaining the audience. What can we say about the undisputed “Queen of Reggae”, Marcia Griffiths that audiences don’t already know? We’ve taken in her shows countless times and can honestly report that not once has she ever faltered in majestic beauty, overall energy, performance style or song sections making for a perfect track record and excellent choice for the diverse lineup. When Marcia Griffiths takes the stage, everyone pretty much knows they’re going to get their money’s worth and then some. From the moment she hit the Amazura stage she was most definitely one of the main highlights of the evening sharing songs from her extensive catalog including her classic non-reggae international hit the “Electric Slide.” Midway through her set she shared the stage with her son for a beautiful song called “Fire Burning.” That night the audience received a good 30 minutes worth of pure Marcia Griffiths hits with the music flowing so effortlessly that as far as we are concerned, she could have sang for another two hours.
Closing out an exciting fun-filled evening, “Big Ship” Freddie McGregor gave us a generous and magnificent forty-minute set. Based on his performance, one thing that remains true about McGregor is that he never fails to liven up a stage and wow audiences. Known for his work as an artist and later in his career as a top-notch producer which he solidly established in 1983 with the formation of his Big Ship record label (also putting out a hit record by that name in the very same year), everything about the man oozes total perfection. That night eyes lit up and hands went on automatic applause from the moment he hit the stage and that response continued throughout his performance. That night Freddie McGregor shared many songs but our hands down favorites where “Sailing” and “What You Gonna Do.”
By all accounts we thoroughly enjoyed A Night Celebrating Life concert and commend the producers for putting together such an interesting combination of artists, some of whom we see frequently but can never get enough of while there were others on the bill who should be on our radars that are not billed often enough. Producers can also be commended for featuring and supporting not just one but multiple women in Reggae…something you only find in NY on all female lineups although the ladies bring a different energy and excitement to the stage. General admission tickets to the concert were in the $60 price range offset by limited early-bird specials. We noticed that the crowd attracted to the event were diverse in age, friendly and mature and best of all not in the least bit stiff allowing for ample opportunities to converse and mingle before and in-between acts. Overall it was a splendid evening and we are certainly hopeful that A Night Celebrating Life will become an annual production and stable on the NY scene.