Over the past 11 years, the Midwest Reggae Fest has blossomed into the most successful annual reggae festival between California and N.Y.C. And with good reason: Who doesn't enjoy packing the cooler (and the collie pipe) and basking in the sun-soaked smoky vibes, while the best of Jamaica and Northeast Ohio's reggae talent pumps through those enormous woofers?
Opening this year's fest is Carlos Jones, who's been consistently active on Cleveland's reggae scene for nearly a quarter of a century now -- longer than most others in town. He started out as a member of Ital before becoming front man for First Light. Today, as leader of the P.L.U.S. Band, Carlos carries on the roots and nyabinghi tradition of reggae's glory days. His enthusiasm and sincerity never fail to win the hearts of his audiences.
Ital was Cleveland's earliest reggae band, formed in the late '70s. The group's steady rotation of members served as a training camp for many of Cleveland's most respected reggae musicians. Ital dissolved in 1993, but re-formed last year with singer-guitarist "Papa Dave" Smeltz (the only consistent member of the band throughout its 15-year trajectory), original bassist Dave Valentine, and others who have played with the band throughout the years. Since regrouping, their handful of gigs has drawn enthusiastic crowds.
Columbus's Ark Band has been performing since the late '80s, when the Bobb brothers (Eustace and Terry, on bass and drums, respectively) assembled the band. Their constant touring likely accounts for the fact that they've had only two full-length releases. 1995's Nah Give Up and '99's Love Is What We Need are both fine endeavors, packed with gems that demonstrate the Ark Band's keen ability to balance pure reggae, calypso and the soca music so popular in St. Lucia, where the Bobbs were born.
Headliner Luciano's been on the scene for nearly a dozen years. Never afraid to swim upstream, he's one of the figures most responsible for reinvigorating the Jamaican genre with spiritual consciousness after the slack lyrics and gun talk so common in the '90s. Hits such as "Ulterior Motive" and "It's Me Again Jah" proved Luciano a talent to be reckoned with, while "Sweep Over My Soul" is one of the great expressions of the Rasta renaissance to emerge from the latter half of the last decade. Serve Jah, released this summer on VP Records, shows that Luciano has only just reached his stride.