The seemingly endless live music drought inflicted by COVID-19 has had its impact on fans, musicians, crews, promoters and everyone else associated with the live music industry. There has been a lot of articles and opinion pieces published on this over the last couple years, so this will not be belabored here. What is of the utmost importance: Reggae Rise Up Florida is back and, perhaps, better than ever before.
Expanded to encompass four days, a palpable energy could be felt throughout Vinoy Park — the home of Reggae Rise Up Florida — in St. Petersburg.
All around the grounds, attendees, staff and performers alike were reconnecting with old friends after a long hiatus caused by the multiple delays and cancellations that plagued productions of this size as a whole. “Magical” was the one word Adam Patterson, drummer and vocalist in The Expendables, offered to describe being back on Reggae Rise Up. “Like being at Hogwarts.” The gratitude and excitement to be back onstage was clear throughout many of the acts, especially SOJA, who shared that this is just their second show in 19 months. This may be so, but equipped with perhaps a renewed energy and a recently released album, Beauty in the Silence, these Reggae Rise Up Florida veterans did not disappoint.
A consistent and notable aspect of Reggae Rise Up Florida is the variety of styles and genres represented in every year’s lineup. While it’s easy for fans that follow the ‘reggae rock’ genre to consider the lineup — and their musical preferences — with broad strokes, the inclusivity of the festival should not go unnoticed. Roots reggae was well represented this year with Stephen Marley, Damian Marley, Keznamdi and Jesse Royal, while strong hip hop and pop influences were expressed via Dirty Heads and others. Seasoned road dogs The Expendables and Ballyhoo! brought their unique vibes of punk, rock and reggae, while Trevor Hall, Landon McNamara and Matisyahu brought their unique live experiences to the stages.
Jesse Royal offered a truly special set, with his band not being able to make it and the backup DJ even having some technical difficulties. The skill and authenticity conveyed through his a capella tracks and candid monologue was truly memorable. He even called off the beats once the AV issues were resolved, because “we had a vibe going on”. Another highlight from the Vibes Stage was Badfish, the tribute band keeping a legacy alive by bringing the music of Sublime to audiences today. There was a truly electric feeling during this set, with both the VIP and GA sections packed almost all the way back to the water, the lyrics of every song echoing throughout the crowd and mosh pits erupting in the front row as a song’s BPM would allow.
Reggae Rise Up Florida also celebrates local talent, kicking off each day with some up-and-coming Florida bands.
These early sets may have yielded some new favorites for the early risers. Florida-natives Resinated hit the stage for just the second time in an extended period of time. Additionally, The Ries Brothers — who hail from nearby Clearwater, FL — commanded a healthy early crowd and also filled the lawn at their Sugarshack Session acoustic set, which featured several special guests. “Reggae Rise Up 2021 was one of the best weekends of our career so far,” shared Charlie Ries. “The love we felt from everyone was incredible. After years of coming to the festival as fans, to be on the main stage felt so special. And, the next day, people waited for 30 minutes in the rain just to hear us on the Sugarshack Stage. It truly felt like a culmination of all the hard work finally paying off.”
The Sugarshack Stage was a big highlight for many festival-goers, featuring many of the artists performing short, stripped-down acoustic sets. “Reggae Rise Up Florida was on a whole new level this year for the Shack,” shared Eddie Kopp, Founder and Director of Sugarshack. “We stepped up our activation and did our best to bring the session experience to the public eye. It was an overwhelming success for our team, our artists and all of our fans! Thank you RRU for letting us do our thing — see you again in March!” Stay tuned for the release of the recordings of these sessions in the coming months on Sugarshack’s channels.
For those who have inundated themselves in reggae rock have likely watched the rapid ascent of some rising stars within the scene. Fans can expect to see great things from The Elovaters, as well as the newest kid on the block, DENM. Conversely, Saturday and Sunday closed with some of the biggest names; Slighty Stoopid’s, Iration’s and Dirty Heads’ sets were the highlights for many, with attendees camped out at the Rise Up Stage for hours to secure their spots in the crowd.
A congratulations and expression of gratitude is owed to everyone who helped make Reggae Rise Up Florida a success — it was well worth the wait! Complementary to the well-executed production and amazing performances is the overall vibe of being back on the festival grounds. This event was an opportunity for many to reconnect when friends and family — both literal and figurative — for the first time in many months. The sense of community forged at Reggae Rise Up Florida (and events like it) is worth more than the price of admission and, luckily, the wait until the next festival won’t be long. The RRU team is sure to outdo themselves again and we are looking forward to the next family reunion at Reggae Rise Up Florida in March 2022!
Cover & thumbnail photo by Brian “Porkchop” Nicholson