Rasta Resurgence: Ziggy Marley, Steel Pulse, and Maxi Priest, Live
To many New York City natives, summer is synonymous with humid nights spent next to friends on the Great Lawn collecting mosquito bites. To others, summer is a time to toast to life, basking in the moonlight on a quaint roof-deck in Park Slope or a lush penthouse on the Upper East Side.
To many others, however, summers in NYC are spent one way, and one way only: soaking in the mixture of salt air, Nathan's fry oil, and rollercoaster-fueled adrenaline that can only be produced on Brooklyn's own Coney Island. Throughout the years, Coney has been known for its carnival-like feel, made possible by spectacles along its beachfront boardwalk such as the Wonder Wheel (one of the first ferris wheels of its kind), the Cyclone (an exhilarating antique wooden rollercoaster), and other attractions such as the original Nathan's, the Coney Island Freak Show, and the Cyclones baseball stadium.
Recently, another grand attraction has joined the slew of those existing in Coney: a five-thousand seat music venue operated by ticketing site Live Nation, called the Ford Amphitheater. A sprawling white canvas shell supported by interwoven beams of curved steel gives the fully sheltered enclosure the feel of sitting inside an ancient sea creature. Having been under construction for just about a year, the amphitheater is finally in full functioning condition despite the fact that the entire complex is still only 50% complete; an adjacent landmarked building is set to be the official entrance to the venue once the renovation is complete.
Walking into the space on opening night just after the end of the first set (performed by the legendary Ed Robinson), I was impressed by the vastness of the amphitheater despite its compact footprint. It was easy to to walk throughout the space, and the ability to choose from one of three concessions areas made it a breeze to grab a beer, cocktail, or food without worrying about getting back to my seat in time for the next act.
My parents and I were excited to spend an evening by the shore watching some of our reggae favorites, and from the look of the audience, we were in good company; as we took our seats, the amphitheater continued taking in a stream of people – old and young, couples and families, people of all skin colors, all dressed in their respective best – until it seemed like no more would fit. The energy was infectious. The hardness of the typical New Yorker was replaced by smiles, laughter, and good vibes all around. Island accents and bright colors abounded.
We were directed to our seats by multitudes of kind staff-members stationed all throughout the venue, and arrived to our fourth-row stage-left orchestra spots just as the second act took the stage. Maxi Priest, alongside his drum, guitar, bass, and keyboard players, didn't waste a moment before breaking into song. With a swaggering step, he was all over the stage, singing to originals and covers alike, even performing a feel-good rendition of "Wild World" by Cat Stevens. Yet, Priest was quick to change up the set and play some dancehall tunes alongside guest performer Beniton who sang on a few different songs, including one that sampled "Jet Blue Jet" by Major Lazer.
The older members in the crowd had no idea what the sample was, and most younger members didn't even catch it, but everyone knew that it was dancing music, and nobody remained in their seats by the end of the set.
The next group to take the stage was the world-renowned British group, Steel Pulse. Regulars to the scene since the 80's, Steel Pulse is a group with countless classics to their name, and so it wasn't surprising to hear the older audience members sing along to the second song of the set, "Rally Round". Throughout the entire set, the musicians were wholly alive and jumping around the stage, as the keyboardist took a break from playing to rap a dancehall break or the bassist danced on stage with a woman who appeared from backstage. Though the drummer could not dance during the set, he played his heart out from inside a Plexiglass enclosure that ensured that his playing would be picked up well by mics. Although the set included many songs that inspired a reaction from the crowd, none was more heartfelt than "Black and Proud". This uplifting song was as appropriate in 2016 as is was when it was first released in 1997, and it united the entire audience in solidarity as members of the human race.
The third and final set was a performance by Ziggy Marley – singer and guitarist, and son of reggae pioneer Bob Marley – alongside a number of other musicians, including two female backup singers. Without wasting a moment, the band exploded into the opening chords of "Wild and Free", a funky anti-drug-war anthem that you can't help but groove to. Throughout the entire show, people had been discreetly, but not secretly, smoking pot; however, the start of Marley's set could have probably been smelled from blocks away. Later on in the set, the band played some Bob Marley covers, including one of my personal favorites, "Top Ranking", and the classic "One Love".
During his performance of "One Love", Marley displayed the true depth of his showmanship, and connected with the crowd on a personal level through his passionate singing and guitar playing. Many in the crowd, including myself, looked up to the stage and saw Marley, but heard the long-passed Bob Marley singing to us. It was surreal how similar Ziggy's voice is to his dad's despite the fact that his other sons Stephen and Damian have very distinct voices.
The performance finished with a funky version of hit song "Beach in Hawaii". Despite the calls of the crowd for an extended encore, the venue decided that the concert was over, and we were able to get clear of the venue in just a few minutes.
Yet, as my parents and I all knew, there was no way to end a night in Coney Island without a pit-stop to fuel up on the fast-food and candy that can be found nearly everywhere near the boardwalk. As we walked to the train station, cheese fries, hot dogs, and candy apples in hand, we laughed at the unsuspecting souls flying through the air at 10:30 at night, screaming their heads off on the Thunderbolt, one of the newest rollercoasters in the new Luna Park adventure-park. The neon glow of carnival lights shone down on Surf Avenue with a sweet glow.
That's what I call a summer night well spent.