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Sounds Local

Come ready to dance

Bands drawn to Charlemont Reggae Festival include local stalwarts

There may not be a huge reggae scene in western Massachusetts, but the scene that does exist is a healthy one that is marked in part by the longevity of some of its bands. Musical groups like Loose Caboose and The Equalites have been around for over 25 years, which, when we consider the shelf life of most bands, is an absolute eternity. Others, like The Alchemystics, have been in existence for almost 10 years.

You can hear these bands and much more when the Charlemont Reggae Festival takes place on Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. The festival, which is an institution in itself having been established in 1985, is an all-day, all-ages event that will begin at noon with music continuing into the evening. Gates will open at 11 a.m.

In addition to the aforementioned bands, the festival will also feature DJ Sir Walford Sibbles, Rhythm Inc., Addis Revolution, Kebero Movement, Rebelle, Satellite Rockers, Soul Rebel Project, Ardie “Cuban” Wallace, RevolutioNayabingi Ensemble and the Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, and many more.

David Boatwright, who is the leader of the popular Pioneer Valley reggae band The Equalites, said that his band has been performing at the festival for so many years now that he has lost count. Boatwright also remembered performing at the very first reggae festival back when he was a member of Loose Caboose, a band that also included (and still does) festival organizer Ras John Bullock.

Boatwright, who lives in Orange, grew up obsessed with rock music and later started listening to reggae and trying to play Bob Marley tunes on his guitar — “Even before Clapton did ‘I Shot the Sheriff,’” he said with a laugh. He joined Loose Caboose in 1975 and stayed with the band until 1986. He joined up with The Equalites in 1988, a year after the band formed.

“Some of The Equalites were UMass students who had migrated into the community around here,” Boatwright recalled. “They were about 10 years younger than me, but they had a strong interest in reggae, jamming and the Grateful Dead, so they brought me on board to sing and play guitar.”

With Boatright at the helm, the band has turned into a musical force that not only plays reggae but also delves into ska, dub and soul. The Equalites perform original music as well as covers and features Boatwright’s soulful voice and sizzling guitar work. That, combined with the band’s harmonies, strong use of percussion and a rhythm section that provides a heavy groove, has made the band one of the area’s most popular live acts.

“There have been a lot of personnel changes over the years, but the flavor of the band always stay the same,” Boatwright said. “Myself and Boo Pearson, the percussionist, are the mainstays and we played together in Caboose for 10 years, so that’s really the thread that goes back to the seventies.”

In addition to Boatwright and Pearson, the group’s current lineup includes Philippe Simone on drums, Adam Zucker on bass and Edward Reddonett on guitar (an original member who only performs with the band on a part-time basis and will not be at the reggae festival.)

“I think we have a great sound; it’s very basic,” said Boatwright of the current lineup. “It is just a quartet, but it is similar to a lot of what you hear on stripped-down dub records because I use a lot of effects on the guitar, like echo and delay and stuff like that, and it goes over really well.”

The band is wrapping up work on its eighth CD, but Boatwright places more emphasis on its live shows than on recording. He said that because CD sales are down and sales of reggae music are always low (with the exception of Bob Marley’s “Legend,” which has sold millions of copies) The Equalites are realistic about recording ventures.

The band will launch a new website this fall, which will have information about purchasing music, including the back catalog.

Boatwright is not surprised by the band’s longevity, as he said music is something he has always done and will always continue to do. But he is a bit surprised that 25 years into The Equalites run, the summer of 2013 is proving to be its busiest ever.

This upcoming weekend, The Equalites will perform at Deja Brew at 57 Locks Village Road in Wendell on Friday, Aug. 2, at 8:30 p.m. It will perform at the reggae festival at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3, and later that night will be a Mocha Maya’s at 47 Bridge St. in Shelburne Falls for an 8 p.m. show.

Boatwright said that he and the band always look forward to playing the Charlamont Reggae Festival and that the local bands there are a good representation of the Pioneer Valley’s reggae scene.

“Some bands have come and gone over the years, but the reggae scene is always kind of ... bubbling back there. Reggae is kind of like blues music in that it doesn’t get that much exposure,” he said. “People should come to the festival ready to dance. It is such a beautiful spot and people always have a good time.”

Admission is $20 in advance and $25 at the door, children 12 and under free. Advance tickets can be purchased at Avery’s General Store, 127 Main St. in Charlemont, World Eye Bookshop 156 Main St. in Greenfield, and Boswell’s Books 10 Bridge St. in Shelburne Falls.

The festival organizers are teaming with the group Strangers Helping Strangers and are running a food drive to help benefit the town of Charlemont. Concert-goers are encouraged to bring non-perishable canned goods to contribute to the drive.

For more information, including directions to the fairgrounds, visit www.charlemontreggaefest.com. To speak to a human, call 413-367-9309.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com

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