Bands, local and from afar, play at the Charlemont Reggae Festival

  • The Alchemystics, former band of the late Charlemont Reggae Festival organizer Ras Jahn Bullock, was one of the acts at Saturday's festival. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID McLELLAN

  • The Alchemystics, former band of the late Charlemont Reggae Festival organizer Ras Jahn Bullock, was one of the acts at Saturday’s festival. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID McLELLAN

  • The Alchemystics, former band of the late Charlemont Reggae Festival organizer Ras Jahn Bullock, was one of the acts at Saturday's festival. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID McLELLAN

  • The Alchemystics, former band of the late Charlemont Reggae Festival organizer Ras Jahn Bullock, was one of the acts at Saturday's festival. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID McLELLAN

  • Saturday was the 35th Charlemont Reggae Festival. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

Staff Writer
Published: 8/19/2019 1:00:18 AM

CHARLEMONT — After The Alchemystics finished the second song of their set, several people cheered and shouted out from the crowd.

“We love you Ras Jahn,” they called. 

The oldest running reggae festival in New England kicked off in Charlemont Saturday, featuring two stages and acts like The Equalites; Soul Tree; Dave Noonan’s Green Island; The Big Takeover Rhythm Incorporated; The Alchemystics; Rebelle; Mykal Rose and Mighty Mystics on Ras Jahn’s Main Stage. 

The 35th Charlemont Reggae Festival, though an annual summertime occurrence at the old fairgrounds for many years now, was a success its first time being run by Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center based in Greenfield. 

“We wanted to do it justice,” said organizer Ben Goldsher. “It’s a nice day, and there’s a longstanding vibe we want to keep going.”

The festival almost didn’t happen this year, Ben Goldsher was quite frank. The Charlemont Reggae Festival was the creation of Ras Jahn Bullock, a musician with Loose Caboose and later The Alchemystics, who hosted a one-off reggae concert in the quiet hilltown. 

It was challenging to run a concert each year, and some years it didn’t happen, until 1995, when reggae musician and Charlemont resident Abdul Baki chipped in to organize the festival yearly. With Bullock’s help, the festival became a mainstay.

Bullock died in 2017 after battling cancer, leaving his widow, Elizabeth Loving in charge of organizing the event. According to Ben Goldsher, Hawks & Reed felt it was the right thing to do, as experienced concert organizers, to take over and keep this local gem. They count this year’s festival as the 35th year, despite some “off years,” because it’s origin was that first concert held by Bullock in 1985.

“He (Bullock) was just an amazing dude,” Ben Goldsher said. 

Other bands that played included Under the Tree; Dave Boatwright; Brian Bender and the Riddim Makers; Wheel Out and No Lens on the Hawks & Reed Stage. 

Reggae fans from across Western Massachusetts were pleased to be able to return this year and listen, sing and dance to music that, according to Wave, a reggae fan from Northampton, “has a spirit.”

“You can take a person away from reggae, but you can’t take reggae out of a person,” Wave said. 

Wave said she has been a fan of reggae music since seeing Bob Marley play at the Boston Garden in the 1970s. 

“I’ve listened to reggae to the point it’s a detriment,” Wave said, mentioning taking her son, now 35, to reggae concerts when he was a child — sometimes to the ire of other adults who looked down on the music as having a rebellious scene laden with drug usage.

But, according to Steve Goldsher, an organizer with Hawks & Reed and Ben Goldsher’s father, reggae is the music of “underdogs,” and it’s for that reason it resonates with people. It’s that reason, too, that people will keep coming back to the festival and make it a success, he said. 

“It’s a music about oppression. It’s about freedom. It’s a familiar story for the underdogs of this world,” said Steve Goldsher, looking out at the hundreds of people dancing, hula hooping, throwing balls to each other and singing across the fairgrounds.

“Lyrics like ‘get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight,’ apply to things today, and it’s also a music you can move to. It has a groove,” he said. 

For other fans, like T.J. Johnson, originally from the small Caribbean island country of St. Kitts and Nevis, the music is cultural. 

“This music makes me think of my home, my friends, my family,” he said. “It brings a little bit of the Caribbean here to Massachusetts.”

According to Ben Goldsher, the music will always conjure happy memories. His first experiences with reggae are of his father calling him “Ben-jammin’” rather than Benjamin, and using a sing-song voice as if it were Bob Marley’s song “Jammin’.”

“It’s quite a task to take over a festival of this stature,” Ben Goldsher said. “We want to bring a new energy to it.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268. 


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