Sounds Local: Charlemont Reggae Festival will pay special tribute to Ras Jahn Bullock

  • This year’s Charlemont Reggae Festival will pay special tribute to Ras Jahn (John) Bullock, who was instrumental in starting the festival to highlight local talent. Contributed photo

  • The reggae band ReBelle will perform at the festival this year. Contributed photo

  • Sheryl Hunter

For The Recorder
Published: 8/23/2017 9:50:06 AM

The legendary Bob Marley may have spread reggae music to the world, but as a member of the pioneering reggae band Loose Caboose, the late Ras Jahn (John) Bullock of Shutesbury was a leader in introducing this upbeat Jamaican music to the Northeast.

As a musician in Loose Caboose — and later the Alchemystics — and a longtime curator of the Charlemont Reggae Festival, Bullock played a major role in nurturing the healthy reggae scene we have here in the Pioneer Valley.

He was a lifelong ambassador of reggae music, committed to spreading the music and its uplifting messages of hope and love to as wide an audience as possible. Inspired by Bob Marley, who he met in the 1970s and who helped out Loose Caboose by inviting the band to record their first album in Marley’s studio in Jamaica.

Bullock also wanted to help other musicians, and hoped the Charlemont Reggae Festival would be a place where local reggae artists could showcase their messages and music.

Bullock passed away in April after a battle with liver cancer, but the Charlemont Reggae Festival will continue. The festival, which will feature a special tribute to Bullock this year, will be held Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Charlemont fairgrounds. The Charlemont Reggae Festival is the longest-running reggae festival in New England.

Robert Bond of Brooklyn, Conn., a friend of Bullock and long-standing volunteer at the reggae festival, stepped in to help organize the festival last fall, as Bullock was experiencing some health challenges.

“We were partners until I received that fateful call on April 12,” recalled Bond. “One of my first reactions was ‘there goes the festival,’ but then many of the people involved with the festival over the years said ‘we have to do this one, we have to honor John.’”

With the help of his son Zach Bond and Bullock’s widow Elizabeth Loving, as well as a team of committed volunteers and sponsors, Bond is working hard to make this year’s festival one of the best ever. He stressed that they aren’t making many changes, and are making sure that the festival retains its positive, family-friendly vibe.

“The biggest change is that Berkshire Brewery will be on hand to sell beer,” Bond said.

There will be food and arts and crafts vendors on hand, as well.

“What’s really important to me is what John always talked about, and that is that this is a small and local festival and it gives local talent a place to show off,” Bond said. “And there’s a lot of talent in the Pioneer Valley, and we have really concentrated on that.”

Performing will be local reggae bands like ReBelle and The Equalites, the Afrobeat group Shokazoba, as well as Dave Noonan’s Green Island, a collective of some of the Pionner Valley’s finest musicians, whose music includes reggae, funk, jazz and more. The Alchemystics will continue to bring their politically infused reggae and hip-hop mix to the festival.

“We have added bands like Lucid Empire and Community Smokes — who are young bands — in an effort to bring in a younger crowd,” said Bond.

The roster also includes The Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, Ras Spectiv and One Drop: A Bob Marley Tribute. DJ Vibe Wise will be spinning tunes throughout the day.

“It’s going to be good this year, we have 10 bands plus Roger Steffens, which is amazing,” said Bond.

Roger Steffens is an author, photographer, and well-known reggae archivist. He is a noted authority on the life and music of Bob Marley and owns the largest collection of Marley memorabilia in the country.

Steffens was scheduled to give a presentation on Bob Marley, but with the passing of Bullock, who was a very good friend of his, he will instead present an overview of Bullock’s life, which will no doubt include stories about Bullock’s relationship with Marley.

“This will be a great opportunity for everyone to get to know John better,” said Bond. “John was sort of this mystical character, he carried that cane and wore those bright reggae clothes, and I even found it a little intimidating when I first met him.”

But Bond said he soon discovered the twinkle in Bullock’s eye and his big belly laugh, and eventually came to know him as a warm and accepting person, but one that was dead serious about his music.

“He was a great guy. He embraced people of all ilks and judged no one,” recalled Bond. “I was in awe of this human being.”

Gates for the Charlemont Reggae Festival open at 11 a.m. Parking is free. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Children are admitted free. Picnickers are welcome, but there will be food vendors there. This is a rain or shine event — there is a large pavilion that can cover hundreds of people.

Advance tickets can be purchased at World Eye Bookshop at 134 Main St. in Greenfield, The Enthusiast, 10 Miles St. in Greenfield, Boswell’s Books, 10 Bridge St. in Shelburne Falls, Avery’s Store, 127 Main St. in Charlemont, and other places.

For directions, additional information on purchasing tickets and more, visit:

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


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