The Charlemont Reggae Festival returns

  • Mykal Rose Contributed photo—

  • Dave Noonan's Green Island. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo

Published: 8/15/2019 8:24:49 AM

The Charlemont Reggae Festival has been a summer mainstay here in the Pioneer Valley for 35 years. It has the honor of being the oldest running reggae festival in New England. This year, it’s about to enter a new era as Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield has taken over the role of organizing the festival.

The family friendly festival will be held on Saturday, Aug. 17, from noon to midnight at the Charlemont Fairgrounds. It will feature 12 acts performing on two stages. In addition to reggae music, listeners will be treated to ska, funk and groove music. The musician lineup includes Mykal Rose, Mighty Mystic, The Alchemystics, Rebelle, The Big Takeover, SoulTree, Rhythm Incorporated, No Lens, The Equalites, Wheel Out, Dave Noonan’s Green Island and Brian Bender & The Riddim Makers.

The festival has local roots dating back to 1985, when Ras Jahn Bullock, a musician with Loose Caboose and later the Alchemystics, who had a deep love and connection to the world of reggae music, hosted a one-time reggae concert in Charlemont. A decade later in 1995, reggae musician and current Charlemont resident Abdul Baki established the Charlemont Reggae Festival as a yearly event. He enlisted the help of Ras Jahn Bullock and, over time, handed over the reins of running the festival to Bullock. Bullock was passionate about the festival and saw it as a way to build community and to showcase local reggae musicians.

Sadly, Ras Jahn Bullock passed away in the spring of 2017. His widow, Elizabeth Loving, and a small team who had worked on the festival over the years have kept it going, but running a festival takes a lot of work.

“It was looking like the festival might not happen this year,” said Ben Goldsher, who, with his brother, Jeremy, manages Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. “Some people suggested our (venue) to Elizabeth. Since taking on Hawks and Reed, we’ve brought a lot of great reggae in. It was a natural fit in people’s mind.”

In the almost five years that the Goldsher brothers have run the venue, they have hosted successful shows with legendary reggae artists like Yellowman, The Wailers, Lee “Scratch” Perry as well as notable local acts. But this is their first foray into running an outdoor festival.

“We are honored to be asked to step into this role. It was the first festival I ever attended alone when I was a kid and I’ve always had good memories of going to this festival,” said Goldsher who is a fan of reggae music. “But a festival is a different animal, so it took us a while to work out what the logistics would be. We came into it a little late but we are really excited to be doing it and hope to carry on for many years.”

They briefly considered holding the festival at Hawks and Reed but quickly realized it needed to remain an outdoor festival and that Charlemont’s fairgrounds has always been and remains to be the perfect space for the event.

The festival is devoted to the memory of Ras Jahn Bullock and will remain true to his vision that the it exists to bring the community and beyond together through the power of reggae music.

“We want to keep the fun family vibe, that it’s always had but see if we can potentially see some growth,” said Goldsher. “One of our goals was to bring a headliner in and give a fresh take on what the festival can be.”

The headliner they secured this year is Mykal Rose, a singer from Jamaica known for his distinct vocal style, who has achieved prominence as both a solo artist and as a member of the group Black Uhuru, with whom he won a Grammy for the album “Anthem” in 1984. For over 25 years, he has been recording and performing his brand of militant, hardcore Jamaican music to the delight of reggae fans around the world.

“But the big part of this festival is supporting local musicians. Even though we have a headliner, it’s mostly set up around these great local bands,” he added.

Some of the local bands, such as the Equalites and the Alchemystics, have played at the festival for many years. Others, like No Lens, are relative newcomers. One of the returning favorites is Dave Noonan’s Green Island, a musical collective with a heavy dance vibe that plays reggae, ska, afro-jazz, and soul. Noonan has played at the festival every year since 1997. Over the years, he’s played with a variety of different bands like the Equalites, Loose Caboose, Rebelle and in recent years, his own band Green Island. He’s pleased that the festival is continuing and is looking forward to playing it this year. Noonan says he feels that Hawks and Reed’s involvement is a positive move.

“Hawks and Reed is doing a good job of continuing the vision of the Charlemont Reggae Festival that Ras Jahn had and I think he’d be pleased,” said Noonan. “He had a vision of local and regional bands being celebrated and highlighted and given an opportunity to showcase in a festival that was just for them.”

Noonan felt that the addition of some national acts like Rose and Mystic will also benefit the festival and appeal to fans of all ages of the music. He added that the festival should be able to continue for many more years as long as people come out and support it.

In addition to music, the festival will have art, live art, food, beer and craft vendors, a kids’ tent and music geared toward the kids. Marcy Gregoire of Under the Tree Music Company runs a Tuesday morning program for kids at Hawks and Reed that’s been such a success they are bringing it to the festival.

“It is exciting to be a part of the Charlemont Reggae Festival’s vibe. I think it will be extra special this year with Hawks taking over,” Gregoire said. “We are offering a family dance party in the early part of the day, and the full band later in the day.”

The dance party will consist of Gregoire and Ariana Zucker on guitar and utilize recorded music to get the little ones up on their feet. Then, later in the day, Gregoire will play with a full band and create even more of an interactive experience as the band gets the kids singing, dancing and even joining the musicians on the stage.

At the time of my conversation with Goldsher, the festival was a little over a week away and he was gearing up for crunch time, working hard to make sure that the festival is the best it can be.

“The community of people around this have been amazing. A lot of people want to be volunteers and have been coming out and asking what they can do to help. It’s been a lot of fun so far,” he said. “This is such a great festival and we hope we can do justice to it and carry on the good vibes that it has had in the past. We are just excited to be involved in it.”

Gates for the festival open at 11 a.m. and music will begin playing at noon. Tickets are $35 and available at hawksand For more information and a full schedule, visit The Charlemont Fairgrounds can be found on Route 2 in Charlemont center.

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

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