REGGAE MADNESS: From Rockers Almighty to Reggae on Broadway
One day in early November of 1981, I
started to see little black and white posters around town advertising a
"Rockers Almighty Festival" to be held in the New Pilgrim Theater
down on the lower East Side. I was up
for any kind of reggae show in those days and managed to persuade a group of
friends to come with me to check it out.
So, on a cool late Fall night, ten of us were huddled together on the
hard wooden seats of the theater waiting for the raw, righteous power of Roots,
Rock and Reggae to blow us away. The
show was billed to start at nine p.m. but by eleven, all we had heard were
tapes of rather bland "lovers' rock" reggae and we were starting to
get a bit fed up, not to mention cold.
There were probably another twenty people there waiting like us and an
endless stream of dreadlocked rastas walking backwards and forwards carrying
various pieces of equipment and smoking a lot of strong smelling spliffs. We might have asked for our money back and
left in frustration except for the rather extreme position of the Theater, way
over on Avenue B surrounded by a virtual No-Man's land of deserted houses,
populated by heroin dealers and desperate junkies. There wasn't much sign of human life out there on the streets
around us and it seemed somehow safer to stay where we were. Besides it was chilly, we had come to see
a good show and we all had a lot of faith that it would happen in the end. Finally, around midnight, a young white
woman, very attractive with long blond dreadlocks, wrapped in various shawls
and what looked like red, yellow and green flags, came out on the stage and
announced the first act. She was almost
unintelligible, spoke with a heavy Jamaican accent and used patois to tell us
to enjoy ourselves, mon and Jah Rasta Fari!
Three young guys came out with conga drums and treated us to five
minutes of hot rhythms. Jah Rasta
Fari! Now for the main band! Instead a dread got up from the back and
started to talk to the audience with great intensity. The assembly greeted his every sentence with
"Irie!" I understood him to
say that we all had to take the show as it came, accept rastas for who they
were and to keep on keeping faith. It was
by now almost one in the morning, we'd been waiting for four hours and our
faith was wearing a bit thin.
Especially when the canned "lovers' rock" music started up
again. Irie! We were starting to feel a bit irie all right! Then the lights changed again and the three
young guys came back on again, this time with a tall skinny Latino guy dressed
in white pantaloons, a shiny white pirate shirt open to the waist, high patent
leather boots and with an electric guitar under his arm. As the group plugged in, they were
introduced as "Mention" and a slide of a rather prim-looking Haile
Selassie was projected above their heads.
They sounded unbelievably bad and played sub-Hendrix heavy metal music
very loudly on terrible equipment. The
lead guitarist was particularly offensive with his guitar thrusting out of his
crotch and his meaningless riffing making an irritating counterpoint to his
At this point, we all got up and
walked out. The white rasta lady was at
the door as we left and tried to persuade us to stay, saying that the main
group, "Frequency", was fantastic but unavoidably delayed until
later. It was, by now, after two a.m.
and we'd had enough. We slipped away
into the street, past the gutted buildings, the whores and the heroin dealers
and made our way to the lights and the comparative safety of Greenwich
Village. It was a very disappointing
evening, another Reggae, Rastas and Rip-Offs story. Tales like this were legion in the reggae music business. It was another reason why the fat cats in
the music business stuck to fat cigars.
Big spliffs and big business don't do well together. But I was intrigued by the mysterious white
rasta lady and wondered who she was and where she came from.
If my mission in life for the past
ten years or more had been a waxy world domination, my life was beginning to
take a strange and unexpected detour at this point. I realized that one of my main assets was the Studio, a great,
empty, flexible space right in the very center of Manhattan. I felt that the possibilities of the space
were limitless. We could have the
first on-Broadway, off-Broadway Theater (though I think we'd tried that
already), a multi media club of some kind or, stretching the envelope a little,
how about a space age roller disco? At
the very least we could throw some interesting parties there.