Montreal International Reggae Festival Old Port, Montreal QC - July 15 to 17, 2005

Montreal International Reggae Festival Old Port, Montreal QC - July 15 to 17, 2005
"Je ne parle pas Francais, but je parle patois" shouted Mikey Dread to thousands of delighted fans at the Second Annual Montreal International Reggae Festival. Dread was part of a sardine-packed line-up at the three-day event in Montreal's Old Port and his Sunday evening set was one of the festival's most memorable. The Rastaman was indeed the "Dread at the controls," using the stage as his mixing board, shouting instructions to drum, bass, horns and keys to extend the dubs and "nice it up for Montreal." Like Dread, many of the festival's performers - Sugar Minott, Gregory Isaacs, John Holt, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Shinehead and the onetime king of dancehall, Yellowman - had their heyday decades before. Most were content to woo fans with hit medleys, often using the same backing band, Jamaica's Gumption. Shinehead almost stole Friday's show as he charged the stage mid-evening, spitting lyrics from "Rough and Rugged" and "Know How Fe Chat," and riding some of reggae's most enduring riddims from Studio One to "Sleng Teng." Later, Sugar Minott put a damper on things as he complained about his set getting cut short but perennial smiler John Holt closed the night with high-grade professionalism, delivering a massively popular "Ali Baba" to a crowd that would probably have been content just to hear him open his mouth and sing scales. The festival's afternoon shows were light on star value and that, combined with scorching heat and overzealous security (what happened to one love and feeling irie?), meant that thin crowds greeted the early performers. It wasn't until Chaka Demus and Pliers strutted onstage a few hours behind Saturday's schedule, and immediately after the soundman pulled the plug on stage hog Johnny Dread, that the audience inflated to several thousand. The dancehall duo catered to fans with their hits but managed to interrupt the flow with a short mic stint from Chaka Demus's still-green son Marvelous. Later, record crowds flooded the pier for festival favourites Morgan Heritage, their powerful gospel/soul/reggae turning the riverside venue into a veritable Rasta church. Dressed in a black and white tracksuit, a very buff Yellowman closed the festival with his patented comedic songs of sexual conquest and mock bravado. The voice of dancehall's most accomplished DJ was noticeable ragged and harsh from both jetlag and throat cancer operations, but Yellowman ran the Sagittarius Band through several favourites - "Natty Sat Upon the Rock," "Blueberry Hill," "Country Roads," "Operation Eradication" - and tried to seduce as many women as possible, even using the microphone as a phallic member at one point.