Montreal Reggae Festival Montreal, QC June 26-28

Montreal Reggae Festival Montreal, QC June 26-28
Photo: David Dacks
Despite off-season shakeups including the turnover of their management and relocation to Parc Jean Drapeau, the Montreal Reggae festival delivered the goods. Another change for the good was that the event was moved two weeks earlier, well ahead of any summertime festival fatigue.

This year, each night had a theme: dawn of the dancehall, modern DJs, and classic singers. As usual, local talent and unfocused DJ sets reigned until about six in the evening. On Friday, the main event was the Stur Gav sound system, featuring the evergreen U Roy. One DJ after another took turns reeling off their famous rhymes over classic dubplates. With Brigadier Jerry and Josey Wales still sporting the energy that made them famous in the 80s, enough of the crowd twigged on to one song or another to create a lively atmosphere.

Saturday was even better. The best named artist of the festival, Onion & the Burning Flames played dancehall-tough soca, and laid down the best Michael Jackson tribute of the weekend; awesome Trini versions of "Shake Your Body" and "Black Or White." Anthony B came next, and had a few choice words for the Canadian government asking him to "sign dis paper" over objectionable lyrics. This well-recorded veteran paced his set extremely well and got a hearty response to his signature 'yagga yo.' Headliner Capleton has also had his controversial moments in touring, but unfortunately in his case, he replaced his most intense work with power ballads.

The final night was the clear winner. While Montreal's Jah Cutta, and KyMani "the affordable" Marley set the stage, Sanchez turned in a top notch set to earn festival MVP honours. Sounding as clear and powerful as his early heyday, Sanchez made everything sound good: originals, Jamaican classics and MJ's "You Are Not Alone." Frankie Paul, who was supposed to play on Friday, was in great voice. Sugar Minott, fresh off the plane, sounded ragged and there appeared to be some tension between him and the backing band. But halfway through his set he remembered to start singing his hits, and any tension melted away as his voice warmed up.

Although a severe 11:00 PM cutoff (even on an island 2 KM away from any residence) hampered the fun a bit, this new location marks this as a successful new beginning for the festival.