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I woke up Sunday morning a little tired.  Thought about another long day in the heat, but excited to see some of these performers, especially Koffee, and excited to see all the great people I have met over the past couple days and some I met last year.  When we arrived at RRU we ran into Ben Allen, the marketing guy with RRU and had a great conversation about RRU Maryland, but also RRU and all their cities they have festivals in.  That really made me think about what this festival is really all about.  We all, of course, come out to see the bands/artists we love, and to discover new ones as well.  But this is more than just the music and bands/artists.  We come out to have a fun three days away from life with our friends and our new friends.  It is really about the people, whether it is my fellow photographers I have gotten to know and be friends with (Matt, Scott, Alice, Namita, Jennifer, Dave, Joshua, Shuvam, Zach and Steve) or the RRU people and security staff (especially the guy at the Vibe Stage that helped me play a trick on a couple fellow photographers), volunteers and food staff (the guy that hooked me up with a pin because my photo pass kept falling off).  I have met so many amazing and cool people that I can’t wait to see again next year (Ray, Ben, Jerry, Parsa, Jamie, Eric, Dawn, Erik, Danielle, Rusty, Kita and many more). And I got to hang and talk with a lot of amazing artists (Vana Liya, K-Bong, Dale and all the guys, Shwayze, Iya Terra, Jah Works, Nico Groskopf and Michael Franti).

But let’s move onto the music, up first was a local band that has been around for 30 years but my first time seeing them, Jah Works from Baltimore.  What a way to start off the day 3.  They absolutely killed it, I have to see them again.  Scott has such a unique and powerful voice. Starting on the Rise Up stage was Boston’s own Soul Rebel Project. And their nice roots reggae and rock.  They helped get the crowd up and ready for another full day of great music.  The vocals were nice and the guitar work was excellent.  Next up on the Vibe Stage was Eli-Mac from the Philippines and now Hawaii, and a runner-up on American Idol.  She has such a powerful voice, one that reminds me of Lauryn Hill.  I have seen her a few times now and she is so great to listen to and her band is simply amazing.  Her mix of reggae, hip-hop and jazz is so so sweet. She played a crowd favorite, Sensi Man, which I totally loved but I was absolutely floored when she did Lauryn Hill’s Doo-Wop (That Thing)….no words, just floored!  She even brought out a rainbow at the end of her set.  Got to meet up with her a littler later on for a couple of pictures, she is so sweet.  Coming on next on the Rise Up Stage was Passafire, another reggae rock band hailing from Savannah, GA.  They are a crowd favorite, saw a lot of Passafire flags whirling around, they really kept the crowds energy up.

Next up on the Vibes Stage from Spanish Town, Jamaica, Grammy winner, and one of my favorite artists, Koffee.  I saw her at a festival early last year and then again on her tour in Philadelphia and she was fantastic.  A few observations, last year at the festival I noticed the crowd, while getting into her music, didn’t seem to know her and her songs.  That was not the case this year, she had a huge crowd at the stage and they knew all her songs, singing along the entire set.  Shows her growth in the U.S. and I am sure world wide as well.  Another observation, she is such a great performer, smiling all the time (more on that later) and her band is so so good (especially her guitarist Nico), but she has added two dancers and it has added so much to her show.  They are amazing dancers and can move like cats!  I loved when Koffee would join them in a move just for a second. I have said this before in a review, but it is worth mentioning again, she is small, but her voice and energy is just so strong, you would never guess it would come from her.  And my last observation, she has such a big, sweet, and genuine smile, it just makes you smile, it’s infectious.  Not sure who has the bigger smile, K-Bong or Koffee, but between the two of them they could brighten up this world.  I have probably spent enough time talking about Koffee, I could mention all her great songs she performed, but I do need to mention two of my favorites.  She went into my all-time favorite song, Redemption Song (we got to hear it three times because of mic problems, but it never phased her), she does such an amazing rendition.  And my favorite Koffee song, a sweet rock steady tune, Lonely.  A song that hits my heart!

Next up on the Vibe Stage was Badfish, the Rhode Island based Sublime tribute band.  I have never seen them before and I have to say didn’t know what to expect being a tribute band.  Wow are they fun!  They of course sounded great, but they are so much fun up there on stage, not one person standing still in the crowd. The Expendables took the Vibe stage next.  The reggae rock group from Santa Cruz started off as elementary school buddies turned “party band” and look at them now.  A huge following and such a cool group.  You can see they have been friends for a long time by the way they perform on stage.  While many in the crowd were getting tired (yes I mean me, and this would be the perfect time to thank Kita and Rusty for letting me take a break on their chair to rest my knees and Dawn for fanning me off a little), their energy was so strong it gave everyone a boost!  As we head over to the Rise Up Stage for Iration, another fan favorite at these festivals took the stage and kept the party rolling.  This was probably the best performance I have seen from them, they were on fire.  I loved how they played a mix of their older songs and newer songs, but also played some songs from bands they grew up listening too like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "What’s My Age Again".  That just turned up the energy even more.

As the night and festival was getting closer to the end, we moved back over for the headliner of the Vibe Stage (and could have been the headliner of the day) Michael Franti and Spearhead.  While I wouldn’t really put him in a reggae category, his songs really do vibe well with the same message as reggae songs.  He sounded great and Spearhead is amazing.  He went out into the crowd a few times (I could tell security didn’t love it) to some satellite stages set up towards the back.  He would pull people up from the crowd to sing to and with them.  I have never seen anything like that at a live show, so very cool.  Michael is a tall guy, I think he said he was 6’6”, he pulled up this guy (kinda looked like a white Snoop Dogg) and he towered over Michael.  He had to bring him up to show everyone!  Possibly the highlight of the day and maybe festival was when he had six year old Emily come on stage with him during "The Sound Of Sunshine" and sing and dance with him.  Wow she was fearless in front of this huge crowd belting out the chorus with him and sounding so good!  Also amazing when he had 12-15 kids up on stage with him dancing and singing along with him.  Such happy amazing vibes from him!  I saw a lot of tears during his performance.  He is truly an amazing performer and person.  Shortly before he went on stage he was out with the crowd taking selfies with anyone that came up to him, while his manager was telling him he had to get backstage because he was about to go on, but he wouldn’t say no to any of them.  I asked if I could get a few pictures of him, and he of course said yes.  Had a nice conversation with him, he is a great human.  That lead us to the headliner, the end of the day and end of the festival, Rebelution.  I really like their music, I really do, and they have a huge following, but I have to say they have never impressed me as a live band.  They sound great, it’s just like putting on their album, but they seem to have the same set every time (I have seen them many may times) and they, how do I say this, are boring.  So when they started I was not excited, figured I’d get my pictures and head out.  Through their first three or four songs I was surprised, they were more hyped and it was the best I have ever seen them.  And then they slowed it down a little, which kind of doomed them. They just never got the energy back and went back to being, well, boring.  My buddy Matt and I noticed after that point the amount of people that started to leave (many wearing Reb shirts).  It’s a shame to end such a great three days on a flat note. 

But I will say, it was an amazing three days, so many good bands and music, a great experience, RRU did a nice job in year two, and so many amazing people!  I cannot wait until next year!

One Love- Todd


Todd Judd

Photojournalist - Pennsylvania

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