The tweak in this event's name and purpose, sparked by Queensland's recent floods, reflects the effect on organisers of Raggamuffin itself. Its original Pine Rivers venue sustained significant water damage.
Raggamuffin's Brisbane leg was duly decamped to the Riverstage, with all profits redirected to the Premier's Flood Relief Appeal.
A smart move on behalf of promoter Andrew McManus, surely. Raggamuffin copped recent flack for continuing to bill international superstar Sean Paul among its headline acts—both on its website and on the Ticketek page—despite Paul having pulled out of the festival.
Nonetheless there remained plenty of talent at this festival, featuring international heavyweights Mary J Blige, Jimmy Cliff, Maxi Priest, and The Original Wailers, with Ky-Mani Marley and Melbourne's The Red Eyes rounding out the bill.
The same positivity cannot be applied to other aspects of Reggae for Recovery. As often happens at these small-scale festivals, the food and beverage selections were narrow, abysmal and overpriced.
With just one option for vegetarians and a prohibition on bringing your own food, I can only assume that people with special dietary needs are expected to quietly starve throughout the ten-hour event. No pass-outs allowed.
A smattering of rain and stinking humidity couldn't stop The Red Eyes from hyping the early audience to stand and dance. Their upbeat horn sections and animated performance set a high bar for the rest to follow. But not all acts could match their beguiling blend of raw talent and unpretentious enthusiasm.
Ky-Mani Marley's has a voice so reminiscent of his father Bob that you could close your eyes and imagine it was the man himself. Though Ky-Mani has his own distinct presence, the abundance of cover tunes appearing in the set tended to render his originals a little homogenous. Dancing crowds began to flag after half an hour of what seemed like the same song over and over.
The Original Wailers on the other hand are large, loud and self-assured. Formed by original Wailers Al Anderson and Junior Marvin, this band brought the drums, the dub, and the reputation. The only thing they lacked were some genuine horns rather than a somewhat naff synthesised approximation.
A handful of Bob Marley songs appeared here too, and by this point it was a surprise there had been no double-ups. Do the bands coordinate backstage and apportion Marley songs evenly? Are straws drawn? Do scuffles break out?
Maxi Priest appeared next, and continued with much the same blend of sexy afro-Caribbean crooning and overwrought synth that we saw back in the nineties when he burst on to the scene with That Girl. There were also some moves we forgot about in the eighties: headless guitar played behind the back, anyone? Still, Priest and band—including his son, Marvin—are a lot of fun, even if the music smacks of times gone by.
Reggae icon Jimmy Cliff's act was significantly larger than the earlier sets, and rightly so. This is the man who wrote Many Rivers to Cross, You Can Get It If You Really Want and Sitting in Limbo. Cliff is a seasoned showman, committed but relaxed, and nimble enough to pull off some truly astounding moves from the James Brown school of performative gymnastics. This is one artist with the audience in the palm of his jazz-hands.
Headline act Mary J Blige rocked with the kind of energy usually commanded by a cyclone. But it behooves us to ask why an artist with a distinct R&B reputation is billed at the top of a reggae festival. And the audience seemed similarly confused. The crowds of gently bopping festival goers seemed to halt, unsure what to do when this larger-than-life artist blasted on to the stage, all American braggadocio and self-assured talent.
Having scored nine Grammy awards in her career and worked with artists U2, Puff Daddy, George Michael and a host of others, Blige is a talent no witness could deny. But she's no reggae artist. Not even close.
Despite its pitfalls, Reggae for Recovery was still a light-hearted good time for reggae enthusiasts and those dragged along by friends and loved ones. Its commitment to donating all funds to the Premier's Flood Relief Appeal makes it hard to criticise this event too harshly. Now, if only festival organisers could sort out the abysmal food and beverage options inflicted upon paying punters, all would be right with the world.
Reggae for Recovery took place at the Riverstage, Brisbane City Botanical Gardens on Sunday January 30, 2011.