Cream of the Crop rises to the occasion
As the saying goes, cream rises to the top, and this was again proven last week Saturday night when some of the top names in reggae/dancehall rose to the occasion and provided first-class entertainment for patrons who attended Purple Skunkz Entertainment's Cream of the Crop in Ocho Rios, St Ann.
In fact, so successful was the event that the promoters have already secured sponsorship and have started booking artistes for next year's concert to be staged on Boxing Day 2015 with eight headline acts.
It was a capacity house of standing-only patrons - a generous mix of locals and tourists - at Pearly Beach. Some of them were there from as early as 9 p.m., jamming to the musical selections and enjoying the ambience afforded by this gem of a venue. With sound, stage and lighting scoring top marks, parking facility, security and easy access to the venue guaranteed, the stage was set for excellence, and this was provided in abundance at Cream of the Crop.
The task of opening the show was handed to Jesse Royal, this after birthday boy, Loyal Flames, having been called on by MC Tricia Spence, failed to appear. But Jesse embraced this first place as an honour and his chants of "So Long Rastafari!" along with a reminder that the "hotter the battle, the sweeter the victory", did well to set a pace that became more blistering as the evening progressed. An artiste who has proven himself in 2014, the charismatic Royal injected a happy vibe with his single, This Morning, and, as expected, paid tribute to the weed with his song, Gimmie Lickle Herb.
A well-appreciated Royal made his exit to a fast-appearing Loyal Flames, who quickly settled in and served up a healthy plate of reality-laced lyrics.
Teflon took the stage at 10:24 p.m., but his arrival was preceded by that of an unnamed flag-bearer who should certainly have been given an award for his sheer exuberance and magnetic energy. It's no surprise, therefore, that Teflon, with his locks secured in his turban, was a live wire who ignited the audience for his entire 20 minutes onstage. The young Rastaman communicated through his selections and also took time to "bun out informers and bun a fire pon crosses". And, as if in response, the heavens immediately opened for a very brief spell. Whether the drops of water were an act of defiance to quench the fire or a blessed endorsement is open to debate.
Changing the mood and tone was singer Romain Virgo, who entered centre stage at 10:44 p.m., dressed in a gold-trimmed, fitted white shirt, skinny black pants which stopped midway his calf and ankle, and black and gold loafers. Virgo knows his crowd and he pulled out all the stops as he soothed with love songs, did the more uptempo stuff and even showed support for incarcerated reggae artiste, Buju Banton, by doing the one of his songs. Included in Virgo's set were Cyaan Sleep, Rain is Falling, the impactful When A Woman Loves, Love Doctor, and others.
Virgo handed the baton to Mr Singy Singy, Tarrus Riley, who showed just how happy he was to be doing what he does best - singing. Animated and full of great vibes, Riley sang his way into the hearts of the crowd while his musical director, saxophonist Dean Fraser, blew their minds away. As a special treat, Riley called on singer Iba Mahr for them to perform Diamond Sox (remix), despite Iba Mahr not having on the much-revered diamond sox. This was yet another high in Riley's blistering set.
Jah Cure's choice of a green beret and matching shirt, with a khaki pants, gave him the look and aura of a young militant Che Guevara. Enjoying the full support of his Iyah Cure band with legendary bassist Mikey Fletcher and two fantastic backup singers, Jah Cure promised a "European set" in which he took the time to sing out his songs in their entirety. Having "been through it", Cure reflected on his colleagues behind bars at Christmas and dedicated Behind These Prison Walls to Buju Banton and Vybz Kartel.
Up until this point, Cream of the Crop had flowed seamlessly, with band changes masked by young acts performing on a small stage. However, emcee DJ Bones had to apologise to patrons after it became obvious that something was amiss. Junior Gong, who was up next, was delayed and the show waited on his arrival. But this was a crowd that had paid their money for quality entertainment which they had surely been receiving, so they waited patiently on the young Gong, and he did not disappoint. In fact, Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley was awesome.
Junior Gong the consummate professional
With his trademark floor-length locks hanging loosely and his proud mother, Cindy Breakspeare, standing stage side and singing his songs word for word, Junior Gong was the consummate professional who commanded undivided attention without any gimmicks. He enveloped his audience with songs such as Affairs of the Heart, Set Up Shop, Road to Zion, Promised Land, and Welcome to Jamrock, and his flag-bearer and high-energy backup singers were a delight to watch.
As he and his brothers always do at the end of their performance, Junior Gong thanked all his fans and the media for their support, but this time he went on to perform for another six minutes, even bringing Popcaan onstage for a stint.
Closing out the successful event were Busy Signal and I-Octane, backed by Ruff Kut band. Busy's arrival onstage at 4:20 a.m. was curiously heralded by the instrumental to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. That aside, however, Busy stepped out and made his mark, injecting a more dancehall flavour with just the right amount of edginess. He, too, made reference to his time in jail and, of course, did his breakout single, Nah Go A Jail Again, along with favourites such as One More Night, Night Shift, Missing You, Bedroom Bully, Tip Pon You Toe, and Hustlers Anthem.
Eight hours after the start of the show, an almost full house showed their love for I-Octane who entered centre stage to a hail of firecrackers and flames. Recognising that patrons were tired, the singjay cut his set short, even as he delivered great selections from his repertoire.