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Calgary Reggae Festival on its seventh staging

Published:Sunday | May 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Beres Hammond will headline this year's Calgary Reggae Festival. - File
Leo Cripps - Contributed
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Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Harsh winters and ice hockey come readily to mind when the Canadian city of Calgary comes up, but promoters of the Calgary Reggae Festival (CRF) are pushing to make their annual show a marquee event.

The seventh staging of the CRF is scheduled for August 19-21 at the Shaw Millennium Park, with Beres Hammond and the veteran Inner Circle band down as headliners.

Leo Cripps is a Jamaican and member of the Calgary Reggae Festival Society, organisers of the show. He told The Sunday Gleaner that the event has grown steadily since its inception in 2004.

"Our crowds have grown significantly, from around 3,000 in year one to close to 8,000 in 2008," Cripps said. "Last year was hard to determine as it rained the entire week and that affected the true numbers. We still had almost 4,000 people," he added.

It will be Hammond's second straight performance on the CRF, which has, in the past, featured other veteran lovers' rock/roots acts like Tinga Stewart, Sugar Minott and Maxi Priest.

Portland-born Cripps said the nine-member 'society' deliberately goes for artistes with a more mature profile.

"Most of the acts actually approach us so we do have the luxury of being very selective," he explained. "With so much garbage being recorded and promoted as reggae, we are almost protective as to who gets to perform on our show," he stressed. "We do not look at artistes' popularity, number of top-10 hits or hype."

Of the six partners who started the CRF, the 49-year-old Cripps is one of three still around. The society's current committee comprises persons from Antigua, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Canada.

He said the budget for this year's show was $600,000.

Reggae takes a backseat to country and rock music in Calgary, the largest city in the province of Alberta. Like Montreal, Quebec and Toronto, it has always had an underground reggae following.

Toronto, with its massive West Indian community, remains the hub for Caribbean music in Canada, but even in the 1970s when stalwarts like Leroy Sibbles, Jackie Mittoo and Lynn Tait lived there, the reggae scene had never been lucrative.

Though Cripps has hosted a reggae show on the University of Calgary's CJSW 90.9 FM college radio station for almost 25 years, he said mainstream radio feed fans of Jamaican music a steady diet from Top-40 acts like Sean Paul and Shaggy.

Since Calgary sees little live reggae action, coverage in the local press is low until the festival comes around. Cripps knows it will take some time before the CRF can rank with big reggae festivals in Europe and on the US west coast, but he is pleased with its progress.

"Our philosophy is that we do not have to be the biggest to be the best and that's what we strive towards," he said.