A different formula for success
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The line-up for the Pepsi Rebel Salute 2012, the 19th staging of the music festival honouring Patrick 'Tony Rebel' Barrett's birthday, does not read like a guest list of the latest, hottest names in reggae.
Instead, there is a spread from the famed internationally but intermittently seen locally Stephen Marley to 'returnee' Johnny Osbourne, back in Jamaica for the first time in 15 years, through to Raging Fyah and C-Sharp, two of the self-contained roots-reggae outfits in a resurgent Jamaican scene for bands. Also in the mix are Eric Donaldson, whose Cherry Oh Baby is one of the rare tracks to transcend the stifling 'Festival Song' label, cheerful deejay Admiral Bailey, lovers-rock favourite Maxi Priest and now-established Salute favourites Queen Ifrica and Tarrus Riley.
"I would not encourage anyone building a festival to do it around someone who has the number one song. You have to build it around a concept," Tony Rebel said.
Rebel is confident that the line-up will pull in a good house at the Port Kaiser Sports Club, St Elizabeth, on Saturday night, as Rebel Salute continues with its own formula - central to which is a no meat (except fish) and no alcohol policy, the latter automatically excluding a number of large corporate sponsors.
"There is no prescribed blueprint. We have gone through trial and error and we created a Rebel Salute blueprint for ourselves," he said.
Still, he acknowledges that although Rebel Salute started out as his birthday celebration among friends and grew into a festival, in hindsight there are similarities to the mother of the reggae festivals, Reggae Sunsplash, which fizzled in its original format in 1998.
"From it grew we realised that people were looking at it and comparing it to a Reggae Sunsplash. In retrospect, we looked at Reggae Sunsplash and saw there were similarities," Rebel said, among those, people staying up until daylight for a standout performer like Dennis Brown.
This year's line-up has been chosen to reflect the Jamaica 50 theme, but Rebel points out that there are those people, especially from outside Jamaica, who do not ask who is on Rebel Salute, but simply when it is. "It has a base that is really great ... . It is like a pilgrimage each year," he said. Inside Jamaica, not surprisingly, the musical pilgrims come from the urban centres of Montego Bay and Kingston.
Even the 'no alcohol' part of the formula has found Salute a particular niche, as Rebel points out that there are those who are more comfortable in that atmosphere.
Jamaica 50 party
This year, the intention is to start at 7:30 p.m., with Squeeze, running a sound system which does not go through the stage sound and is, therefore, not interrupted by sound checks, closing off with a Jamaica 50 party on the morning of January 15. Band changes are the bane of many an event, but Rebel says there are prearranged set-ups to make the changeovers easier to do and less painful on the audience.
Personally, he hopes to go on stage close to his personal 50th milestone, on January 15.
At its core, Rebel Salute is a family business, Rebel describing himself as "an artiste-producer and semi-producer". Many family businesses fail at the second generation, but he is confident that the formula for succession among his children is in place and working, to the extent that "I can tour, make some calls to see how things are going ... . They are very committed, they love it".
Another part of the festival formula is touring with the brand, but while Rebel Salute has had many offers in Europe, North America and the Caribbean, Tony Rebel points out that the ambience which is key to the festival is hard to replicate.
In addition, touring with a festival is a very expensive venture. Still, he said, "if there is someone who can make it happen we will do it".
This year is the last of Pepsi's three-year title-sponsorship arrangement with Rebel Salute. Initially there were queries about the alignment of a brand renown for its cola and the principles of Rebel Salute. While the naysayers may not have been satisfied, the initial wave of questioning is long past.
"I guess I have done enough explaining to the people. People understand that putting on a festival like Rebel Salute takes millions of dollars," he said, adding that if a suitable sponsor is available they should be utilised and Pepsi has products other than the cola.
"We hope we can have them for another three years," Rebel said.