Rootfire is based in Charlottesville, which is a little-bitty college town in the center of the state of Virginia. Not exactly a spot known for its reggae past, but the reggae future is pretty sunny. Let’s talk about the present for a moment, shall we? When a few of us walked down the hill to a Bob Marley birthday party last Friday, we weren’t that surprised to find the place wasn’t pushing up packed. No roiling room, thick with smoke, bodies indistinguishable, system bubbling and backfiring. More like a few friends sipping beers and the DJ spinning Caribbean dance music to a mostly empty dancefloor. Before we left, Seth and I had a realization, that maybe the reason he wanted to plant himself and his label here, apart from the fact that Easy Star Records and Lem Oppenheimer had dropped roots here first, was that it was the type of town where you could still make something happen, because it hasn’t all happened before.
The next day, driving home from a soccer game (playing with both DJs from the night before) I was listening to WTJU, our college radio station, and Goldfinger, a killer selector, was pushing out a setlist called “District of Consciousness: Reggae in D.C.” Now besides the fact that Goldfinger knows what he’s doing and sounds like the voice of the old 99.1 WHFS if Kurt Loder were a Rasta elder, which makes me feel 17 again, here he is playing a setlist featuring D.C. rasta bands like Englishman and their influences like Don Carlos and Israel Vibration and damn if he doesn’t leave off with three songs from Thievery Corporation, SOJA, and Rebelution. Planting a seed in my head that what was then is now.
Now go back again to the early ‘90s and Bob Marley’s birthday. A few college freshmen, hailing from D.C. to St. Louis to the OC, take the train into NYC looking for something to happen and wind up on Bleeker Street. No surprise there. And then we, not knowing a thing about anything, filter into the Lion’s Den. I can’t remember who was playing but we caught the right place on the right and proper night. When the band played “War,” I danced my ass off and after the song the guys on stage pulled out giant spliffs and lit them in Bob’s name and then passed them into the crowd. The singer picked me out, handing me his spliff first and my friends tell that story on the train ride home and for a long time after. I’m thinking it was a kind of consecration, coming as it did on that day, and I’m hoping one day I will be in a room like that again. But it never happens.
This week Rootfire is making connections so we can make things happen. Tomorrow we’ll drop another exclusive premiere, this time from Collie Buddz, who makes the whole world his dance hall, bustin’ up parties from Bermuda to the Bay. On Thursday Obi Fernandez of Westbound Train takes us back to the near past (not too far from Bleeker Street in the ‘90s) with a tune from The Slackers, skanking from Philly to the Big Apple. We’ll also debut a track from Kings & Comrades that’s true to the new roots vibrations and shows how near the two coasts are coming, and we’ll pop into the studio with The Movement’s Joshua Swain to see how a kid from South Carolina wound up rapping on reggae records. Let’s make a promise to each other: Next year on Bob’s birthday, whether we’re in a lickle town or the big city, the room is crucial and all of we come with our dancing shoes.
Seen and heard my man. I think I already know which shoes I’ll wear.
Can’t wait to see where all your good work goes.
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Lawd, we gotta keep on movin….