The Marleys—and the Spirit of Bob—Lit Up the Mann Center Saturday Night

Stephen “Ragga” and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley held court with a house full of loyal fans during Saturday night’s Catch a Fire concert, the kick-off of a ten-city tour, at the Mann Center. The contrast between the two sons of Bob Marley and their sets — Stephen went first, then Damian — gives a nod to the foundation and the future of Marley’s musical legacy. The headliners completed a day of performances as marijuana-scented breezes swirled through the open-air venue. The stage was complete with a Rastafarian flag being waved by a member of their crew, a golden lion sculpture and Rasta red-gold-and-green lighting bathing the stage. 

The annual Reggae in the Park festival opened in the afternoon, with a lineup of acts on the Main Stage, including Bob Marley’s grandsons, Skip and Jo Mersa, as well as performers Morgan Heritage and Tarrus Riley, with more acts on the smaller Crescendo Stage. Jamaican barbecue and Jamaican-themed crafts were on sale in stalls around the edge of the lawn. Families, couples, and friends milled about, some dancing, some lounging on the lawn, and some watched from their seats. While the lines for the picnic food were long—up to 40 minutes to get some jerk-chicken—the chill Bob Marley “one love” vibe was thick in the air. 

Stephen Marley | Photo by Darco Lalevic

Stephen Marley | Photo by Darco Lalevic

By 8 pm, under a full moon, Stephen Marley, opened with his father’s fun anthem “Lively Up Yourself.” Stephen has become a kind of “keeper of the flame” and mentor to his younger brothers, producing Grammy-winning songs and albums for them as a co-founder of the Ghetto Youths International recording label. He delivered many of his father’s classics at an up-tempo beat during his hour-long set, with a few feeling rushed at times. The crowd responded to Stephen’s obvious pleasure at covering iconic songs of his father including “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” “Is this Love,” “Buffalo Soldiers,” “Iron Lion Zion,” and “Three Little Birds.” At times the show felt like a group sing-along with enthusiastic, swaying fans accompanying Stephen from their seats. He peppered his songs with exhortations to “Jah,” “feeling Irie,” and “Zion,” and the fans cheered harder. A few of his original songs — “No Cigarette Smoking,” “Hey Baby, “ “Iron Bars” — made it into the set as well as a brief appearance of his newest single, “Rock Stone.” Stephen finished up by introducing his son with obvious paternal pride, “Here’s Jo Mersa, my child, my seed.” Stephen’s genial stage presence, reverence for his father’s body of work and his own well-crafted songs serve as a foundation for the bold new reggae sounds of his youngest brother. Damian’s vibe is something different altogether, as he took the stage with a fierce, commanding rockstar presence.

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The First Family of Reggae Returns to Philly this Saturday

Stephen Marley

Stephen Marley

The good news for all you reggae fans is that Philly welcomes Stephen “Ragga” Marley, Bob Marley’s second son, Damian “Jr. Gong,” Bob’s youngest son, and Jo Mersa, his grandson, this Saturday as they kick off their Catch a Fire tour at the Mann Center’s Reggae Fest. The bummer is we don’t get even more of the Marleys: No Ziggy, Julian, Ky-mani.

It’s notable that those Marley men are now all older than their father was when he died in 1981 at age 36. Stephen is 43 and Damian is 37. Yet, Bob Marley’s musical presence and message of love and tolerance in the world seem as in demand as ever. (Forbes magazine’s 2014 ranking puts Bob Marley behind only Michael Jackson and Elvis in postmortem earning power. And only the Marley estate’s income is on the rise.). I spoke with Stephen, an eight-time Grammy winner, over the phone to talk about Saturday’s upcoming show and his impressions of Philadelphia.

And yes, it did sound like I was talking to Bob himself. Their voices are eerily similar. And yes, he did address me as “mon” a few times.

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Phish Return to Philly for Two Sold-Out Nights at the Mann Center

Photo by Stephen Olker

Photo by Stephen Olker

This Tuesday and Wednesday the Phish from Vermont return to the Mann Center in Fairmount Park, for two sold-out nights of their uniquely unclassifiable rock ‘n’ roll freakout, complete with immersive light show and traveling circus of devotees.   

This run will be Phish’s eighth and ninth appearance at the Mann Center, two highly anticipated shows midway through a 25-date summer tour. Highly regarded for its gorgeous-sounding, 4,700-seat cedar wood pavilion, the Mann is an intimate venue that hosted two excellent shows by the band on July 8 and 9, 2014.

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What to Expect at City Bisco 2014

1488150_10153205524648136_7294115853091530615_nPhilly jam giants Disco Biscuits (DB) might have taken a summer off from their 14-year-strong electronica festival Camp Bisco. But commitment to their fledgling hometown annual run City Bisco has hardly stalled. Adding a third day and two new venues to this year’s chapter, the party’s only on the up and up.

For unfamiliar ears, the Biscuits’ claim to fame is their trademark trance fusion—a genre-bending hybrid of jam, electronica and psychedelia that opened countless doors for likeminded torchbearers of The Grateful Dead and Phish.

Where last year’s City Bisco lineup favored hip-hop legends Big Boi, Method Man and Redman, this year’s supporting acts complement a return to the roots for the hometown heroes.

The Biscuits will have the stage to themselves for night one, a sold-out show on Thursday, September 24th at the Trocadero (because Thursdays are contractually reserved for throwing back to the 90s at this point).

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REVIEW: John Legend at The Mann Center, 8/2

On Saturday night America’s fiancé–and Penn alum—John Legend, arrived at the Mann Center with a singular mission: to get Philadelphia laid. The silken-voiced R&B crooner played a tight 100-minute set attended by cool, late summer breezes that whispered sweet nothings into our ears.

Legend is touring on the strength of his three current love songs, “All of Me,” “Made to Love,” and “You and I,” all written for his model wife of eight months, Chrissy Teigen. He is as wholesome as an artist who is constantly singing about intercourse can get. In this respect, and so many others, Legend is the anti-Robin Thicke. The latter blew into summer 2013 with the monster hit “Blurred Lines,” and then spent the ensuing months on an extended musical bachelor party. And not a nice bachelor party, either. Like, a bachelor party with two groomsmen who have probably committed a misdemeanor held at a strip club where mobsters make deals in the movies. Meanwhile, with the success of this year’s singles, Legend continues his 10-year streak of cranking out mid-tempo jams and ballads in an effort to corner the market on making everyone pregnant.

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5 Things I Learned at the Sara Bareilles Concert at The Mann

Mann Center 1

Skyline Stage at The Mann.

When I found out I was going to the Sara Bareilles concert at the Mann last Thursday, I reacted with the type of feverish panic that only female pop artists can awaken in me. I had never listened to her before. In fact, I kind of loathe her kind of pop-rock. Would I be smothered in the midst of a feel-good group hug during one of her ballads? Would I fall into a quiet coma during a set of whispered love songs, left to rot on the lawn amongst half-finished wine coolers? Or, worse … would I actually enjoy it?

Here are five things I learned at the show:

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Philadelphia Orchestra Meets Outdoor Cinema at Movie Nights at The Mann

Movie Nights at the Mann kicks off with "Gladiator," featuring a live score from the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Movie Nights at the Mann kicks off with “Gladiator,” featuring a live score from the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Mann Center for the Performing Arts is taking Philly’s summer obsession with al fresco movies to a new level.

Next week, Movie Nights at The Mann kicks off, bringing a series of three movies to the incredible outdoor venue, each one accompanied by a live score from The Philadelphia Orchestra. Could there be a better way to experience a movie?

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