To say that Beres Hammond had the ladies eating out of his hand at Reggae Sumfest 2011 wouldn't be a lie. Photo by Radcliffe Roye
A funny thing happened in the run-up to International Night 1: after a last-minute cancellation by headliner R.Kelly, who was reportedly suffering from a throat ailment, Reggae Sumfest promoters had 48 hours to scramble and find a replacement for the Pied Piper of R&B. After scouring the whole world for options, they decided to call on two legends of Jamaican music: Cocoa Tea and Bunny Wailer, both of whom performed brilliantly along with the island's #1 soul man Beres Hammond—who was honored with a Reggae Icon Award this year. Cocoa Tea did not hesitate to needle Sumfest management for calling him in on a last-minute rescue mission, asking the crowd over and over "Do you miss R.Kelly?" Some of the night's other standouts included Christopher Martin, Half Pint, and Tanya Stephens, whose fearless songwriting addresses topics that some women won't dare to discuss even among their closest friends. Tanya's pungent performance and kick-ass boots definitely left a lasting impression. But nobody could surpass sixty-something-year-old Bunny Wailer's two-hour-plus set—ranging from solo hits like "Cool Runnings" and "Ballroom Floor" to Wailers classics like "Simmer Down," "Dancing Shoes" and "Trenchtown Rock." Although much of the crowd had gone home, those who remained were treated to a legendary performance, skanking tirelessly in his Rasta finery as the morning sun beat down, Bunny and his band—complete with a live horn section—put the exclamation point on an evening that shall forever be remembered as International Reggae Night. Friday night was more than a great show, it was also a great opportunity for debate and discussion about Reggae Sumfest's mission as it moves into its 20th anniversary next year.