Words/photos by Joe Janiak:
Friday night at Buffalo Rocks Canalside was nothing short of a celebration for the soul. Although the mood started off mellow, the crowd progressively gave more love as the night went on, and by the end thousands were dancing and singing along. The music started off a little after six with Outer Circle Orchestra, then came Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, a Rochester based jam-reggae band, followed by the headlining Wailers.
Blue skies, warm sun and quality music graced the people who showed up early. At six-fifteen there was already a good crowd and people continued to filter in throughout the night. It was great to see a more diverse crowd than usual as the audience covered all ages and races and we all danced together to the rhythm of reggae.
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad is a group of young guys that tour constantly and put remarkable effort into every performance. Their music is tight and energetic with a fine mix of dub-reggae, improv jamming, and catchy lyrics.
Check them out here: http://livepanda.com/live-panda/
The bass player, James Searl is maybe the most entertaining of the group, as he stomps around seemingly angry at his bass, fully in control as lays down the beat. Chris O’Brian is the other half of the drum and bass combination and an excellent drummer at that. Dylan Savage, on guitar is the third original member and the three form a triangle at center stage representing the core of the band. Dan Keller, a North Tonawanda native, is a newer addition on guitar and has some impressive soloing abilities. Last but not least, they have a new keyboard player with the recent departure of Aaron Lipp (former keyboardist), who did a fine job.
Panda eased into the set with a couple of short and to the point songs and as evening fell they reached deeper and songs stretched into jams. They played with rebellion, with love, and with talent, constantly thanking the people for their support in coming out to the show and expressing their happiness to play that venue. They delved into their nightly musical experiment and took plenty of chances along the way. Drums, bass, and reggae-guitar rhythms echoing out into the night. All good things must end and so, an hour and a half later another performance was in the books. A success if you ask me.
While waiting for The Wailers to go on I met a man named Rafael, from South Sudan. Believing that I had some sort of power in the media he told me that he wished for me to relay a message. I explained, that my reach was limited but told him that I would do what I can. His message was of unity, the need to “bring people together,” cultures. He has been in America for about a dozen years and he is very thankful for the opportunities this country has given him. Rafael left his home in South Sudan because of war and as he pointed out the bullet wounds in his face tears welled up. For a moment I could feel the pain I saw in his eyes. Reluctant to go any further into his past he told me that he wants to see, in Buffalo, and in our country as a whole, people reaching out and learning about other cultures, learning about the traditions of our neighbors, instead of staying in our homes and shutting each other out.
Our conversation seemed to fall right in line with the ideals of Bob Marley and the music that was on deck. Even so, it’s easy to be skeptical of a band that tours basically as a nostalgic act, and I have to say, I was. I mean, Bob Marley, the leader of The Wailers, passed away thirty-two years ago and they still play all of the same songs that they’ve been repeating for decades. Then the band came out and reminded me why I was there. I was there to celebrate live music. I was there to celebrate the ideas of a legend, and I was there to gather with my friends and neighbors on a great night to be alive, as I’m sure, Mr Marley would have been happy to see. It goes to show the power of songs. The words mean so much to so many people that thirty years later they still stand as strong as the days when they were written. From the love songs to the songs of strife, songs of revolution, and calls for unity, we all can find something to grab onto.
The only remaining member that played with Bob Marley is bassist, Aston “Family Man” Barrett and he is still holding it all together today. Koolant Brown and Ceegee Victory, lead and back-up singer respectively, provided the spirit and sound that Marley and his vocalists made famous so long ago. Keith Sterling is in charge of keys, Drummie Zeb, drums, and Audley Chisholm, rhythm guitar.
If Giant Panda warmed up the crowd, The Wailers set a fire and kept it burning. The performance started off with an instrumental that led to, “So Much Trouble in the World.” They played one notable song after another and only touched on the collection of hits in the catalogue. “Waiting in Vain,” had a few verses of Tina Turner’s, “What’s Love Got to do With It,” woven in by Ceegee Victory, which worked perfectly. “Three Little Birds,” was a sing along involving almost everyone in the crowd.
At that point, if you weren’t having a good time you must have been trying really hard not to. A few more highlights were, “Positive Vibration,” “Jammin,” and an acoustic “Time Will Tell.” To send everyone out on a high-note they threw down a “Punky Reggae Party” as a night cap.
And we all rolled out into the streets of Buffalo, lit by music.