Colorado’s music scene has something to offer for every fan. There’s a little bit of everything from folk to bluegrass, indie to metal, and anything in between. The music demands beautiful venues that reflect the state’s culture and values. For over 80 years, Colorado has been home to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which was named the #1 top-grossing and best-attended venue in the world in 2021 by Billboard’s Boxscore. Many legends have stood upon this stage at least once. This year, Reggae on the Rocks—a reggae event held at the amphitheatre every year—graced the stage for the 39th time.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
The first installment of Reggae on the Rocks was over three decades ago and since then, the event has ranged anywhere between one and two days. This year, however, was unlike previous years. On August 19th, 2023, concertgoers and event runners held a moment of silence for William “Bill” Bass, the indie promoter responsible for the creation of the festival.
On January 13th, 2023, Bill lost his life on a fishing trip in Mexico, a week before the on-sale announcement of the event. Bill was the first promoter to book an arena show without the help of Fey Concerts, who had a stronghold on the market at the time. He went on to found Boulder’s Fox Theatre, and in 1994 he started Small Axe. Bill had worked with names like Slayer, Widespread Panic and countless others. Thanks to the love and passion for music he put into his craft, Bill will forever be a legend in Colorado’s music history.
Ska, Reggae, 2-Tone, and More!
Judge Roughneck returned to continue their two-decade streak of appearances in the fest and was the first opener in this year’s lineup. The band has played just about everywhere you can think since the early 90s, including opening for acts such as The Wailers and UB40. Their blend of Jamaican jazz-laced ska and early 80s British 2-Tone set the stage for the soul of reggae to come to life.
Next up was the band that created Jamaican Ska in the first place: The Skatalites. This group started in the early 60s and has a track record that holds up to this day. Lester “Ska” Sterling passed away in May of 2023, leaving Doreen Schaffer (vocals) with the torch as the last surviving original member. The technical skill and rich instrumentals built across six decades cement their spot as OGs in reggae, making their set an experience you can’t afford to miss out on.
Changing tones to more modern reggae, third on the lineup with two decades under their belt was Passafire. Their take on reggae delivers a more gritty tone, refreshing the palates of those in attendance with their energetic progressions. The members are 90s kids through and through. Although their short tributes to metal and hip hop were not unexpected, they were especially fun to hear!
Bringing things back to the Jamaican reggae roots, The Meditations took to the stage without wasting a second. They’ve worked with various artists across the years, including background vocals with Bob Marley on “Blackman Redemption” and “Punky Reggae Party.” With smiles plastered on their faces and ours, their hour-long set felt more like 30 minutes. And soon after their set, we were in the final three acts.
Rain, Sun or Snow
The Expendables dished out their own touch of ska reggae. Fittingly, some of the stagehands took a torch to a giant blunt and passed it around during “Pass the Joint.” Ashes of the ganja gods blessed the stage and seamlessly ushered in Iration. Iration ramped the crowd up for the final act of the night, playing fan favorites including “Time Bomb.” The attendees sang their hearts out as scattered rain showers threatened to shut the show down early. The rain did put a hold on the festivities in the end, but in true Red Rocks fashion, Rebelution came back just after 10 PM. Their powerful performance after the rain delay made their uplifting pop tones feel like a miracle to the ears.
This year’s Reggae on the Rocks was a blend of celebration and remembrance for those no longer with us. Not everyone holds out for the weather to clear when it starts to get dicey, but those who do are most certainly rewarded. Rebelution is currently on their Good Vibes Summer Tour with Passafire, The Expendables, Iration and DJ Mackle as special guests. The tour ends with a sold-out show on August 27th in Jacksonville, Oregon. A solid finish for some solid reggae grooves.
Photos by Mike Rampi