Every festival, regardless of the genre played, is as much about the culture as the music itself. That’s exactly how I feel about the Rise and Vibes Music Festival held at Tico Time River Resort on May 19th-21st. The event was an outstanding display of the fusion between reggae and hip-hop from beginning to end. Man was it also a challenge, though.
Day One – A Legendary Start
On Friday, we arrived right in the middle of a constant rainstorm that ended up lingering all weekend long. This weekend, though, the rain seemed to enhance the music and the experience as much as anything heard on the dance floor.
The vibe was set immediately by early performer Sister Nancy, who played just before sunset. Sister Nancy is a dancehall emcee and DJ from Jamaica whose ubiquitous song “Bam Bam” was released in 1982. It is as recognizable a track as I can remember. It amazed me to see this very artist working the crowd with ease at the age of 61 as the clouded sun slowly crept behind the mountains and the rain steadily fell.
She seemed to only grow stronger and more in control as she continued to remind us of what truly mattered. I couldn’t help but love how she kept throwing in her version of Jackie DeShannon’s “What The World Needs Now Is love,” reminding us all of one valuable truth: we are here to love and care for one another — and to enjoy the rain the same as we enjoy the sunshine.
Her final track screamed out into the evening as we realized we didn’t just watch a performer as much as we witnessed a legend. Then, another legend came on: Del The Funky Homosapien.
I have been a fan of Del for a long time. His work with Hieroglyphics, his solo career, and even that one Gorillaz track we know so well are as strong as his stage presence, and he glided through his flows with power and subtle control. He also fit the vibe by wearing Nike basketball shorts and a pullover. He exuded no ego or over-the-top glamor, just a great artist sharing his music with a willing and appreciative crowd.
Anthony B finished the night with an authentic Jamaican reggae set as the crowd bumped and swayed to every beat, shouting out with the understanding that this was only the beginning. A fun part was when Anthony B said between songs that in Jamaica, “irie” means “good” and that Tico Time was very irie.
The rain poured heavily in the river valley, but you could still hear DJs playing well into the late night at the smaller pavilion stage. I hardly noticed the cold rain from above.
Day Two – the Vibes Were High
All weekend long, wherever you went, whoever was playing, whatever mood you were in, the vibe was high, and it was up to you to meet it. That isn’t to say it was easy, and it was perhaps one of the most physically challenging festivals we’ve experienced.
First, the tent we brought didn’t have all of its pieces. It rained constantly, we couldn’t start a fire because all the wood was wet, and to top it off, our car battery died. It wasn’t easy, but then again, it never is. But that’s also why it’s beautiful — which is exactly what Saturday was. It was an unforgettable day by any standard.
Our day began as Fayuca played to a moment of sunshine that felt amazing while it lasted. The four-person band played songs in both English and Spanish that spanned between reggae, punk rock, and ska. One member even played at least four different instruments: the flute, the saxophone, the trumpet, and the trombone.
It was a sign of the weekend that the bands were heavy with members who could play multiple instruments. My favorite moment from Fayuca was hearing them play a slow, beached-out version of Bush’s song “Comedown.” As I looked out at all the people enjoying the music in such a setting, I couldn’t help but remember the rain from that night before and how it challenged us to give up. Instead, we stayed, and we found our way. We earned this moment.
The rain returned as nightfall arrived, and we made it to the main stage just in time for Grammy-nominated Kabaka Pyramid. Kingston born and raised, Kabaka Pyramid is impossible to compare to any other artist I’ve ever seen. A mix of modern reggae and hip-hop, he had such control of his sound and the crowd. It’s so amazing to be in the presence of an artist so unique and still so powerful. His voice echoed out into the mountain river valley like a lion, and he brought the crowd to a fever pitch just as it was time for Matisyahu to go on.
Matisyahu was the co-headliner of this festival and he lived up to all expectations. He controlled the stage with ease and a powerful voice. You could hear how much he believed in the words he was rapping and singing. The crowd was the biggest by far of the two weekends I had spent at Tico Time, and it was very positive and enthusiastic. He flowed for two hours, connected to every single listener.
By the end, Matisyahu slipped in a smooth recitation of the bold and classic Bob Marley track “War,” and there was a clear understanding. We are all here to be a part of something much bigger and stronger than any of us alone.
I thought of this concept and the many amazing artists I had seen at this event as I made it to my tent in the darkness. I could hear the late-night pavilion playing a mix of dancehall, dubstep, and even some house music, very deep into the night as I slowly fell asleep under the stars.
Day Three – The Finish Line
Day three started clear and warm, finally. Granted, we had a moment of it on Saturday, but the true headliner of the weekend was the weather. Nearly every single artist up to that point had performed in the rain.
Whatever it did dictated what we did, and because of that, it raised spirits to see a sunny sky all day.
There was also a clear feeling that we had made it. The conditions made this weekend as challenging as perhaps any we ever seen, and yet even with that being said, the vibe of the people never faltered. Day three felt like a celebration everywhere you went.
It started with Niceness at the main stage, where families and people of all ages could finally enjoy the sunshine. Then came a very intimate and uplifting performance at the Pavillion by a band known only as The Irie, where we heard a wonderful medley of Sublime songs that we have always loved. We even found time to finally make a fire and bring life back to our car battery. The weekend was suddenly looking up.
Balkan Bump brought a dubstep touch to the weekend as he played broken beats and a live trumpet during a lively and energetic set. It kept everything going for last-minute fill-in Mike Love, who also held the energy and high spirits. You could feel it just building and building until that final moment when we could all say we did it: the moment the Movement went on.
If I had to explain the Movement, I would describe them as beach reggae and a little bit of rock. Similar to bands like Slightly Stoopid and Rebelution, they provide a smooth, uplifting melody combined with a love for the beach you could feel with every note.
As they enjoyed every minute as much as we did, you could feel a giant sigh of relief roll across the crowd. The festival was a success, and it took everybody riding the vibe to get to this moment where everybody was dancing and enjoying the music that brought us all there together.
We watched the fire dancers perform a group performance, listened to such wonderful music echo out into the valley, and felt an undeniable vibe. This festival asked everything of us, just like the weekend before, but in the end, we made it and danced the entire time.
I feel that so much credit should go to the Tico Time River Resort, who, throughout two weekends, dealt with constantly changing conditions and ever-evolving crowds. They did it with joy and kindness at every step. I never encountered a single person involved who wasn’t happy and proud to be a part of what’s being done up there in those mountains. One of the most beautiful scenes of the weekend was seeing many of them in the crowd for that final moment, enjoying the music just like everybody else.
The Rise and Vibes Music Festival was more than just a vibe. It was a culture, one that comes from so many places and for so many reasons that all you can do is enjoy it and be grateful to play one small part.
All involved give thanks for a beautiful and spiritual celebration. I will return to Tico Time sometime soon, but until then, I will rise each day and carry with me that vibe I experienced at this one-of-a-kind gathering.