News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Sounds: The Wailers
BY ANDREW LEAHEY
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. Countless festivals and parties are in the works, each one focused on honoring the country’s freedom. For the Wailers, though, the best way to celebrate is to leave the homeland and hit the road, spreading Bob Marley’s music throughout the world.
The Wailers formed in 1963, one year after Jamaica wrestled free of British control. It would take the better part of a decade for Marley, the band’s charismatic frontman, to become an international symbol of peace and tolerance, but the Wailers preached their open-minded message from the very start. Their first hit, “Simmer Down,” was a plea for less violence in the country’s ghettos, and other songs examined the day-to-day struggles of Jamaican life with a sympathetic eye.
As the third world’s first pop superstar, Marley functioned as a sort of musical diplomat. He toured the globe, bringing firsthand stories of his homeland to new audiences every night. Thirty years after his death, the Wailers are still following his example.
“We’re always on the road,” explained Koolant Brown, the band’s new vocalist, two days before the start of the Wailers’ American tour. “We’re always doing the work, whether at home or abroad. It’s a good thing, being in the Wailers.”
Growing up in the Jamaican countryside, Koolant would regularly hear Marley’s songs on the radio. He became fascinated with old-school reggae music, ignored the contemporary stuff that his schoolmates were listening to, and established his reputation as an old soul trapped in a young man’s body. When the Wailers offered him a spot in their band, it seemed like a natural fit.
Koolant joined the group two summers ago. He’s one of many singers to pass through the Wailers’ ranks over the years, but he says the revised lineup still feels like family.
Appropriately, the group also features Aston “Family Man” Barrett, who played with the Wailers during their 1970s heyday and helped create many of their signature bass lines.
Barrett is old enough to be Koolant’s father. Paired together, they’re a prime example of the Wailers’ broad appeal. Barrett, the reggae veteran, gives the band some vintage street cred; Koolant, the young newcomer, links them to the 21st century.
“Reggae music is very powerful,” Koolant said. “It’s a never-ending music. It carries on.”
It carries into different genres, too. The Wailers have shared several tours with the hard-rock group 311, and they’re popular on the jam-band circuit. Three years ago, they even recorded a country song called “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” with Kenny Chesney. It topped the charts.
How did a tiny Jamaican band become so popular? Moreover, how are they still able to headline shows like the upcoming Celebrate Virginia Live event on Saturday night?
“Bob Marley’s music is a message of peace, a message of reality, a message of culture,” Koolant said. “People gravitate to that, you know? It is a calling. It’s in your bones.”
What: The Wailers
Where: Celebrate Virginia Live, Gordon W. Shelton Blvd. near Central Park
When: Saturday, June 23, at 6 p.m.
Cost: $10 in advance, $15 at the door
Info: celebratevirginialive.com, wailers.com
Andrew Leahey knows in his heart that every little thing gonna be all right.