Main Image: Stephen Marley
I carried zero expectations into Stephen Marley’s performance. To be honest, I was unaware he was on tour but I jumped at the chance to cover his show June 16 at Center Stage Theater. I saw Against Me! there last year and loved the intimate setting. Marley and Spragga Benz filled the 1,050 person venue nestled in Midtown Atlanta.
Reggae shows bring out an eclectic crowd. The majority of attendees were middle-aged. The crowd was peppered with locks, tie-dye, smoke shop t-shirts, soccer jerseys and I’m sure at least a couple trustafarians. I saw the cutest mother and daughter in matching flowy dresses while waiting to get in.
Spragga Benz gave an explosive performance. I missed his first few songs thanks to slow-moving lines at the bar, but at least Center Stage had televisions streaming a shot of the stage while we waited. He sang a wicked taste of Barrington Levy’s “Murderer.”
Benz humbly asked, “Do we have time for another one?!” before launching into an a capella version of “Brighter Days.” At the song’s crescendo, the audience erupted in cheers. There were even a few lighters in the air. All love.
After a brief intermission, Stephen Marley strolled out on stage as the band played an up-tempo dancehall tune. He asked, “Do you like Reggae?” then opened with “Break Us Apart.”
I feel an abundance of gratitude after the 2018 @thekayafest - Give thanks to my brothers and family for their unconditional love and support, to all the artists for their powerful performances, to the staff for their tremendous effort in making the Kaya experience come to life and to all the fans who traveled from near and far to fulljoy the #KayaFest and help celebrate 40yrs of "Kaya" - LONG LIVE the King @bobmarley ...stay tuned for more details about @thekayafest 2019...JAH BLESS!
Marley’s voice boomed, “The lion is in the building.” Make no mistake. He wasn’t arrogant. He even waved for a stagehand to give an audience member a bottle of water mid-set. He checked in with us between every couple songs, “How are you doing, Atlanta?” We were good, just a little sweaty from nonstop dancing.
“Do you love Bob Marley?” he asked. Bob Marley was there. Not only on show goer’s t-shirts but also in every “Yeah!” Stephen would let out after completing another banger. They did a flawless cover of “I Shot The Sheriff” and paid homage to the 40th anniversary of his father’s Kaya album with “Easy Skanking,” and “Is This Love.”
Solos on solos gave each band member a chance to shine. Marley smiled as he let loose on a bongo. Two backup vocalists danced and rounded out “Pale Moonlight” perfectly. Later, he even urged us to sing along to “Options,: and we obliged. “Atlanta I love to see you smile.”
For the encore, Spragga Benz joined the party for “Working Ways.” Then, stage lights shifted to three big vertical rows of red, yellow, and green. Marley broke out the bongos again for “She’s Gone.” His raspy, soulful delivery nearly pushed me to tears. Stephen brought out his children, “These are my seeds.” We all sang happy birthday to his son, Jeremiah, while two of his younger siblings danced along. I could only imagine how proud Bob Marley might be. The band seamlessly worked into “Could You Be Loved” for the final encore. As the band played on. Marley said goodbye, saying, “Until we meet again, one love, one name, one destiny, one people. Love!”
I couldn’t stop smiling while I waited for my Uber. Partly from from the film-length set Stephen Marley nailed and partly because a guy sitting nearby played Bob Marley songs on a piccolo.
Stephen Marley is set to tour the US all summer. Catch him if you can.