Familyman's Wailers conjure memories of Marley
Despite the fact that there are no original members of the vocal group that included Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, among others, a band called The Wailers continues to pound the musical pavement.
The group, fronted by bassist Aston "Familyman" Barrett – a founding member of the instrumental outfit that backed Marley from the late 1960s until his death in 1981 – returned to headline the Miller Lite Oasis at Summerfest Sunday night, playing nearly two solid hours before an enthusiastic crowd.
Barrett is himself a living legend of Jamaican music and devotees would jump at any chance to see him onstage at the Big Gig. I'm in that camp.
When I last saw him in Chicago 20 years ago, Barrett was surrounded by other Wailers like Wire Lindo, Junior Marvin, Seeco Paterson and Al Anderson, along with Jamaican studio vets like Mikey "Boo" Richards, and the Wailers were still recording and performing new, original material.
These days, Barrett is the only one left and The Wailers are basically a Marley tribute band – albeit most certainly the best one out there – building a set around songs written and recorded by Marley in the 1970s.
Though purists will scoff, thousands of more casual fans clearly couldn't care less who was onstage and are happy to hear familiar Marley music wafting through the summer night air.
And that's exactly what they got Sunday night, as a cool breeze rode in from the lake and the grounds offered a little elbow room after Saturday night's massively packed festival.
What I got was the chance to see one of my musical heroes again, this time on the same stage that has, over the years, hosted Jamaican musical talents like Horsemouth Wallace, Bagga Walker, Pablove Black and a host of others back when the Reggae Sunsplash package tour made an annual stop at the Miller Lite Oasis.
Opening with "Cobra Style," an instrumental released under Barrett's name back when Marley was still alive, the rest of the set was populated strictly by Marley material, with a special emphasis on later records like 1977's "Exodus" and "Survival," released two years later.
Barrett, who stayed mostly in the background, was ably supported by veteran keyboardist Keith Sterling and his own son Aston Barrett Jr., on organ and keyboards, as well as rock solid drummer Ernest "Drummie Zeb" Williams, among others.
Singer Koolant Brown had an affable stage presence and style that hinted at Marley's but, wisely, Brown didn't attempt to copy one of the most original and naturally magnetic musical personalities of the past century.
The Wailers aren't doing much to expand on the musical legacy of the group's founders, but they are presenting that legacy to a new generation of fans, who will find a rich trove of musical treasure should they decide to scratch beneath the surface.
Cobra Style (stakes his claim)
So Much Things to Say
Is This Love
Waiting in Vain
I Shot the Sheriff
Three Little Birds
Wake Up and Live
Time Will Tell/Redemption Song
Stir It Up
Could You Be Loved
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