By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 05, 2016 at 11:51 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

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When Bob Marley's second-oldest son, Stephen Marley, took the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard stage at Summerfest on Tuesday night, he played tunes from his own solo records, of course, but he also spent a lot of time paying tribute to his father's monolithic contribution to music.

Those of us of a certain age who've long followed Jamaican music can still picture Stephen Marley in the earliest days of the Melody Makers – a quartet of Marley kids who debuted in the waning years of the 1970s with chipper light reggae tunes like "Sugar Pie," on which he sang lead (see video below), and "Children Playing in the Streets."

The fact that Stephen is himself now a grandfather boggles this mind.

Stephen Marley singing "Sugar Pie" at Sunsplash 1981.

By 1982, Stephen and siblings Ziggy, Sharon and Cedella Marley had upped their game with deeper roots tunes like "What a Plot," which foreshadowed the heavy reggae, laced with conscious lyrics, of Stephen's solo career.

That roots reggae – of his own and his dad's – fueled Marley's roughly 90-minute performance Tuesday night at Summerfest, where he was backed by a rock-solid band, anchored by the rhythm section of drummer Squidly Cole and bassist Christopher Meredith, who have worked together for decades.

Though there was plenty of good seating still available, Marley drew a densely packed, heavily engaged crowd that was eager to get involved, singing along on a number of songs.

Just short of half the night's set was focused on the elder Marley's material. A cover of "Lively Up Yourself" kicked off the show and versions of "Buffalo Soldier," "Jamming," "Could You Be Loved" and others were peppered throughout. Stephen Marley enlisted the crowd to contribute vocals to "Three Little Birds."

In between, Marley performed tunes from three of his four solo releases, including the new "Revelation, Pt. II: The Fruit of Life," from which he previewed "So Strong," "Revelation Party" and "Rock Stone."

Early on, a trio of tunes from "Revelation, Pt. I: The Root of Life," released in 2011, included "Can't Keep I Down," "No Cigarette Smoking (In My Room)" and "Pale Moonlight (How Many Times)."

He also played some material from 2007's "Mind Control," including "Hey Baby," "The Traffic Jam," Iron Bars" and "The Mission."

Some of these tunes had a slightly different flavor because Marley is an eager collaborator, and his artistic foils, like Sizzla and Capleton (guests on the recording of "Rock Stone"), and Julian Marley and Spragga Benz (guests on "Iron Bars"), were, of course, not at the show. But that didn't make the material or its delivery any less compelling.

While Marley was eager to spotlight his father's material, his own past with the Melody Makers, a band that made some really solid records (one thinks especially of 1988's "Conscious Party" and 1991's "Jahmekya") went entirely unacknowledged.

Marley has a strong voice that bears an eerie resemblance to his late father's and also packs a powerful lyrical punch. So, as is the case when seeing The Wailers every few years at Summerfest, it's a tad disappointing that so much of the focus is on the work of someone else, even if that someone else is the legendary and iconic Bob Marley.

Having said that, it's a safe bet most folks in the crowd Tuesday night didn't mind one bit.

Thirty-five years after Bob's death, reggae is still engaged in Marley hero worship, even as brilliant talent has continued to emerge from Jamaica. The downside of that is that promising young performers – including Marley's own children – are always compared to and tied to this legacy. In the rock-and-roll world, it'd be like measuring every new performer against Elvis or the Beatles.

Reggae certainly doesn't need to – not should it ever – disconnect from the legacy of its most iconic, influential and far-reaching artist, but it must move forward and allow Jamaican talents to carve their own paths, too, rather than be compelling them to adhere to the, ahem, straight and narrow way.

As we saw Tuesday night, Stephen Marley definitely has the skills to carve out his own place as he follows his own path.

Set list

"Lively Up Yourself"
"Can't Keep I Down"
"No Cigarette Smoking (In My Room)"
"Pale Moonlight (How Many Times)"
"Three Little Birds"/"Buffalo Soldier"/"Iron Lion Zion"
"Hey Baby"
"So Strong"
"Rock Stone"
"Iron Bars"
"The Traffic Jam"
"Revelation Party"
"Could You Be Loved"

"Is This Love"
"The Mission"
"Waiting in Vain"
"It's Alright"

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.