As a 6 year resident of Las Vegas, I look forward to the annual Reggae In The Desert festival. Even though the lineup is usually not announced when pre-sale tickets go on sale, I know from experience that it always features an excellent selection of artists so I get my ticket early. This year, being the 20th anniversary of the festival, did not disappoint, with headliners such as Morgan Heritage, The Wailers, and Romain Virgo.
In the past few years when the festival was held in June, the heat has been a factor. Last year Mr Vegas had issues with his DJ’s laptop overheating and the same thing happened to Kabaka Pyramid’s keyboard player a few years ago and only the most resilient fans would brave the scorching temperatures to stand in front of the stage before the sun went down. This year the promoters moved the festival to the beginning of May which resulted in a much more comfortable experience without any heat-related problems.
The festival started at 11 am and opened with 2 local acts. Bounce Cruz, a talented Guam transplant, did an acoustic set, and the upcoming Reggae band Driftone, who describe their sound as “spicy Reggae”, successfully hyped up the crowd for the next performance by Bonafide, a Jamaican band comprised of four brothers who are now based in Las Vegas.
Bonafide are recipients of a Congressional Commendation in recognition of their community work in Las Vegas. They could be considered Reggae Ambassadors for Las Vegas. They showcased new material from their upcoming E.P. and delighted the audience with collaborations featuring Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley and Vybz Kartel. Bonafide was supported by a newcomer to Las Vegas, Jamaican Reggae/Dancehall DJ known as Problem. The band, currently under new management, was warmly welcomed by the crowd and appeared to be on an upward trajectory in their career.
When you have the likes of artists such as Romain Virgo, The Wailers, and Morgan Heritage on the lineup you have expectations of a good festival but I often find somewhere in the middle of the program there is an artist that takes control of the crowd, and delivers an unforgettable performance. In 2019 it was Jesse Royal, who mesmerized the audience with his stage presence. This year that artist was Junior Toots, the son of the late Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals. From the moment he took the stage, he captivated the audience with renditions of his father’s songs with a sprinkling of his own songs in the mix. The crowd enthusiastically sang along to Toots and The Maytals’ classics like Pressure Drop and Monkey Man. To everyone’s delight, Junior Toots even jumped the barrier and spent several minutes dancing and singing in the crowd, he had them eating out of his hand. Backed by the talented FaYahSquad Band, this was a performance to remember. The words “brilliant” and “wicked performance” could be heard not only by the crowd but by other artists in attendance.
Following Junior Toots was the gracious, elegant Hempress Sativa who entertained us with her beautiful voice and conscious lyrics. She captivated the crowd with the ease she delivered her unique Roots Reggae with a mix of other genres. The crowd was quiet and entranced by the vibe emanating from the stage from this barefoot warrior of consciousness.
Next in the lineup was the incredibly talented and accomplished Romain Virgo. His consummate professionalism, remarkable vocal talent, and more laid-back vibe were precisely what the audience needed at that moment. Fans enthusiastically took over the vocals on his hit songs, solidifying Romain Virgo as a popular addition to the festival. His band was exceptional and his backup singers were among the finest to emerge from Jamaica. Overall, Romain Virgo delivered the type of performance that you come to expect from him.
The penultimate act at Reggae In The Desert was none other than The Wailers. Led by Aston Barrett Jr, son of original Wailer, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, The Wailers took us on a trip down memory lane by performing the iconic songs made famous by Bob Marley and The Wailers. While it is common for Reggae artists to include a Bob Marley song in their set at festivals, it was particularly special to witness an entire set dedicated to Bob Marley and The Wailers’ songs.
To close out the 20th Reggae In The Desert, Morgan Heritage took the stage and delivered the stellar performance that this legendary group is known for. They treated the crowd to a mix of their best-known Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning songs, as well as tracks from their newly released album “The Homeland”. It was a perfect conclusion to the festival, leaving the audience thoroughly satisfied.
In conclusion, the only disappointment of the festival was the non-appearance of the publicized veteran DJ, Eek-A-Mouse, which was beyond the control of the festival promoters due to delays in his performance visa processing by the immigration department. I only have two criticisms of the festival, one being the limited availability of water to purchase. There was only one vendor selling cans of water at a ridiculous price and considering that we are a desert community, I believe there should have been more options available. The other criticism pertains to the amount of time between acts which was attributed to technical issues. Despite these minor setbacks, the festival was overall a resounding success, executed with precision and enough to rank Reggae In The Desert as one of the premier Roots Reggae festivals.