Some might be surprised to learn there is a popular reggae festival in Duluth taking place this Saturday. Since starting in 2006, the annual Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival now draws thousands to the lakeside city.
Festival owner and manager Janna Dreher said people from across the African diaspora travel from the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Canada and neighboring states for the Bayfront festival. About 3,500 people attended last year, she said.
Ghanaian artist Stonebwoy kicks off his North American tour at the Bayfront festival this year, headlining with Jamaican reggae icons Konshens and Luciano, Bajan soca singer Alison Hinds and Minnesota-based talents Dred I Dread, Sound of Fujun (the resident DJ at Pimento Jamaican Kitchen’s rum bar) and Rootz Within.
“We have world-class performers coming,” Dreher said.
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Dreher said the festival is also a “foodie event” with 16 vendors bringing tastes of the Caribbean, West Africa and East Africa. Think jerk chicken and jollof rice, samosas and rum punch.
MPR News reporter and afrobeats fan Feven Gerezgiher interviewed Dreher over the phone on Tuesday.
Editor’s note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did the reggae festival in Duluth come to be?
My friend [Mary Cane] and I had discussed starting a festival to pay tribute to Peter Nelson, who was in the Minneapolis-based band Shangoya, because of his passing, and so we kind of did this festival start-up in 2006 to honor him. I’ve been running the festival since that time. And trying to recognize the value, if you will, of reggae and world music and also to pay tribute to those artists who spread the message of love, hope and equality worldwide.
Who was Peter Nelson?
Peter came from Trinidad, and he brought Caribbean music to Minnesota. He was very popular and played all over the Midwest. And he was a personal friend; my daughter played in his band. After he passed, it just felt like it was important to recognize the contribution that he had made to Caribbean music in Minnesota.
Do you have any Caribbean heritage?
I have loved reggae and Caribbean music for a long time. I have followed the bands out of the Twin Cities area like Peter Nelson, like International Reggae All Stars. I’ve followed them for many, many years. I’ve had personal friends in those bands. And so I’ve had connections with the Twin Cities artists for a long time, but I’ve lived up here in the Duluth area since 1977. I’m also a musician myself — I am a keyboard player and I perform reggae music myself. So it’s just love that I have, a passion. And then I can also say that my husband’s from Jamaica.
What do you think is the power of reggae and its message of peace and love at this time?
It’s an inspirational message in my mind, and it’s also a conscious message. In other words, it’s about treating diverse people equally and with respect. The whole thing kind of really blew up with Bob Marley way back in the 70s. His message of ‘one love’ has been a traditional message that has carried on for 50 years. Just about how uplifting reggae music can be and how the message can bring people together.
When you go to a reggae show, people are excited, they’re happy, they want to share a common feeling that comes from the heart, if you will, with other people. And it’s a message of positivity or uplifting, because it’s very uplifting music. Even Bob, who was giving messages about the hardships that people who were black or African, you know, the hardships that they were going up with, he was still providing it in an uplifting message, right? So it’s meaningful music is the way I want to say it. It really speaks to social issues, social justice, equality, sharing in a common intent because we’re human.
Details: The festival is noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, July 15 at the Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth, Minn. Find tickets and festival info at bayfrontworldmusic.com.
2022 Bayfront Reggae and World Music Festival