Jay N. Miller
For a reggae band from suburban New Hampshire, meeting and performing with Stephen Marley was certainly a “pinch me” moment. But becoming friends with the son of the late Bob Marley, now a major star in his own right, was even better, and when Marley asked if they’d like to open part of his current tour, Roots of Creation didn’t have to think about it for long.
Roots of Creation will be opening three Stephen Marley dates in Massachusetts this weekend, starting with Friday night at The South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, continuing Saturday at Indian Ranch in Webster (a 1 p.m. start), and finishing up Sunday night at The Cape Cod Melody Tent. (The South Shore Music Circus is at 130 Sohier St. in Cohasset, the show begins at 8 p.m., and tickets are $39.25 to $79.25, available at Etix, 781-383-9850 or themusiccircus.org.)
Roots of Creation singer/songwriter/guitarist Brett Wilson explained how the Marley tie came about.
“Back in 2018, when we were recording our ‘Grateful Dub’ album – dub versions of Grateful Dead songs – we had Errol Brown producing us,” said Wilson. “He had been Bob Marley’s engineer for Bob’s last three albums and knew Stephen well. On that album we wanted an authentic Jamaican vibe, added to the improvisation you get with the Dead. We were using some guests and felt Stephen would be perfect for ‘Fire on the Mountain.’ With the help of (ska-rock band) Slightly Stoopid’s manager, we got the track to Stephen. Stephen ended up doing a great back-and-forth vocal with Trinidad artist Marlon Asher.”
Connecting with Marley
Best of all, Marley didn’t want to get paid for his work, and instead became friends with Roots of Creation.
“Stephen did it for the love of it, and then asked us to play on his festival, the Kaya Fest in Southern California,” Wilson added. “We got to hang out with him, drinking fish tea, and forged a real friendship. It was cool to bring our music between the Grateful Dead, Stephen Marley and Slightly Stoopid, and reinvigorate it, and also build these new relationships. Stephen has this new tune, “Old Soul,” and the first time I heard it, it made me cry. When he asked us to open these dates for him, we were all super-stoked. It’ll be our first time on those rotating stages at the two tents, so we’re excited by that too.”
Wilson, who grew up in Brookline, New Hampshire, and keyboardist Tal Pearson have more than 20 years in Roots of Creation, and saxophonist Andrew Riordan has a decade with the band. But the toil of a busy touring schedule does force some turnover, and three of the members are relatively new, including Pembroke native Brendan Dillon on drums, along with guitarist Kyle Bell and bassist Matthew James.
Becoming a reggae fan
Wilson came to love reggae through a variety of influences, starting with his love of skateboard culture, which, of course, includes rock bands heavily skewed toward ska, a reggae precursor.
“My stepbrothers had some dancehall reggae I liked, and my dad liked Peter Tosh,” noted Wilson. “I also liked exploring Northeast jambands, like Phish, and then my mother’s best friend used to make me reggae mixtapes. My own music became a kind of fusion of all that, ’80-90s reggae like Black Uhuru, Boston-area bands like John Brown’s Body, and I loved it when bands like Sublime and 311 were mashing it all up together. But I also liked jams like Phish or the Allman Brothers.”
A couple of weeks ago, the 10th annual Levitate Festival featured two South Shore-bred reggae bands, Stick Figure and The Elovaters, and the Roots of Creation guys know them well.
“Oh, we love Stick Figure and (Duxbury’s) Scott Woodruff puts so much energy into that sound,” said Wilson. “We have seen The Elovaters grow over the years and took them with us on our ‘Grateful Dub’ tour. (Duxbury’s) Jackson Wetherbee just has a great voice and writes really good songs.”
Mavericks rock Music Circus
Last week was a big week for country music fans by any measure, with Luke Combs banging out Gillette Stadium twice, and then “Yellowstone” sweetheart Lainey Wilson, who was one of the Saturday night Combs openers, performing before a sold-out crowd Sunday at The Cape Cod Melody Tent. Those dates made it all the more surprising that The Mavericks drew 1,800 wildly enthusiastic fans to The South Shore Music Circus, where the band – extended to an octet with a three-man horn section – delivered a torrid 97-minute show.
Some fans may not consider The Mavericks a country act, or see them as more country-rock, or even Americana. The best description I’ve seen – and it may have come from singer/songwriter Raul Malo – compared The Mavericks’ sound to 1968 Elvis Presley in Las Vegas. That’s to say boisterous, expansive big band, rowdy rock and pop, with large dollops of soul and plenty of twang. And, of course, the prime weapon in The Mavericks’ quiver is Malo’s incredibly expressive vocals, and not only was he in fine voice Sunday night at Cohasset, he may well have never sounded better.
Whether he was blazing through the power pop-with-twang “All Over Again,” or evoking memories of Roy Orbison with his soaring glides on the evocative ballad “Pardon Me,” Malo’s voice was truly an instrument at which to marvel. And when that ballad morphed into “Give Peace a Chance,” it was as if the singer was saluting that 1960s aura that influences so much of their music. Later on, during the effervescent big band pop of “All Night Long,” Malo shifted easily into a few verses of “Let the Sun Shine In,” from “Hair,” another example of The Mavericks reveling in and gleefully celebrating the ‘60s.
The current Mavericks configuration includes Malo on bass, the three horns, accordion, guitar and electric piano, and the group packs a wallop far beyond its size. And with material like “There Goes My Heart” showing the real depth and power of Malo’s voice, it makes for a formidable unit. And one unique thing is that while Malo can write and sing the most heartbreaking lyrics, and invest them with nuances that are stunning, the arrangements generally make it all seem upbeat, as if even the most intense romantic woes are just temporary detours. More than anything, a Mavericks show feels like an uninterrupted paean to the sheer joy of living life to its fullest.
Some other indelible moments during the concert came during the boogie-woogie flavored “As Long as There’s Loving Tonight,” a fast-paced romp where exuberant solos went from piano to accordion to trombone to trumpet to sax, turning the big tent with the rotating stage into a rowdy fiesta. The accelerated two-step of “Rolling Along” was another gem, somehow a cross between a thumping rocker and a Latin party song.
At one point, a female fan came down the aisle toward the stage to get a photo, and the usher quickly steered her back to her seat. Malo saw this from the stage and strode over – still singing – and up the aisle to the woman’s seat to give her that close-up and a hug, without missing a note. The three-song encore segment was triumphant, with the rhythmic sensual lure of “Come Unto Me,” and then a marvelous charge through “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down.” And, as usual, Malo and The Mavericks turned that song about a romantic bummer into a gloriously joyful celebration.
Isbell headed to Boston
THURSDAY: Americana’s top songwriter Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Roadrunner in Boston. Tyler Hubbard of the Florida Georgia Line brings his solo show to The South Shore Music Circus. The legendary Mavis Staples at The Cape Cod Melody Tent. The Garcia Project celebrates Jerry Garcia music at Soundcheck Studios. Hobo Johnson opens two nights at Brighton Music Hall. Alt-rockers Crumb – forged at Tufts – headline The Paradise Rock Club. Stop by The Paradise at 6 p.m. for the free celebration of critic Jim Sullivan’s new book, “Backstage and Beyond.”
FRIDAY: Country singer Lee Brice at Leader Bank Pavilion. Comic Ali Wong opens a two-night stay at MGM Music Hall. The Pat McGee Band, with Jeffery Gaines, at City Winery. British rockers King Krule at The House of Blues. Snoop Dogg, with Wiz Khalifa, at The Xfinity Center. Reggae star Stephen Marley at The South Shore Music Circus. Fitz & the Tantrums light up The Cape Cod Melody Tent. Four bands, topped by Mentalgen, rock The C-Note. The free concert at the Hingham Launch features the soul-funk band Free Downloads. At the Ruth Gordon Amphitheater in Quincy, the free show is comedy from Improv Boston.
SATURDAY: The funky septet Cool Cool Cool comes to Soundcheck Studios. The Garcia Project moves on to The Narrows Center. Yachtley Crew rocks The South Shore Music Circus. New Jersey metal with Overkill at The House of Blues. Power pop from Florida when Arrows in Action hit Brighton Music Hall. The Docksiders groove at City Winery. The Fab Four tribute to The Beatles at The Cape Cod Melody Tent. The party band with the weird name Assisted Living returns to The C-Note.
SUNDAY AND BEYOND: Get an early start for the 1-6 p.m. Rhythm Room Afternoon show, with two of the region’s best, Neal & the Vipers and Sugar Ray and the Bluetones. The Fab Four land at The South Shore Music Circus while Bumpin’ Uglies’ reggae from Maryland takes over Soundcheck Studios. New Jersey rock quintet Ours heats up Brighton Music Hall, Mudvayne rocks The Xfinity Center and author/comic David Sedaris is at Old Colony Memorial Hall. Monday, The Drums rock The Sinclair. On Tuesday, The Beach Boys kick it up at The Cape Cod Melody Tent while Rufus du Soul opens two nights at MGM Music Hall. Wednesday, Bela Fleck visits The Narrows Center with Sierra Hull while City Winery hosts Great Southern – without Dickey Betts, but with the estimable Lee Roy Parnell – while Lyle Lovett brings his Large Band to Old Colony Memorial Hall. On Aug. 3, The Beach Boys land in Cohasset at South Shore Music Circus. Carlos Santana, a birthday boy last week, hits MGM Music Hall on Aug. 4. Cowboy Mouth makes a rare local appearance Aug. 11 at The Narrows Center.