St. Petersburg, Florida. The Sunshine City. Home to a thriving local arts scene, Jannus Live – a touring musician favorite – and the destination of the annual pilgrimage of reggae rock lovers from around the country for Reggae Rise Up Florida.
Spanning three days from March 15th through March 17th, this festival has experienced rapid growth since its humble beginnings as a single-day event in 2015. This year also sports an increasingly diversified line up, with Reggae Rise Up first-timers such Pepper, Method Man & Red Man, Trevor Hall, and Sticky Fingers – the latter of which I personally developed a new-found love for, all thanks to this lineup. Yesod Anton Williams, one-third of the Kona Dub Rockers Pepper, shares the same excitement that countless fans are expressing across all social media. “It will be our first time at RRU Florida so we can’t wait to join in all the fun that we keep hearing about from all our friends!!!!” (Those exclamation points are not overstated. Trust me.)
Despite this expansion, the festival organizers have maintained a blend of nationally recognized and up-and-coming acts, locally from Florida and beyond, since its inception. Headliners Rebelution, Slightly Stoopid, and Steel Pulse, all Reggae Rise Up veterans, grace the mainstage, while Reggae Rise Up also recently announced the addition for four more “Florida homegrown artists,” providing the opportunity for six local acts to share a stage with some of their biggest influences.
“A band that has just started out, more or less, can share the stage with legends such as Steel Pulse or Slightly Stoopid, which is a thing people such as myself used to dream about,” muses Ryan Shadowens of St. Petersburg-based Oceanstone. “Everyone on the RRU team has been nothing short of spectacular and [I’m excited for] the future of this amazing festival. I feel very blessed to have been able to see it grow from a one-day festival to this amazing three-day festival and the crowd it brings in. It has helped to put not only St. Petersburg, but the entire East Coast on the radar and the amazing talent that is born here. For that, I will always be grateful.”
[The East Coast Reggae scene] is bubbling and going to become more and more prevalent, maybe even be the leader in the genre one day,” shares Yesod. “You can hear it with bands like Kash’d Out and Seranation leading the charge for the new regime. It’s almost like they are further cementing the signature sounds of the East Coast that bands like Ballyhoo! have first blazed!”
The burgeoning music scene in Florida – and all the way up the East Coast – is comprised of a myriad of different influences including hip-hop, rock, jazz, and, of course, your expected roots and dub. “With all the different styles of ‘reggae,’ there’s something for everyone. I put reggae in quotations simply because the term is used very loosely. Many bands may have a reggae influence, but not exactly what most people would consider being reggae,” adds Oceanstone’s Ryan. “That in itself is what makes the East Coast scene so special. You can come to a festival, such as Reggae Rise Up, and you get a wide range of styles that will keep you dancing long into the night and humming their tunes days after the festival has ended. What we have out here is something very unique.” Seasoned road warriors The Movement and Bumpin Uglies both exemplify this infusion of influences in their music. They are representing the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, respectively, on the Reggae Rise Up stages this year as well.
Festivals are about more than just the music, of course, and Reggae Rise Up delivers on the experience as well. In addition to some acoustic surprises that you can expect from Sugarshack, art installations are curated throughout the festival grounds, and activities like sand volleyball and community space to chill are scattered throughout the festival grounds. Yoga is also being offered this year before the music begins, for all you early risers. There is also a plethora of merch and delicious food vendors delivering on your every need and desire. Special shout out to the Lemon Bar fresh squeezed juice stand, too. They were my lifeblood for the last two years. Did I mention that this venue is right on the water? Take a moment to take in the views. It’s freezing in Ohio as I write this, so I’m vying to be back in Vinoy Park right about now.
The growth of this festival seems to parallel the advancement of the reggae rock scene as a whole over the past several years. This is a bit of a “chicken-or-the-egg” quandary. Do events like Reggae Rise Up help elevate the scene, or does the growth of the scene attribute to the exponential growth of the festival? Altogether, the reggae rock scene is a community, raising itself up together as one. Based in the Midwest, I am thrilled with the growing popularity of reggae on the east coast, and organizers like Reggae Rise Up that place a focus on building the community on this side of the country. As someone with a “just buy the ticket” mentality, my wallet thanks them as well.
We at Reggae360 curated a Spotify playlist of some of the bangers from every act on Reggae Rise Up Florida’s 2019 lineup. Be sure to save it and bump it in preparation for March 15th. See you there!