The Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Alabama in Birmingham is a place of refinement and culture where one can enjoy programs as varied as Cirque de Soleil, classical performances by the symphony, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater or the legendary Nancy Wilson. These recitals are usually met with enthusiastic, but polite applause as befits the venue, that was until The Wailers arrived.
From the very first opening notes, it was clear this night was going to be different as the band warmed up with a couple of instrumentals. The beat was solid reggae and Aston “Family Man” Barrett laid down a throbbing bass line that got pulses pumping. By the time the vocalists took the stage, one young man had already left his seat to present himself in front of the stage where he danced with abandon. All attempts by the center employees to have him return to his seat fell on deaf ear and he was soon joined by another, then another and after that who really cared, the entire center, from the mezzanine to the balcony was one giant party with people dancing, singing and shouting, The Wailers were in the house and it was rocking.
I don’t think the smile left my face as I looked around the auditorium at the diversity represented. On one side a middle aged, white professor type was out of his seat and rocking to the beat, while next to him, a young brother with dreadlocks was equally enthusiastic in his response to the music. Without going through a list of the nationalities represented, let me just say last night was truly a global village and I must admit I was amazed at how many people knew the words to just about all the songs. If I had to choose the biggest numbers of the evening they would have to be “Exodus” and of course “One Love” which had everyone singing at the top of their lungs.
The defining moment for me, given the history of Birmingham was when the group performed “War:”
“Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another inferior
Is finally and permanently
Discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war”
Nothing needed to be added to that moment, it was profound in and of itself.
I had the pleasure of meeting the band prior to the show and learned from them that after leaving Birmingham, they were headed to Memphis, Tennessee then on to Greece, and then the UK before returning home. If the crowd response is any indication of what to expect, then these guys have enthusiastic fans waiting for them at every stop and one thing is for sure, they will not be disappointed.
I WENT HUNGRY is a global music industry initiative started by the legendary reggae band the Wailers to help eradicate hunger.