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Gonzo Report: The cloud of smoke over Burning Spear

Long-ago meeting with Bob Marley leads to night of good vibrations

The Lion roars from on high for Burning Spear.
The Lion roars from on high for Burning Spear.

July 23, 2022, Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre: Burning Spear, aka Winston Rodney, has come out of a six-year retirement for a reunion with his fans and to spread the word of Jah Rastafari. The event is appropriately called his fan appreciation tour. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t had that fateful encounter with Bob Marley riding on a donkey? Both men were living in Jamaica’s St Anne’s parish at the time. Rodney asked Bob the best way to get into the music industry. Bob referred him to Studio One, where he recorded his first two albums, Burning Spear and Rocking Times. Burning Spear is currently one of the only Rastafarian acts still around from the 1970s, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity — who knows if he’ll ever tour again? As it happened, I was revisiting the site where I had seen him for my first and only time, back in the spring of 1990. What I can remember about that show: groves of people lounging out in front of the arena on blankets and towels, and the air filled with marijuana smoke. I was 18.

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Now I am 50. Upon my return, I was hoping to see a new generation of people on their towels and blankets in front of the arena, passing the pipe. But instead, I saw administrative and classroom buildings occupying the space, plus bike and walking paths, and a new athletic field right across the way. You can’t go home again, even if you can go back to SDSU to see Burning Spear.

The concert was set to start at 8 pm. My friend and I arrived at the front gate at 7:20. There were literally only 12 people waiting in front of us. Since I had taken a Lyft to the venue, I didn’t get to visit the parking lot to see what sort of activities were happening there. I couldn’t even tell you where the parking lot was. Getting in was smooth; I navigated my ganja through the security check without any issues. The concession stands were never busy or crowded. Domestic beer $13, craft beer $14, sangria $10, and wine $9. Not bad prices, in my opinion. But I had recently lost my ID and they were doing ID checks before you could even get in the concession line, so I sent my friend in to get our drinks. Naturally, when my friend came out with our drinks, he started yelling “I got your beer!” and drawing the attention of one of the security guards, a nice lady who said, “Hey I need to check your ID because your friend has your beer.” I told her — in a shamed voice like I was getting in trouble — “I’m sorry, I’ve recently lost my drivers license.” Maybe you can go home again. Her reply was, “Well, you look way over 21. Just pull out any card from your wallet so it looks like you’re showing me something.” Got my stamp! Alas, I did look way over 21.

My seat was in the very last row at the top of the arena Section D, Row W, but there was really not a bad seat in the house. No obstructions; I could see and hear everything on stage. By 7:40 pm, I could still count the total number of people in the place: 22, 26 if you counted the security guards. I figured more people would be filtering in as the concert progressed.

I was the only person puffing on something while waiting for the music to start. The live resin vape went down nice and smooth. The Expendables, a band from Santa Cruz, opened the show with a harder edge than I expected, as they combined reggae and hardcore. But they also covered “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak.

My seats were strategically located by the restrooms and concession stands. But a sewage backup closed the restrooms, so we had to hike closer to the stage and use the restrooms there. No problem; I needed the exercise anyway, and I was still close to the beer. More people filtered in, but the arena was not packed at all. I mean, the floor was packed, but the middle section seats stood empty. At least the top rows, where I sat, offered some company. The ladies in front of us were very friendly; one of them wore a red, gold and green cape with the Lion of Judah in the middle. Even so, my section was not densely occupied, so we could skank (steady paced dancing to Reggae music) and smoke freely.

Burning Spear came out and more smoke filled the air. It was as if everyone had been waiting for him to come out before they started smoking. A cloud seemed to form and hover directly over the floor section. He moved so smoothly, with little hip shakes, two-stepping and playing the conga drums with precision timing. Not only did we experience the gospel he came to preach, we also experienced a history lesson, thanks to songs such as “Christopher Columbus,” “Marcus Garvey,” and “Slavery Days.” The band and horn section kept the rhythm tight and everyone on their feet through the very last song.

So refreshing to see people being nice and cordial with each other. It was a night of positive vibrations. ■

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The Lion roars from on high for Burning Spear.
The Lion roars from on high for Burning Spear.

July 23, 2022, Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre: Burning Spear, aka Winston Rodney, has come out of a six-year retirement for a reunion with his fans and to spread the word of Jah Rastafari. The event is appropriately called his fan appreciation tour. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t had that fateful encounter with Bob Marley riding on a donkey? Both men were living in Jamaica’s St Anne’s parish at the time. Rodney asked Bob the best way to get into the music industry. Bob referred him to Studio One, where he recorded his first two albums, Burning Spear and Rocking Times. Burning Spear is currently one of the only Rastafarian acts still around from the 1970s, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity — who knows if he’ll ever tour again? As it happened, I was revisiting the site where I had seen him for my first and only time, back in the spring of 1990. What I can remember about that show: groves of people lounging out in front of the arena on blankets and towels, and the air filled with marijuana smoke. I was 18.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Now I am 50. Upon my return, I was hoping to see a new generation of people on their towels and blankets in front of the arena, passing the pipe. But instead, I saw administrative and classroom buildings occupying the space, plus bike and walking paths, and a new athletic field right across the way. You can’t go home again, even if you can go back to SDSU to see Burning Spear.

The concert was set to start at 8 pm. My friend and I arrived at the front gate at 7:20. There were literally only 12 people waiting in front of us. Since I had taken a Lyft to the venue, I didn’t get to visit the parking lot to see what sort of activities were happening there. I couldn’t even tell you where the parking lot was. Getting in was smooth; I navigated my ganja through the security check without any issues. The concession stands were never busy or crowded. Domestic beer $13, craft beer $14, sangria $10, and wine $9. Not bad prices, in my opinion. But I had recently lost my ID and they were doing ID checks before you could even get in the concession line, so I sent my friend in to get our drinks. Naturally, when my friend came out with our drinks, he started yelling “I got your beer!” and drawing the attention of one of the security guards, a nice lady who said, “Hey I need to check your ID because your friend has your beer.” I told her — in a shamed voice like I was getting in trouble — “I’m sorry, I’ve recently lost my drivers license.” Maybe you can go home again. Her reply was, “Well, you look way over 21. Just pull out any card from your wallet so it looks like you’re showing me something.” Got my stamp! Alas, I did look way over 21.

My seat was in the very last row at the top of the arena Section D, Row W, but there was really not a bad seat in the house. No obstructions; I could see and hear everything on stage. By 7:40 pm, I could still count the total number of people in the place: 22, 26 if you counted the security guards. I figured more people would be filtering in as the concert progressed.

I was the only person puffing on something while waiting for the music to start. The live resin vape went down nice and smooth. The Expendables, a band from Santa Cruz, opened the show with a harder edge than I expected, as they combined reggae and hardcore. But they also covered “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak.

My seats were strategically located by the restrooms and concession stands. But a sewage backup closed the restrooms, so we had to hike closer to the stage and use the restrooms there. No problem; I needed the exercise anyway, and I was still close to the beer. More people filtered in, but the arena was not packed at all. I mean, the floor was packed, but the middle section seats stood empty. At least the top rows, where I sat, offered some company. The ladies in front of us were very friendly; one of them wore a red, gold and green cape with the Lion of Judah in the middle. Even so, my section was not densely occupied, so we could skank (steady paced dancing to Reggae music) and smoke freely.

Burning Spear came out and more smoke filled the air. It was as if everyone had been waiting for him to come out before they started smoking. A cloud seemed to form and hover directly over the floor section. He moved so smoothly, with little hip shakes, two-stepping and playing the conga drums with precision timing. Not only did we experience the gospel he came to preach, we also experienced a history lesson, thanks to songs such as “Christopher Columbus,” “Marcus Garvey,” and “Slavery Days.” The band and horn section kept the rhythm tight and everyone on their feet through the very last song.

So refreshing to see people being nice and cordial with each other. It was a night of positive vibrations. ■

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