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Ziggy Marley with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra

by Larson Sutton on July 07, 2017

Photo by Zach Weinberg (courtesy of Tuff Gong Worldwide)

For 16 years, the Hollywood Bowl has served as host for an annual Reggae Night. 2017’s sold-out affair was especially notable as the headlining Ziggy Marley marked the 40th anniversary of Bob Marley and the Wailers Exodus while undertaking a joint appearance with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Though the 65-minute set left most of the 17,000 in attendance hoping for more, what was performed was, no doubt, exceptional.

After opening support from legendary Jamaican singers Keith & Tex and English ska vanguards The Specials, Marley entered to the whipcrack marching snare of drummer ‘Santa’ Davis, leading “Personal Revolution” from Ziggy’s 2011 album, Wild and Free. The upbeat bounce of “True to Myself” followed, then to “Wild and Free,” with Marley wide-eyed and ebullient in verses endorsing “hemp fields forever.” A dip back to 1988 on hit “Tomorrow People” concluded Marley’s band-portion, moving to the introduction of conductor Thomas Wilkins and the much-anticipated orchestra pairing.

Immediately the partnership showed signs of success. Marley’s nine-piece ensemble was buttressed and elevated by the gift and grace of Wilkins’ arrangements, kicking off with Bob’s examination of division in “Top Rankin’” seguing into the diplomatic “We n Dem.” Luscious strings swung against bristling horns, anchored in time by Wilkins’ flexible baton and Davis’ rock-steady bridge between relaxed reggae and orchestral composition. Marley offered two of his own solo cuts- a seductive “Beach in Hawaii” and anthem “Love is My Religion”- before the show’s pinnacle; a captivating and sweeping rendition of Bob’s “Is This Love” that brought the capacity house to its feet.

One more Ziggy track, “We are the People,” from last year’s eponymous Grammy-winning album gave way to a trio of Bob Marley and the Wailers jewels: “Get Up Stand Up,” “One Love,” and the closing “Exodus.” Each basked in Wilkins and company’s accompaniment, never overreaching or diluting the original simplicity or intent of Bob’s musical majesty. To the regret of all, after allowing his two sons a promised quick shout goodnight, Ziggy darted off, the house lights came up, and the show, somewhat abruptly, came to an end.

There were rumblings of a Sunday curfew. Certainly, Marley and his band have played shows nearly three times as long. Yet, the memory of Reggae Night 2017 should and likely will be of a reverent and special evening of music, when two seemingly incongruous forms of music joined forces, united superbly in one love.

Authors: Larson Sutton