Music has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. And every generation has ground breaking artists who transcend a genre. Rock and roll had Elvis and The Beatles, for country it’s Hank Williams and Bob Wills, and for reggae it’s Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. Well none of those fabled performers are with us anymore except for Jimmy Cliff who closes the landmark 50th season of Vail in a special performance by one of music’s ultimate ambassadors.
Few fans know Cliff as well as Marley in spite of Cliff’s ‘discovery” of the legendary Wailer. After all it was Cliff who introduced the world to this unique form of Jamaican music with his prescient performance in the 1972 film “The Harder They Come.” Cliff played Ivanhoe Martin, a drifter in search of a career as a singer who finally lands in jail when his hit record fails to give him the financial freedom he desires.
The plot based on the real life saga of Rhyging is only half the story, as the musical world discovered the reggae beat through the movie’s lasting soundtrack. A classic in any genre, “They Harder They Come” and its star Cliff went on to influence a generation of seminal artists including The Clash. How many artists do you know that have been covered by Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Garcia and Rancid?
Cliff will bring a renewed spirit to the Vail stage in support of his Grammy winning and splendid latest album “Rebrith.” The album is a history of the genre in updated form that hopefully will introduce this rock steady beat to a whole new generation of music fans. Cliff sings about the beginnings of his musical genus as being rooted in the streets of Jamaica. Cliff describes the early origins of Reggae as the fusion of the Jamaican root music known as Mento with American Rhythm and Blues that musicians like Burning Spear (Winston Rodney) and Jah Jerry “translated in the spirit of the people.”
The music began as a joyous celebration of the country’s independence but slowed down as the nation’s troubles grew. This rock steady beat turned spiritual as the country’s inward search lead them to their African roots and the mystic home of reggae aided by the heavy influence of Rastafarian ideals. Cliff was there for the entire ride and remains the genre’s preeminent progenitor of its muse.
Cliff’s appearance at Spring Back is a rare chance to see an artist who is a genre. From his classic repertoire of reggae classics like “Vietnam,” “I Can See Clearly Now” and “Many Rivers To Cross” to his new standards “Rebel Rebel” and Ruby Soho,” Cliff’s performance will be a legendary and appropriate send off the mountain’s 50 years celebration.
In a recent interview on the national NPR radio show Sound Opinions, Cliff described his music as coming from the “wanting of identity and respect” -two things that Cliff, who has been overshadowed by Marley for so long without regret, has much deserved. Locally we have a rare treat to see a master of an art form, a ancestor to a musical spirit and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member perform the sound he helped make a part of everyday life particularly here in the mountains. Don’t find yourself “Sitting in Limbo.” Get up and stand up to see this once in a lifetime concert.