Central Park SummerStage was the excited site of a special celebration concert as legendary label VP Records recognized their 40th with a star-studded ‘bashment’ blitz. There was a ‘Raging Fyah’ of a ‘fete’ on Saturday, August 10th where you were able to hear anthems like Junior Reid’s classic “One Blood,” soak vibes and “Signal Di Plane” with Elephant Man while showing an “American Boy” how Carib beings ‘dweet’ with Estelle. All in a newly renovated and jam-packed outdoor venue with a gate price of absolute zero.
The night began with the Grammy-nominated five-man band known as Raging Fyah raging through a performance that included classic covers and original compositions culminating in their latest single, “Better Tomorrow.” Junior Reid crooned and careened his way through a career catalog ranging from rising in the ’80s with Hugh Mundell and fronting Black Uhuru, to his latest album The Living Legend and collaborations with Hip-hop’s elite. And no Junior Reid performance is complete without the sing-along ‘jugglin’ juggernaut known as “One Blood.”
“I thought everybody did very well,” says Randy Chin, President of VP Records, of the evening’s festivities. “Raging Fyah which is a brand-new band that I am introducing… the Estelle performance, she’s an R&B artist, but we did a Reggae album with her… Junior Reid is classic… and Elephant Man just sort of capped everything off. His energy and way he performed and clowning around on stage was definitely incredible.”
Estelle, riding high on the waves and tides of her current collection, the Reggae rooted Lovers Rock, put in a power-packed presentation that kicked-off with “Come Over,” her Supa Dups duet with Sean Paul, included singles from Lovers Rock (replete with videos playing big screen behind her) such as the Tarrus Riley assisted “Love Like Ours” and “Better,” intimate, interactive moments with the audience and her Grammy Award-winning Kanye West collaboration “American Boy.”
Estelle came to have fun. “I always do,” she says, and that included partying offstage in the audience and bringing members of the crowd onstage twice, including a dance-off that was her favorite moment of the night. “When… I had the African dancing section and I pulled the five people in the middle. It was almost like a circle in the village,” says Estelle. “It felt like so what I experienced when I was like seven-years-old first time I went to Africa.” The singer says that celebrating VP’s 40th was a special moment for her. “Every year SummerStage happens and I’m like, ‘I’ll perform next year’ and I never did,” says Estelle. “So, this year I went to do it and it’s even more amazing because it’s VP’s 40th. It’s just like epic timing.”
As far as the Big Apple goes, SummerStage is a perfect platform for the performance of Reggae music. Nothing captures the essence of the genre better than an outdoor outlet where the music’s natural mystic can frolic freely. A place where you are also free to frolic and the price it costs to frolic is free as well. A tradition since 1986, SummerStage, along with Lincoln Center Out of Doors and the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, is part of a trinity of free summer outdoor concert festivals that contribute to New York being a cultural force to reckon with.
“SummerStage is the institution that has always celebrated culture and community. I think we are one of the greatest venues in New York City in Summer in terms of bringing arts and culture to New Yorkers and making it accessible and welcoming,” says SummerStage’s Executive Artistic Director, Erika Elliott. “We as an institution, as a festival made a commitment to gender equality and parity this year,” says Elliott. “It is a pretty significant achievement as a festival to achieve gender equity and have equal showings of female artists and you saw that represented by having someone like Estelle on the bill with VP… and we’re one of the first festivals in New York to do that!”
Elephant Man was the night’s closer and the Energy God, though HIM ‘belly get big again,’ did due diligence to his nickname. His fun-filled ‘fete’ set included a conga line through the crowd, his young daughter demonstrating the dancehall dominating dance moves his music immortalizes, bold banter and bouncing and ‘bubblin’ with a big, blessed and beautiful Black woman centerstage. “Jiggy,” “Too Bad Mind,” “Signal De Plane,” “Pon De River,” “Willie Bounce,” “Nuh Linga;” no “Gully Creepa” can take it deeper than Elly, who appeared to wear himself out even as he repeatedly asked the crowd “Yuh tiad!?!”
VP Records itself is more than just the premier global distributor for Reggae Music. In this post-digital age; it is still a cultural institution that is a cornerstone of New York’s Caribbean community. From Kingston, Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens, their 170-21 Jamaica Avenue location remains and retains a pivotal presence. “Having a physical location is always very important because it’s a gathering point where people come together. We’ve had huge in-stores there, the last one was Beres Hammond, we had a signing there for him, the line wrapped all around the block,” says Chin. “It’s definitely a case where the artist and the community can gather to vibe out the music, meet the artist, like Record Store Day in April was a big event. We had a sound system outside. I think to showcase the music at a central place where people can gather is important.”
VP Records’ slogan is “Miles Ahead” but arguably, if you’re visiting or living in New York, and you’ve never been to SummerStage, then you just may be miles behind. “You missed one! Come and experience culture. Come experience what we do!” says Estelle of SummerStage. And what an experience it is. “You get a sense of New York City at any one of our shows and get a feeling for what makes New York special,” says Elliott. “All New Yorkers can see culture right in their backyard.”