Groundation, Virginia Beach, VA & Nags Head, NC- 7/22-23
Peabody’s (July 22 – Virginia Beach, VA)
Kelly’s Outer Banks Restaurant (July 23 – Nags Head, NC)
With a full catalogue that reaches back to 1999, Groundation is a legendary band in the US reggae scene (California born – found one another at Sonoma State University), and they so rarely come to my region. When I heard they were swinging through VA and NC for back-to-back dates, I wasn’t going to be anywhere else. I missed them when they last came through, five+ years ago, and the buildup was fully sated by the reality of seeing them on stage.
Harrison Stafford’s singing is uniquely his own. That may seem an obvious statement, but his delivery, scats, and voice would be recognizable in any setting. The wordsmith of the band, Stafford forwards a message of unity and oneness as humans, rather than a world that lives under the divisiveness of religious/cultural differences; we are all one human race. Stafford will stop between some of the songs to place an uplifting message on the heads of the audience, and those calls for peace ring as heartfelt and loving hugs through the invisible barrier between band/audience.
Foregoing modern synth overlays keeps the band pure and locked into an honest roots reggae tool kit. Jazz and Latin elements weave through the tapestry, but Groundation is foundationally a roots band. As reggae continues to morph into various branches of its now-aging tree, bands true to the history of the style (even as they add their own voices to the conversation) are necessary preservationists. Without these flame carriers, styles can quickly become history notes.
I could list the songs Groundation selected over the two nights, but what’s important is that each and every song was played with proficiency and a loving delivery possibly paralleled in the music game, but it’s one that’s certainly not topped. Thankfully, Virginia Beach’s Peabody’s and Kill Devil Hills’ Kelly’s heard two entirely different set lists that dug through the band’s past, while also nodding to an upcoming release. That said, there was one highlight track that made the whole experience for me, and it was performed on the second night of this review. Reggae patriarch Burning Spear (My favorite reggae to see on stage) doesn’t fully tour (a few one-off shows) these days, so when Groundation covered a song from his long list, it was better icing than I could’ve hoped for. Spear has taken his rest from the grind of touring, but there are torch runners still carrying his words. My heart was lightened at the end of the night as I heard the first notes of “Marcus Garvey” step forward to send us on our way. I’d travel far to experience it again…
In a summer of reggae for me, Groundation was a highlight experience that I’ve been waiting for. Sometimes such anticipation is crushed by lackluster realities, but Groundation isn’t even trying to be showy; their musical skills/dub breaks speak for themselves. In truth, their shows are meditative moments simply meant to connect the band and any open listeners through a message that we all are one. Imagine if more art was hinged on such wisdom.