This Bud's for Jah: Bunny Wailer shows off the gift of herb Friday night at the Civic.
By Bill Forman
Once Bunny Wailer took the stage Friday night at the Santa Cruz Civic, there could be no doubt that the spirit of his former partners Bob Marley and Peter Tosh was very much in the house. The soul survivor of that original Kingston trio brought tears to fans' eyes with his rendering of Marley's No Woman No Cry, remembered Tosh with a strutting rendition of I'm the Toughest, and showed the younger folks how high dancehall can soar with his own classic Cool Running.
Accompanied by a mostly vintage and crucially talented stage full of singers, horns and riddim kings, the 59-year-old Bunny, a.k.a. Neville O'Riley Livingston, was surely the most fitting possible finale for a two-day Santa Cruz Dayz tribute to Bob Marley festival that featured performances by Steel Pulse, Morgan Heritage, Eek-A-Mouse, the Twinkle Brothers and Midnite (the St. Croix sensations whose trance-scendent set right before Wailers' was itself a revelation).
Expressive and energetic throughout, Bunny appeared in especially good spirits when, midway through his set, an audience member bestowed upon him an herbal artifact bigger than those tree-shaped air fresheners people used to hang from their rear view mirrors. He paraded across the stage with the gift all through his next song, his eyes on the prize the whole time. (Hmm, maybe Measure K had some use-value, after all ...)
But while all's well that ends well, Bunny's set didn't. With tons of signature songs from Blackheart Man, protest and rockers still to be sung, and the show's emcee encouraged the crowd to make more noise to bring Bunny back, his mic went dead and the lights came up. Turns out the promoter decided to pull the plug at just past midnight because he would have had to pay the unionized Civic staff overtime.
Which, on reflection, was a totally lame call. Here we have the ultimate festival honoring Bob Marley, with the most legendary and fitting headliner possible, doing an amazingly powerful and positive set, and it gets cut short to keep from paying people overtime. How unrighteous is that?
Granted, it wasn't the kind of thing that would launch a mini riot like the one that took place late Sunday night when headliner El Tri failed to show up at Watsonville Veterans Memorial Hall, which ended up with fans reportedly smashing windows, cornering the promoter and trying to set his car on fire. Efforts are being made to bring back the band, whose flight was apparently grounded in Reno, for a makeup gig at a fireproof venue to be announced.
Meanwhile, back at the Santa Cruz Civic, the venue has announced that Santa Cruz Dayz was the last of its events being sold through Ticketmaster, a move that's expected to reduce service charges and make Eddie Vedder really happy (to the extent that that's possible). Tickets to upcoming shows can be purchased by calling the Civic Box Office at 831.420.5260 or visiting them online at www.ci.santa-cruz.ca.us/pr/civic.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.