One Love: The Marley Fest Adventure

Tai Carpenter – Compose Yourself Magazine

Arriving in downtown Austin, the city was already buzzing with the excitement that the 16th Annual Austin Reggae Festival manages to continue bringing year after year. The event is hosted by the Capital Area Food Bank, who donate nearly 2 million pounds of food every month to those in need. Known more commonly as “Marley Fest”, every year is a cultural gathering showcasing several different reggae acts & offering incredible (and seemingly endless) assortments of one of a kind items for souvenirs. Scheduled on this years lineup were Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, Ashes of Babylon, Mighty Diamonds, Mau Mau Chaplains and Easy Star All Stars, some of the top names in reggae, which increased my anticipation for just how good this day was going to be. Arriving two hours before opening time on Sunday at the Auditorium Shores, I could see the line covering 3 blocks along Riverside. As I made my way through to the will call box, I noticed something about the ‘line’ of people; it was more of a large group. Everyone seemed to know each other, and the vibes that were being thrown out were ridiculous. I felt comfortable before I even made it into the festival. There was a bit of delay with the opening as the previous days of the festival had experienced some rain here and there. Volunteers of the festival ran through the grounds just beyond the gates, patching muddy spots with small bales of hay, and gate keepers collected cans of food from concert goers that were donating. But as soon as the gates opened, the crowd swarmed through and immediately began the descent into ‘Marley World’ as I heard several show goers call it. Tents were pitched, vendors set up shop, and off I went to explore.

There were three areas of Marley World to attend to: The stage, the marketplace, and the miniature ‘towns’ being created with circles of people surrounded by tents. Out of the dozens of booths and tents that were selling items, every single one happened to have something interesting to look at and something new to offer. Art work, intricately detailed glass work, clothing, hemp accessories and many other items for some pretty sweet prices. Crowds of people swarmed the vendors, desperate to see what goods they could claim as their personal souvenirs from Reggae Fest. There were moments where I couldn’t even walk through the tent space; at one point a girl that I was literally rubbing shoulders with turned to me and said, “Kind of like stand still traffic,isn’t it?” and gave me a smile. She was 100 % right; everyone was crowded together following worn down paths to reach other areas within the “Marley World”, making me reminiscent of the 1998 Disney movie “A Bug’s Life”, with Marley Fest being the massive ant hill. At any other event, these conditions were a recipe for disaster: Thousands of people crowding in one place for a concert has been known to create problems in the past. Just like many large music gatherings, there were local police officers all throughout the grounds in case any problems were to arise. But there was not one reported fight during the entire weekend. Within a half hour of being there, I had already experienced the goal of the festival: Unity. There was no yelling, nor pushing or shoving. Just the sweet sounds of reggae, dub, and ska floating through the air. Closer to the stage, there were people gathered in circles waving to whichever band was on stage. There was no break in the show, just a perfect live soundtrack to a beautiful day. During my time there, I must’ve heard what had to be the key phrase of the event over 50 times: “I don’t ever want to leave!”

Leaving the festival was a little heartbreaking as I’m sure it was for everyone else in attendance. During the short period of time I was there, I had developed a bond with the cultural, unified, and peaceful environment that ARF had created, and reality hit me pretty quickly when the music began to die down and people started packing up their things. It was the realest, yet somehow rarest and most honest music festivals I had ever been to. The atmosphere at the festival was mellow and friendly from beginning to end, and had no issues with violence or hostility… I’d never experienced such a wholesome event. I had always thought festivals were written out to have good and bad results. It blew my mind that the Austin Reggae Festival had been proving me wrong year after year. For me, it all just goes along with the sweet little charm the city holds. It’s pretty much undeniable; Every time I come to Austin, I leave feeling a little more open and a lot more weirder.

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