A Celebration of Life with Stephen Marley
By Danny Savage
photo slideshow below
November 16, 2018 marked Stephen Marley’s next-to-final stop in his “Evening with Stephen Marley” acoustic tour. This night was performed at the lovely and historical Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA. The Keswick marks its 98th year in this month, and what a perfect performance to showcase the venue’s pristine acoustics. I want to start off by saying that this concert is one I will cherish in my spirit and remember for decades to come. It is such a blessing and honor to be in the company of such brilliant and loving musicians. I am truly humbled each and every time. Selah.
Stephen Marley is the second-eldest son of legends Bob and Rita Marley. Born in April of 1972 in Wilmington, DE, Stephen was exposed to greatness right away. He was never too far away from the seeds of music. And with Stephen, those seeds were planted deep.
Stephen got his start with music when he was just a child. Recording in 1979 with his family’s band, “The Melody Makers”, he and his siblings recorded “Children Playing in the Streets”, a song that their father wrote for them to show them the ropes. Soon after, Stephen sang lead on the hit track “Sugar Pie”.
In 1980, Stephen accompanied his father and older brother, Ziggy, to Zimbabwe for the country’s independence. This trip would later have a profound impact on young Stephen. It would show him for one how harsh the world is and also the profound impact his father had on the people. Stephen spent many years to follow honing his craft, learning and mastering several instruments—not to mention becoming a production legend in front and behind of the mixing board.
This has been quite a busy year for Stephen. He toured the spring and summer across the USA with bands like “Rebelution”. He also lent his endless talents to his older brother Ziggy on the track “Circle of Peace” on Ziggy’s latest album, “Rebellion Rises”. This was just the start of Stephen’s 2018 appearances on albums across the globe. Notably, Stephen is featured on two of my favorite songs. First, lending vocals on the Grateful Dead song “Fire on The Mountain” on Roots of Creation’s dub-heavy homage to America’s favorite touring band. Stephen would also help with a cover of The Beatles’ iconic “Eleanor Rigby” alongside Salaam Remi.
The year 2018 would also see Stephen featured on the lyrical fire which is “Be Free” by Mojo Morgan. Stephen also would release his mix of Bob’s historical album “Kaya” for its 40th anniversary this year. Stephen used his unwavering talents to bring new life to the album, using many alternate versions to help weave a tapestry of music we all know and cherish.
The November 16 performance at the Keswick was a unique show for everyone, including me. For me, it was odd to have a “sit down” Marley show. But for most, it was their first time seeing Stephen and his band play a complete acoustic show. Stephen created the perfect set list, one that highlighted some of his most powerful songs, while also playing some of his father’s more obscure repertoire.
The show kicked off with a surprise appearance by Stephen’s daughter, Mystic. Mystic opened the evening playing three soulful songs with Stephen’s band backing. Mystic has the Marley touch of captivating an audience. She sang with such grace and spirit. This was my first time seeing her sing and I must say, she has a lot of her grandmother Rita in her. She also reminds me a lot of Etta James and Nora Jones. I am definitely looking forward to see what’s to come of Mystic. In a world of pop stars who sing through auto tune and only sing other people’s songs, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a young artist sing with such soul.
Stephen’s set started promptly at 8:35 with a few of his father’s early tracks, “Small Axe” and “Rainbow Country”. Stephen followed up by playing a powerful and hypnotic version of “Iron Bars” and “Mind Control”. In a country that locks up more and more of our people each year, it’s songs like those that are a revelation and spark revolution. By midway through the anthem that is “Mind Control”, everyone in the theater was singing along and had their fists in the air. Stephen followed by saying: “The world Is full of injustice! That’s why I like singing love songs.”. With this came a mini set of just that.
Stephen has a way of writing love songs. They are not always of love gained but also love lost, of love missed. This is what has always drawn me to his music. Stephen sings from the depths of his heart and soul. He bares all and isn’t afraid to leave himself exposed. After a few crowd pleases like “Traffic Jam”, “Three little Birds” and “Mission” came two of Stephen’s songs that ring true with me and will always be part of my life’s soundtrack: “Revelation Party” and “Now I Know”.
It was beautiful to see everyone in the venue fall silent and listen to the masterpieces word for word, taking from them what they may and leaving only open hearts. Stephen ended the set by calling out his daughter Mystic to perform “Jungle Fever” and “Could You Be Loved”. What a joy it was to see Stephen’s eyes light up watching his daughter sing one of her grandpa’s most iconic songs. From generation to generation, the torch is passed.
Stephen encored with a few tracks from Bob’s album “Kaya”. The highlight of the encore for me was Stephen and his band bringing one of my favorite tracks by his father to the light of day. “Real Good Time” is a track Bob was working on in 1980 and has never found its way to a release. It’s a departure from what Bob was doing at the time. Lyrically, it will make you think and want to educate yourself. I keep faith that someday the world will hear it and learn from it as I have.
Stephen closed the night out playing a song from “Revelation Pt 2: Fruit of Life” called “It’s Alright”. This is unlike any other song on the album. Like the lyrics say, “I have been a stranger to myself”, it seems like a stranger to the rest of the albums tracks, but it is a song that is so beautifully crafted, such an artistic masterpiece, it had to make the cut. For the last time of the evening, everyone was silent. Stephen was singing the song to each and every one of us who was lucky enough to be there that evening. People were drying their eyes by the end. “It’s Alright” was hitting us at our core; helping send us on our way knowing: Yes the world may be dark, it may have a lot of hate. But there is still love. There is always love.
With 2019 a few weeks away it will be a treat to see what Stephen has in store. With three solo albums, an acoustic version of “Mind Control” and another acoustic EP streaming now. Most people I spoke to before, during and after the show all seemed to ask and wonder the same thing: With a show as historical and unique of Stephens acoustic shows, will one be released as his first live album? Only time will tell, my friends. Only time will tell…
Keswick Theater 11/16
Small Axe (Bob Marley)
Rainbow Country (Bob Marley)
All Day (Bob Marley
You’re Gonna Leave
Hold on To This Feeling (Rita & Bob Marley)
Rock It Baby (Bob Marley)
Three Little Birds (Bob Marley)
Now I Know
Jungle Fever- Could You Be Loved (Bob Marley) *featuring Mystic Marley
Jamming-Misty Morning (Bob Marley)
She’s Gone (Bob Marley)
Good Time (Bob Marley) *unreleased