They say lightning does not strike the same place twice. It had been more than 25 years since Bunny Wailer played in New York City and I assumed that I would never be able to see him play here again. The only living member of the original Wailers his legacy in the reggae community is immense.
As I walked down 8th Ave towards B.B. King’s I could see the line of people waiting for the show from a block away. With a capacity crowd on hand, even after the doors where open there was a line to get inside as fans flooded from all five boroughs to see the show. As I entered B.B. King’s there was chaos at the ticket booth, last minute buyers trying to get into this sold out show along with the fans patiently waiting to get inside.
The beautiful thing about Bunny Wailer is that his music impacts all people. This was one of the few shows where you could see people of all ages and races in one room, rocking together. Kids who probably just this year bought the Legend CD and were hearing his music live for the first time side by side with their parents who were alive to see and hear The Wailers when they were in their prime.
As the crowd packed in, shoulder to shoulder, the sway of one group ready for music. The lights dimmed and from off stage the Rastaman Chant began. Taking the stage in full regalia, a rasta colored vest, lion of Judah headpiece and dreads wrapped neatly around his head, even at age 69, Bunny Wailer was a presence. “Man will fly away home” sang the crowd. His first song, not even fully on the stage and the crowd was already participating. Bunny continued right into Baldheaded Jesus off his Liberation album, letting us know that this was to be a night of classics and not just from The Wailers.
As the crowd danced Bunny danced along with them. The show built momentum with hits like Love Fire. Bunny then took the crowd back to the early Wailers classics with a beautiful medley blending “TrenchTown, TrenchTown Rock and No Woman No Cry.
It would have been easy for him to play a few songs and exit gracefully, but when you return somewhere after more than 25 years it’s for a reason. Driving the sold out crowd Bunny sang another medley that included Easy Skanking, and The Heathen. Taking a moment to recognize his brother Peter Tosh, cheers rang out through the crowd and he drove into a rendition of Legalize It as smoke began to rise from the crowd.
Rounding the night off, Bunny slowed the pace sharing his renditions of Simmer Down and Keep on Moving as if bringing the crowd back to the ground they had been floating above to end the show. As he left the stage, no encore was expected, he had left it all there and each fan present felt lucky to have attended.
I hope it will not be another 25 years before I get to see this great legend play again. I feel truly blessed to have been able to share that time with him and the reggae lovers of NYC on that cool Sunday night in May.