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Sweet sounds at Sugarloaf

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Sugarloaf Reggae Festival marks 25th year

CARRABASSETT VALLEY It might seem a bit counterintuitive to think of a ski mountain when it comes time to consider the dawning of spring. While Sugarloaf is one of the premier skiing destinations on the East Coast, come April, we're more inclined to think about melting snow rather than snowpack.

However, there's more to Sugarloaf in the springtime than just some late-season shussing down the slopes.

The annual Sugarloaf Reggae Festival has become one of the state's most popular destination musical events. And this year marks a special anniversary for the event the silver anniversary. That's right Reggae Fest turns 25 this year.

From April 11-14, the slopes of Sugarloaf will come alive with the sounds of reggae. Thousands of music fans will descend on the mountain for a weekend filled with some of the best music around. Bands from Maine and from all over the country will come together for an unforgettable few days of fun and festivities.

And there's a lot going on.

'The festival in and of itself is going to be mostly the same format,' said Ethan Austin, communications manager for Sugarloaf. 'We've reduced ticket prices for the events; John Brown's Body is going to be the Saturday night headliner.'

The Good Vibes ticket is only $19 if bought in advance through the Sugarloaf website at sugarloaf.com. However, even if you can't make your purchase ahead of time, buying a ticket the day of will cost just $29. The Good Vibes ticket not only gets you in for the Saturday night headliner, but also allows you access to all the great acts playing in the Widowmaker Lounge.

There are plenty of free to the public happenings going on as well.

'Our Friday night event the Reggae rave is free,' said Austin. 'And we'll be kicking off [the Reggae Rave] with a huge fireworks show scheduled for that night.'

The fireworks display (sporting the clever name 'Rhythm & Booms') is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. on Friday, with the Reggae Rave led by Renegade Sound Station to follow immediately afterward. Great music, good vibes and beer gardens on the beach with just a few hundred (or thousand) of your closest Sugarloaf pals that's not a bad way to kick off a weekend.

And then of course, there's the festival proper, with great bands playing all over the mountain all weekend. (See schedule for details.)

The Sugarloaf Reggae Festival has become a massive happening over 10,000 people are expected to make their way to western Maine to enjoy some or all of these events. But it wasn't always that way. From a few hundred fans in the late 1980s, the festival has grown organically into the prominent festival that it has become.

'You hear plenty of stories from back in the day,' chuckled Austin. 'Back in the '80s, they used to do small reggae events at the Sugarloaf Inn. Those proved to be pretty popular, so they just took that and expanded and turned it into a weekend reggae festival. It was definitely fairly small back then. You'd get a few hundred people.'

Austin then offered an anecdote possibly apocryphal that nicely sums up the spirit of Reggae Fest.

'I wasn't around back then,' he said. 'But legend has it that during one of the first events, a band was playing and finished their set, but the audience wanted more. Unfortunately, there was no more money to pay the band for their time. Supposedly, the crowd reacted by passing the hat in order to raise some more money; either way, the band wound up playing for an extra hour or so.'

That's a perfect illustration of the attitudes surrounding the festival so perfect that you don't even care if it's technically true. It's the kind of story that you love to hear when it comes to an event such as this one. Sure, Sugarloaf's Reggae Festival has grown into a thousands-strong weekend-long event, but it got there at its own leisurely pace. There's nothing artificial about how they arrived at this point. 

At the end of the day, Reggae Fest is still about the same thing that it always was good tunes, good vibes and a hell of a good time.

(To purchase Good Vibes tickets or to get more information about the Sugarloaf Reggae Festival, visit the Sugarloaf website at sugarloaf.com.)

Scheduled performances

Thursday, April 11

Royal Hammer, Widowmaker, 9:30 - 12:30 a.m.

Friday, April 12

Royal Hammer, Widowmaker, 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.
Rhythm & Booms, Sugarloaf Landing, 8:45 p.m.
Renegade Sound Station, Reggae Rave, Beach Stage 9 p.m.
Gorilla Finger Dub Band, Widowmaker Lounge, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 13, Beach

Gorilla Finger Dub Band, Beach Stage, 12 p.m.
Noble Society, Beach Stage, 2 p.m.
SEE-I, Beach Stage, 4 p.m.

Saturday, April 13, Night

SEE-I, Widowmaker, 9 p.m.
Noble Society, Widowmaker, 11 p.m.
Mighty Mystic, King Pine Room, doors @ 9 p.m.
John Brown's Body, King Pine Room, 11 p.m.

Sunday, April 14

Kiwi, Widowmaker Lounge, 12 p.m.

Some brief band bios

John Brown's Body

John Brown's Body will be headlining this year's festival, taking to the stage at the King Pine Room to anchor Saturday's headlining show. They are an eight-piece band out of Boston and Ithaca, NY that defines their sound as 'Future Roots.' They use reggae as their foundation, but they also incorporate diverse styles such as dub, drum & bass, dancehall and hip-hop to create a lush, melodic sound that is uniquely their own. Live show attendees can expect heavy rhythms, airtight drum and bass and a dynamic three-piece horn section.

Mighty Mystic

Mighty Mystic is considered to be a leader in the East Coast Reggae Movement. The freshness and diversity of his sound has proven magnetic for music fans searching for something unique and different. He is backed by the mightily melodic Strings of Thunder Band. His charisma and passion are undeniable; Mighty Mystic has evolved from reggae fan to key contributor to the art. Mighty Mystic will be opening Saturday night's headlining show in advance of John Brown's Body.

Royal Hammer

Royal Hammer is a seven-piece reggae collective based in Portland. Their lineup reads like a who's who of talented musicians from the region; members of the group have been part of such musical mainstays as Rustic Overtones, Soulive, Lettuce among many others. They pay loving homage to the greats of the genre while still cultivating their own personal sound they have shared the stage with some reggae legends.

Performances: April 11 at 9:30 p.m. and April 12 at 2:30 p.m.; both at the Widowmaker Lounge

Gorilla Finger Dub Band

This is another band hailing from Maine that has been invited back to Reggae Fest after a phenomenal showing last year. This group counts Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Sublime among its influences, but all of that inspiration is filtered through the band's unique jam-band-inspired sensibility. They have been bringing party people to life since their inception in the spring of 2011.

Performances: April 12 at 9:30 p.m. (Widowmaker Lounge) and April 13 at noon (Beach Stage)

SEE-I

The foundation of SEE-I are Rootz and Zeebo, two brothers who found their way to Washington DC by way of college in North Carolina via the Caribbean. While they've been part of that city's scene for years, it was in 2005 when a regular Wednesday night gig led to the formation of one of the nation's preeminent reggae party bands. They'll be bringing their roots-rock-reggae to the festival.

Performances: April 13 at 4 p.m. (Beach Stage) and 9 p.m. (Widowmaker Lounge)

Noble Society

This Brooklyn-based group is one of the most prominent reggae acts of recent years, having been named to top-10 lists by numerous sources, including the Huffington Post among others. The group has been steadily rising into the mainstream after years of fan support from the reggae and dancehall communities. This multi-national assemblage continues to put their own stamp on the world of world music.

Performances: April 13 at 2 p.m. (Beach Stage) and 11 p.m. (Widowmaker Lounge)

Kiwi

This eight-person group out of NYC and Jersey City offers lovingly crafted songs grounded in roots rhythm. They blend together a multitude of familiar stylistic influences into a sound that is theirs and theirs alone, offering complex melodies and provocative lyrics. They offer the driving grooves of soul and R&B infused with improvisational sophistication and a jazz sensibility.

Performance: April 14 at noon (Widowmaker Lounge)

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