The death of reggae icon “Toots” Hibbert, of Toots and the Maytals prompted NBC Washington reporter Mark Segraves’ recollections of a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
The death of reggae pioneer Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, who fronted Toots and the Maytals, is prompting heartfelt praise from fellow musicians and fans of hits like “Pressure Drop,” “Monkey Man,” and “Funky Kingston.”
NBC Washington (and former Gist Vile) reporter Mark Segraves has vivid memories of seeing Hibbert perform live in the 1980s at an outdoor reggae festival in Jamaica that brought together dozens of reggae bands — and almost no fans.
Hibbert died Friday at the age of 77 in a Jamaica hospital. He had experienced symptoms consistent with the coronavirus.
Saturday morning, Segraves dug through his memorabilia and found the flyer he received shortly after arriving in Jamaica for the three-day concert at the age of 21.
“It was about six or eight of us, all from Bethesda. Most of us went to Whitman [High School],” Segraves said. “We could barely afford to go. We all had to stay in one hotel room and eat goat meat because it was all we could afford.”
Dubbed “The Jamaica World Music Festival,” Segraves and friends made the journey after hearing about it in Rolling Stone magazine, “or maybe it was High Times magazine.”
Segraves said he and friends paid $107 to attend the three-day mega-concert, during Thanksgiving weekend, 1982.
“The shows all began at sunset because it was too hot to play during the day, and every night the bands would play until sunrise.”
“Then, like now, I was a Deadhead, and that’s why I went, but we got so much more than what we bargained for,” he said. “I remember the sun coming up as the Grateful Dead finished.”
“Every living legend of reggae was on that concert bill: Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Rita Marley, The Clash combined with the horn section of The Wailers, and yes, Toots and The Maytals.”
Even 38 years later, Segraves can clearly picture Hibbert’s performance that night: “Toots dressed more like the soul and R&B bands I was used to seeing in the U.S. Their soulful sound was more accessible to me.”
The concert wasn’t limited to reggae-influenced music. Other acts included Gladys Knight & The Pips, The B-52’s, The Beach Boys, Squeeze and Jimmy Buffett.
“What was most remarkable about the entire experience was that in a stadium that held thousands, there were only a few hundred paid fans. Tickets were about $100 to get in, and back then that was a lot of money,” Segraves said.
The paltry attendance made for an unforgettable experience for Segraves: “We were right down front, every night. Think RFK Stadium, with only a couple hundred there. The talent on that stage was amazing. I can only imagine how much money the promoters must have lost.”
But Segraves said more than those few hundred lucky fans heard the music.
“Outside the stadium, the place was packed with people who couldn’t afford to get in. Local Jamaicans, the poorest of the poor, were all gathered outside to hear their heroes play a concert that they couldn’t get inside to see,” Segraves recalled.
“I also vividly remember Peter Tosh giving a 20 minute speech about legalizing marijuana in the middle of his set,” said Segraves. Marijuana has long been associated with reggae.
“On the flight home the plane was almost 100% Deadheads, and somebody lit up a joint on the plane, because you could smoke cigarettes on planes back then. The pilot made the announcement that smoking non-tobacco products was prohibited, and if it continued he would land at the nearest airport and let the local authorities deal with us.”
Segraves said passengers took the admonishment seriously.
“At that very moment we were in Cuban airspace — people started throwing joints through the air toward the cockpit, to get rid of them.”