Punky Reggae Party: Toots @ The Speedway 05.20


The May 20 Toots and the Maytals concert at The Speedway Cafe was full of surprises. Toots Hibbert, reflective of his Pocomania roots, performs like a preacher mastering his audience, and Sunday’s concert was at times like a Baptist congregation in full swing. Toots is credited with being one of the originators of the word “reggae.” The name first appeared in his 1968 song, “Do the Reggay.” Although the original Maytals of Jerry Matthias, Raliegh Gordon and Toots long ago disbanded, any group backing Toots will forever be known as the Maytals. Throughout his 29-year-long musical career, Toots has had more of a soul and gospel style than any other reggae singer. When he last appeared in Salt Lake (Feb ‘89), many concert-goers sounded disappointed that he was too soulful and not enough in the reggae groove. That appearance was to promote his then newly released Toots in Memphis album. Both the album and the concert featured Toots at his best,uch was not the case this time. What we heard and saw was classic Toots and the Maytals, singing hits from the past—it was as if his setlist was taken from a “best of” listing. Classic Toots doing “Funky Kingston,” “Tough Time,” etc. 70 min of the best Toots Hibbert—that was surprise one. 

Surprise two was the enthusiasm and savvy of the crowd. The first several rows of youthful  skankers knew every word and sang along fervently. When Toots went into a call and response routine, the youth did not require more than minimal prompting; the exuberance of the fans heightened Toots who heightened the fans in turn…and so on. Too much fun!

My third surprise was the number of folks at the concert. While The Speedway was not packed to the rafters, the 300 or so in attendance were more than I expected. As is often the case in Happy Valley, we have reggae feast and famine. In the feast of two Midas and The Bridge shows coupled with the Eek-a-mouse Mayfest blast at the “U,” the Toots concert was the best-kept secret in town. I had visions of 50 or less showing up—as happened for the Mighty Diamonds and Inner Circle gigs—this was a happy venue and showed the rapidly growing popularity of reggae amongst Utah’s youth.

The combination of the two, the Speedway and youth, lends itself to having concerts that are, indeed, fun filled and festive. We can only look forward to more. To the Speedway and the youth who make it happen, I send an irie thanks—let’s do it again.

Check out these other articles covering the reggae scene in SLC:
Reggae Thursdays @ The Woodshed 06.12–13 w/ Tribe of I
Reggae Rise Up: Day One @ Liberty Park 07.12