In my last article, I discussed how the little known Wilmington movie theatre, Theatre N, is surprisingly getting national recognition despite its small reach, however, on the contrary, this article is describing how a should be national/worldly celebration gets little attention outside of Delaware. The Bob Marley People’s Festival is an annual celebration of the life and legend of one of the world’s most active and beloved musical peacekeepers, and yet it gets minimal exposure. Below are the details describing the origin of this festival and how Wilmington was and is the epicenter of his artistic revolution.
In the People’s Festival origin story, penned by one of Marley’s closest friend’s wife, Genny, she discusses the early influences on his music and legacy. Although Marley was born in Jamaica, most of his life experiences developed when he followed his mother to Wilmington with his wife and kids en toe. It was here that Marley developed a sense of community with Delawareans and began to see the struggles of current life, be it current American Life, by working in the DuPont and GM factories. It was also here that he met Genny’s husband, Ibis, who collaborated with him and directed his song-writing to convey what message he really wanted to translate to the public. It was in Marley’s a garage in Wilmington where he began the first writings of “Is this Love” and “Night Shift.”
A few years after arriving in Delaware in 1969, Marley took Ibis back to Jamaica with him to visit old friends and hook up with some native musicians. He began to share his vision of a free and peaceful life, not just for Jamaicans but for all people, and he realized the best way to create this was through the universal language of music. It wasn’t soon after this trip that Marley began playing gigs with Ibis in New York and soon branched out to tour with his new band “The Wailers” on a national scale. Genny stated that she didn’t even meet Marley until her and Ibis snuck into his sold-out show and Santa Monica where he greeted them with open arms, singing and dancing with the couple well into the night. It was then that Genny admired this man not only because he preached the bigger implications of peace, but because he believed that peace started with individual relationships, the ones with the friends he had made in Delaware. He would go on to be admired and cherished by many more because of this.
Then on that fateful day in 1981, Bob Marley passed away. Ibis and Genny held a “Coronation Ceremony” for Marley’s Mother at their home in Salem, NJ, almost 20 years later when she decided she was emotional ready to return to her American home in Delaware. It was a sad occasion centered around all the people connected to each other through Marley; yet still one filled with dancing, music, and togetherness, just how Marley would want to be remembered. It was in the middle of all this hub-bub that “Momma B”, as Marley’s Mother was affectionately known, made an announcement that day that Genny would share this celebration next year at a city-wide festival in memory of Bob. And so it was, the next year, on August 4th 1995,The First Annual People’s Festival was celebrated at Frawley Stadium. There were over 22 bands in attendance who performed between 10 a.m. and 1a.m., a schedule that prompted one of the performers, Richie Havens, to remark, “This is so reminiscent of Woodstock!”. A statement that couldn’t have been anymore true.
The event continues to this day, making this year’s celebration the 16th Annual Bob Marley People’s Festival. As always, the event is sponsored by influential Delaware organizations that share Marley’s vision, such as Wilmington World Music, Guerilla Republik, HealDelaware.org, etc. It is also run by over 50 volunteers who man the two stages and keep food and drinks flowing throughout the day. And of course you can’t forget about the live music! This year’s bands include Bushman, The Anthem Band, Kinto Sol, and many more jamming from the early morning to the dead of night.
This year’s event takes place on Saturday, July 30th from 12 p.m. to 10p.m. at the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 dollars at the door and can be purchased at Frolic’s in Newark as well as other retailers in the area.
After reading this, I hope you will be as dumbfounded as I am that such a huge sensation as Bob Marley and a tribute festival dedicated to him, organized by his closest friends and family, wouldn’t influence the rest of the nation to come to Delaware and get a taste of the peace and community Marley was searching for. Well, their loss, I guess more standing room at the festival for us Delawareans!