Jimmy Cliff Made Us Cry at SunFest in West Palm Beach
You know those days when a well-crafted Hallmark commercial makes you weep like someone just stomped on your pet hamster? Premenstrual ladies? Coke-heads? Ya feel me?!
Well, when my eyes kept welling up watching Jimmy Cliff preach the reggae gospel of "peace and love" to a swarm of sweaty SunFesters, I wondered if it was just "one of those moments" or an actual moment. By the end of his ridiculously energetic hour and a half long set, I was certain that it was the concert experience that got me into a great big authentic emotional twist.
Cliff is a 65-year old monster. He twerked. He jumped higher than David Lee Roth. He became a lion with a roar, a pharaoh in his tomb with stillness, a tree in the wind with smooth tai chi movements. Jimmy Cliff most definitely earned every one of my tears.
The three o'clock sun didn't stop the mostly middle-aged crowd from swaying, hooting, and doing the "Scooby Doo." Two of the world's most adorable children flanked Cliff, mimicking his every dance move, and, man, were there more than a few! He lifted one leg, dropped his bum and thrust his pelvis forward. He wined, punching his hands in the air. And he was dressed like a Jamaican Karate Kid. The coolest cat at the party.
The guy next to me, with a bead of sweat dripping from his nose, leaned over and said something I couldn't totally hear. It was about a conversation he had with his friend about Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff. He called Jimmy Cliff the Dali Lama of reggae.
I've seen the Dali Lama, and he made me feel good. But he didn't give me as much emotion as I felt there, with the spry singer's clear voice floating out onto me over the smack of horns and drums. Cliff has other times been spiritual for me though. Laying by the pool at my parents' house, learning to relax, his was the one CD they had that I wanted to play. He carried me to the "Rivers of Babylon" many times before.
Ian Witlen Ian Witlen
Cliff had the crowd chanting to "Save Our Planet Earth." "We have to keep sending that message to our world leaders. We don't want another Vietnam or Afghanistan," he told the West Palm Beach crowd. He covered Cat Stevens' "Wild World," The Lion King's "Hakuna Matata," and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now." After over an hour of acrobatics, he sat down with a drum between his knees and sang "Many Rivers to Cross" like a love song. He and the two kids jokingly acted out "scenes" from the 1972 cult classic Cliff film The Harder They Come, which consisted of them jumping and turning to the crowd, as if running from the cops, staring at the camera.
I called my brother later that night to talk about the show. He told me he had the same emotions watching Cliff perform at DC's 9:30 Club, a place way less like Montego Bay -- which is what Cliff likened West Palm to. At the end of the show, wearing a new red, yellow, and green scarf, the singer said he had had no expectations for the day, "but," he concluded, "you made I and I feel irie." Peace and love.