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Sweet Toots
by Haven James

Review: Toots and The Maytals at Joyous Lake

Just before the show at Joyous Lake last Thursday night [July 23, 1998], one friend turned to the other to ask, "This a reggae band, right?" To which the adamant response was, "No! It's Toots and The Maytals." A legend of roots reggae and energetic evangelist of the Jamaican way, Toots and his Maytals kicked off the show on Island time, which means about two hours late. Also par for the course, Toots dove into the Lake with the passion of "a fire burning in my soul," as the lyrics of his song spoke.

Toots, a.k.a. Frederick Hibbert, is a showman of the first order. Since an appearance in the landmark film, The Harder They Come, first launched him into international recognition, Toots continues to demonstrate his command of the music, the band, and the audience wherever he performs. Dressed in red shirt and pants with matching red jacket trimmed with African colors, he is ever animated. A huge smile stretching from ear to ear, his enthusiasm is infectious, and, as he turns up the heat, you will dance, you will sing, you will say reggae!

It's been almost 15 years since we last saw Toots in concert and even then, he was no kid. It was a show at an Ivy League college, where the promoters were befuddled by all the dreadlocked Rastas and the strange odors that seemed to emanate from everywhere. That show, too, started way late, and when it did, those hallowed halls rocked with a motion never before witnessed in a D.A.R. auditorium. In those days, Toots had a huge band, complete with female backup singers, multiple guitarists, and giant speakers lofting to the ceiling. He appeared in skin-tight black leathers and his dance antics were stunning, complete with twisting and twirling microphone tricks that would culminate as he grabbed the wire mid-air, his body falling to a full split on the stage floor.

Though it's hard to judge his age now, Toots nonetheless continues to exhibit magnanimous energy, jumping and stomping while gesturing the crowd to rise with him to exaltation. Holding a tight grip on the rhythms, Toots showed his mastery over and over as he pumped the band and the house to turn up the heat, and the beat. Travelling now with just a core group of players, Toots recruited local drum master Winston Grennan and his keyboard player, David Oliver, to play the area tour. The band was just the right size for the room, and the crowd drew together, moving as one, as the night wore on.

"Monkey Man" pushed things over the top, and by the end of the song Toots had ushered all the girls ringing the stage up on to it, prompting them to dance with him in abandon. "Never Get Weary Yet" followed and told the true tale of this veteran's run for the gold. He took things home to "West Jamaica" with his reggae version of John Denver's "Country Roads," and the crowd sang along in unison.

"How many artists come all the way from Kingston Jamaica and play so long for you Woodstock?" called Toots to the house. And true enough, so burnt and wilted from the marathon in the heat, the crowd couldn't marshall the energy to command the encore Toots deserved and the dancers desired. Everyone was just too toasted from the long hot show to protest enough to bring him back. This was a full show by any standard.

Kudos to Freddie and Jerry and the crew at Joyous Lake for getting this scene together as an improved venue. The room feels much more comfortable, the sound is good, and the lineup continues to sport notable highlights. Continuing in the Island vein, this Saturday night, August 1 [1998], will feature the music of Yellowman and his Sagittarius Band. Yellowman is another one-of-a-kind performer from the Caribbean, and the night holds promise to pick up where Toots left off. Info and advance tickets are available via telephone at 679-0367.

Haven James has been a consistent contributor to the Music & Arts scene around the Hudson Valley and beyond for almost a decade through his column, Werewolves of Woodstock, published weekly in the Woodstock Times

A writer, musician, philanthropist, and Mac addict; he lives reclusively, high atop Overlook Mountain with his son and a menagerie of animals, both wild and domesticated. Though currently unmarried, rumors abound as to his intimate relationships with Madonna, Sandra Bernhardt, and Eli Bach; though he insists these notions to be pure hearsay. His identity has remained a mystery to all but the closest of friends as he often travels in disguise and appears unannounced and undercover at concerts and venues in a dedicated effort to get the real story.

Go to the Werewolves of Woodstock page for more articles by Haven James.
Haven James can be contacted at

Posted on July 31, 1998

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