If you go

What: Reggae Nights concert series kick-off

When: Friday, gates open at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8:30 p.m.

Where: James Island County Park, 871 Riverland Drive

Price: $8 for adults, children 12 and under get in free; Gold Pass holders get in free

For more: CharlestonCountyParks.com/Reggae or 795-4386

2014 Reggae Night schedule

June 6: De Lions of Jah

June 27: ReggaeInfinity

July 11: Da'Gullah Rootz

Aug. 1: Mystic Vibrations

The popular Reggae Nights concert series at James Island County Park is set to kick off this week with an evening of hot grooves, spicy food, cold drinks and positive vibes.

Presented by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, the reggae-themed series is a family-friendly affair with local vendors on hand and top-notch performers on stage.

Reggae Nights initially started 16 years ago as a string of cozy outdoor shows at Wannamaker County Park in North Charleston. It didn't take long for local reggae fans and music lovers to catch on, and organizers soon had to relocate the series to the spacious facility on James Island along Riverland Drive.

These days, each concert draws nearly 2,000 people who are eager to mellow out and enjoy the Caribbean rhythms and fare.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based band De Lions of Jah will perform on the series' opening night on Friday.

Filling out the roster are Columbia's ReggaeInfinity, set to perform June 27, with local bands Da' Gullah Rootz and Mystic Vibrations performing July 11 and Aug. 1, respectively.

According to the CCPRC, each concert will "feature traditional old-school roots reggae with a new school attitude in a beautiful outdoor setting."

A little reggae history

Initially, reggae music descended from the ska music of Jamaica, which drew influences from New Orleans jazz, blues and R&B.

In the 1960s, as Jamaica was gaining its independence, ska emerged as a variation interpreted from popular radio hits from the States. The sounds were crisp, syncopated and up-tempo with choppy rhythms, brassy embellishments and danceable rhythms. Calypso and other Caribbean musical styles influenced the music greatly.

Reggae, on the other hand, detoured into slower grooves and new spiritual territory. Mellow beats, hypnotic rhythms and devoutly religious lyrical themes, based on the African-based Rastafari spiritual movement, developed as reggae took off in the late 1960s and '70s.

The syncopated staccato guitar and/or piano chords were normally played on the off-beat rather than the downbeat, as with most rock 'n' roll and R&B, which gave reggae a distinctive sound.

The melodic, bass-heavy "rocksteady" style bridged the ska and reggae genres, emphasizing big harmonies and socially conscious lyrics, as demonstrated on singles and albums released by early champions of the genre such as Alton Ellis, the Heptones, the Maytals, and the Wailers, led by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer.

Marley earned international success after releasing the albums "Catch a Fire" and "Burnin' " in the early 1970s. His passionate delivery and melodic songs covered the scope of Jamaican society, from commentary on social issues and political struggles to positive-vibe celebrations of love, devotion and revolution.

Through the 1970s and '80s, Jamaican reggae made a huge impact on pop and rock music around the world, from the U.S. and the U.K. to South America and Africa.

Reggae beats and instrumentation could be heard in punk rock and New Wave coming out of England, the funk-rock of Southern California and the dance music of American pop.

Local love and support

Charleston's band scene and musical community has enjoyed reggae flavor for decades.

Since the late 1970s, the local audience for Jamaican dance music and Caribbean stylings has grown substantially.

Venues like the original Myskyns Tavern in the Market and The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms helped put the Lowcountry on the map for the national reggae scene, regularly booking touring reggae-style bands from Jamaica, the U.S. and the U.K. throughout the 1980s.

The annual MOJA Arts Festival, a celebration of African-American and Caribbean arts, has promoted reggae in town for more than 30 years, booking diverse lineups of local and visiting artists for live concerts and special events.

Since first hitting the local airwaves in 1979, Charleston-based radio personality, promoter and emcee Osei Chandler has shared his impressive knowledge of reggae and Caribbean music on his ongoing radio program "Roots Music Karamu," broadcast weekly on WSCI-FM at 89.3, the local NPR affiliate. Chandler helped organize and promote numerous concerts and festivals for reggae artists over the years.

These days, it's not unusual to hear reggae emanating from local beach clubs like Coconut Joe's on the Isle of Palms, Home Team BBQ on Sullivan's Island and Loggerheads on Folly Beach. And major music venues such as the Pour House, the Music Farm and The Windjammer regularly feature touring and local reggae and ska-influenced acts.

Reggae Nights' line-up

Keeping with the tradition of presenting versatile and skillful musical acts, this year's Reggae Nights series will feature four solid ensembles who know how to mix styles and entertain audiences.

On Friday, singer Dave "Da General" Philip will lead De Lions of Jah through two sets of dancehall, dub and roots reggae.

The Florida-based group has been jamming for years, blending traditional and contemporary styles.

With Philip on lead vocals, De Lions of Jah's lineup includes Jahsani "The Mad Scientist" Crossley on keys, Chris Washington on bass, Todd Shealy on guitar, Claire Hall on keys and backing vocals, and Desmond "Skins" Cancer on drums.

As they put it on their latest press page, "The message that De Lions of Jah hope to spread is awareness and consciousness to the masses, with the sole purpose of uplifting hearts, and helping people to see the need for peace and love."

On June 27, Columbia-based group ReggaeInfinity will return to town for two sets of "authentic roots reggae." Led by singer/songsmith/drummer Ras B, the band emphasizes positivity through their lyrics and up-tempo rhythms.

The core of ReggaeInfinity is comprised of Ras B, guitarist/singer Iyah Haile Israel and percussionist Rastaman Marley. With additional guests, the band blends original pieces with renditions of reggae classics and favorites.

Charleston's own Da'Gullah Rootz will headline Reggae Nights on July 11 with a funky mix of dancehall, calypso, rub-a-dub and rock 'n' roll. Singer General Top Rank'n Geecheeman, born J.L. Jenkins, has been the band's frontman since forming the group in 2001 with guitarist Jerome "Gits" Graham (formerly of Shaman Mary).

Da'Gullah Rootz's rhythm section and various guest horn players has changed quite a bit over the years. Most recently, General Top Rank'n Geecheeman has performed with support from members of Wilmington, N.C.-based reggae group Jah Creation.

On Aug. 1, the nomadic reggae veterans Mystic Vibrations will close the series with a festive set or two. The band spends much of the summer season in South Carolina, playing weekly shows at a string of clubs, including Coconut Joe's on the Isle of Palms.

Mystic Vibrations formed in the early 1990s in Westmoreland, Jamaica. Led by singer/guitarist Ric Williams, the group made its U.S. debut in 1992. In 2003, members started their own record label, Mystik Muzik. The latest album is titled "Stop Dis War."

For each Reggae Nights event, the gates will open at 7:30 p.m. and the music will run from 8:30-11 p.m. Vendors offering food, soft drinks, beer, wine, and souvenirs will be on-site. Outside coolers are prohibited.