There are a few artists who I make the best attempt possible to see when they swing through New England. Unless there is a reason that I absolutely cannot be there, I’ll be in the cut, sipping on a can of beer with my eyes closed and ears open.
I’m not just talking about singers and MCs I adore. Hell, I wish that I could have a policy like that, which would keep me in the clubs approximately every evening. But short of having that much time to party, the best that I can do is focus on acts who, as sad as it may be to say, might not be touring for much longer.
Despite his slight appearance, Toots Hibbert is a giant among this elite cadre of icons. The fact that he’s still jamming and flexing his legendary smooth but rugged vocals isn’t merely remarkable because he is 75 years old, but also because five years ago, it looked like he would never sing in public again.
You might say that what happened to Hibbert while on tour in Virginia in 2013 was ironic, since he is, after all, the guy who coined the term reggae, a music known for peace and cannabis. As can be seen in horrifying video from that day, the singer was performing when a wasted meathead in the crowd hurled a large vodka bottle toward the stage. The projectile hit Hibbert in the head, causing a concussion, surgery, and stress. For three years, Toots and the Maytals disappeared from the road after 45 years. At one point, Hibbert even told an interviewer that he wasn’t sure if he felt safe enough to return to the stage.
Thankfully, his attitude has changed. Hibbert’s back to his characteristic casual self, explaining in an interview, “It isn’t anything to think about. … I like to make sure people are happy, you know?”
I do know. That’s why his Grammy-winning band is cemented on my must-see list. For half a century, they’ve serenaded every kind of crowd, and as positive life cycles often go, have even had a pop culture resurgence in the past few years. It’s been decades since he dropped the seminally inspirational track “Do the Reggay”— Hibbert has said the word was “just something that came out of my mouth”—but he continues to emerge atop the genre.
“Both [performing live] and the studio are still important to me,” he says. “In the studio, I create all of the music and play a lot of instruments—the drums, the bass, guitar, keyboard. I create it myself, using my style—everything.”
Most recently, Hibbert and his crew hit the late night talk show circuit with a new song, “Marley,” about a dear old friend.
“We were good friends,” he recalls. “I think about him all the time.”
As for his own longevity…
“When I smoke, I only smoke the real herb,” Hibbert says. “Mostly when I’m writing.”
THE CRANKING & SKANKING FEST WITH TOOTS & THE MAYTALS, THE BOUNCING SOULS, THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES, AND OTHERS. SAT 8.25. THE WORCESTER PALLADIUM (OUTDOORS). THEPALLADIUM.NET FOR MORE INFO AND TICKETS.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.