Summer started off on a high note for California-cultivated reggae rockers Rebelution when it dropped its fifth studio effort, Falling into Place, on June 3, the same day it played a sold-out show at Colorado's outdoor amphitheater Red Rocks. The group seems to have found a home among the sanctified Colorado state park's sunny rocks and funny trees, used for the band's first-ever live release, the DVD/album Live at Red Rocks, from a 2015 concert there.
Considering Rebelution's penchant for projecting a magnetic, life-affirming power over rapt audiences, the fact that it hasn't previously showcased a live performance on an album might seem strange. Its Voodoo Music + Arts Experience debut arrives the day before a set at Hulaween, the dance-happy hippie gathering at the Spirit of the Suwanee campgrounds in Florida.
Quickly proving capable of delivering fun times and good vibes, Rebelution spawned a following not long after the core quartet — Eric Rachmany (vocals/guitar), Rory Carey (keyboards), Marley O. Williams (bass) and Wesley Finley (drums) — met in college and started gigging in 2004. Their debut album, Courage to Grow, was selected as iTunes Editors' Choice for Best Reggae Album of 2007. Starting their music-world ascent at such altitude, Rebelution earned popular and critical acclaim in 2012 following the Peace of Mind, released in the original studio version as well as dub and acoustic styles. In 2014, its fourth studio album, Count Me In, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's reggae chart. Since then, the band has essentially lived on the road, playing 150-plus shows a year around the world.
"I first met them when I was doing recording sessions for Fishbone and Dumpstaphunk," says New Orleans saxophonist Khris Royal, who played on the past three Rebelution albums and was a vital touring member before deciding to leave the group a couple of months ago. There's no ill will between Royal and his buddies in the band, and he will sit in for a few songs at its Voodoo set.
"Dark Matter (led by Royal) was out on the road opening up for them in 2011," Royal says. "Their lead singer got sick, so they had me play with them, stretching things out and covering for the vocals. That led to them calling me more and more, and then it was suddenly five years of me playing with Rebelution."
Royal's bouncing body and blistering saxophone loom large on Live at Red Rocks, notably the amped-up audiences' frenzy as he ushered in the crowd-pleaser "De-Stress." Calling Rebelution's sound "hybrid reggae," Royal speaks from the standpoint of being steeped in his New Orleans' Latin-tinged musical traditions. "I'm just playing horn parts with Rebelution," he explains. "Mostly I play an EWI [electronic wind instrument] and a little on the keys, when they allow me to stretch out and work to bring it all to the table."
He has encouraged Rebelution to explore further, but he's not knocking the band.
"All those guys really did their homework as far as learning the roots of reggae history and culture," Royal says. "And it shows."