The Session from the Trench Town Rock Experience

The session, people at a concert oil on canvas 24x24

The Session

Errol McKinson

Oil on canvas 24x24

Concert gathering during a Bob Marley concert in Pittsburgh 1980. The day before Bob Marley and the Wailers were scheduled to play a sold-out concert at the Stanley Theatre in 1980, promoter Rich Engler got an ominous call from the reggae star's agent."There might be a problem," the agent told him. "Bob is not feeling very well. I don't know what's going on. I'll keep you posted.

"Marley and the Wailers had just played two shows on the Uprising Tour opening for The Commodores at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 19-20. The next day he collapsed while jogging in Central Park and, during a hospital visit, was told the worst: The cancer he was diagnosed with three years earlier had spread, and he was advised to cease touring.On the morning of the Sept. 23 show in Pittsburgh, Mr. Engler got another call.

"They're headed there," the agent said, "but I would be surprised if he plays."

"Around 2ish," Mr. Engler says, "they came in to do a soundcheck. I was looking around for Bob and found him in the dressing room, sitting on the couch, looking depressed and ill. I said, 'I heard you're not feeling well. I'm concerned. I hope you're feeling better. Are you going to play?'

"He said, 'Mon, I wasn't going to, but I'm going to for my band and everybody. It's a sold-out show. I'm going to do it.' "According to the promoter, the reggae star added, "The guys need the money."

Magical memory

At that time, the Jamaica native was the leading ambassador of reggae but hardly the icon he is today and nowhere near the commercial force he would become after his death, judging by the fact that he was opening for the Commodores. His only Top 10 album to that point was 1976's "Rastaman Vibration" and none of those now-classic songs -- "No Woman, No Cry," "Get Up, Stand Up," "Jammin'," etc. -- registered as Top 40 hits. To radio listeners, he probably was best known for Eric Clapton topping the charts with "I Shot the Sheriff."

"I was a huge Marley fan and wish more people had been at the time," Mr. Engler says. "His popularity was spotty. Songs like 'Jammin',' it was pulling teeth to get the DJs to play them. They didn't think it fit their format. It was a different form of rock for me, and it had its own movement. This concert sold out faster than any reggae concert we had done."

That night, the show was "magical," Mr. Engler says. Marley was in good spirits and the Wailers had the place shaking so hard, he actually worried about the sturdiness of the balcony.

"I remember 'Redemption Song' more than any other," the promoter says, "the passion that he put into it, I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Sept. 23, 1980, at the Stanley would be the final concert performance by the reggae legend, who died eight months later in Miami at the age of 36.

To commemorate his final concert, members of the Marley clan will perform "Live Forever: A Bob Marley Celebration" tonight, the 30th anniversary of the concert, at the Benedum (formerly the Stanley). It was organized by Ed Traversari of the former DiCesare-Engler Productions. Proceeds will go to the new Marley family charity One Love Foundation, and the concert also coincides with the introduction of a new line of Marley beverages.




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