Editor’s note: The Rock, Reggae and Relief music festival returns to Forbes Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh on Aug. 19 with some of the biggest names in rock reggae including Slightly Stoopid, Sublime with Rome, Tropidelic, Roots of Creation and local reggae talent Keystone Vibe and FUBAR.
Roots of Creation will also be playing the Rock, Reggae & Relief pre-party on Aug. 18 at Roost near Market Square.
“This year we are so pumped about the Rock, Reggae & Relief lineup,” says Lucas Piatt, CEO of Piatt Companies and chair of the Piatt Family Foundation, which sponsors the festival.
This year, the outdoor festival benefits Catapult Greater Pittsburgh’s Next Steps Fund Closing Cost and Down Payment Assistance Fund. The Next Steps Fund is designed to support equity in homeownership opportunities for Black families, as only 41% of Black families own their homes as compared to 68% of white families. The Closing Cost and Down Payment Assistance Fund provides grants to help individuals and families cover the final costs that arise before closing on their home.
By Alan Sculley, Last Word Features
When guitarists/singers Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald started Slightly Stoopid in 1994, they were out front of a second generation of bands that wanted to build on the reggae rock sound that was starting to take hold thanks to the success of groups like Sublime, 311 and to a lesser extent, No Doubt.
Now nearly 30 years later, Slightly Stoopid is one of several California reggae-rooted bands that can headline outdoor amphitheaters and also a veteran member of a scene packed with acts playing some variation of reggae-based music and espousing California culture built around skateboarding, surfing, and in many cases, the benefits of cannabis.
Playing amphitheaters was a pipe dream for Slightly Stoopid when the group started out, but that’s not the case for groups trying to make their mark in the scene now. The Cali-reggae scene has grown into a significant part of the overall music scene and Doughty is pleased to see other bands benefiting from the genre’s popularity.
“I never thought we’d be where we are when I was a kid. This is like living the dream times 10,” Doughty says. “And it’s great. I’m happy for the successes for all of those bands. It’s great to see when a lot of your friends are doing well and are experiencing the same things across the board. It’s pretty cool.”
There’s been no magic formula to Slightly Stoopid’s success. The group built its following the old-fashioned hard way, playing 200 or more shows a year during its first decade. Over the years, Slightly Stoopid also added band members to go with its expanding instrumental mix. Today, the lineup includes Doughty (guitar, vocals), McDonald (guitar, bass, vocals), Ryan Moran (drums), Oguer Ocon (percussion, harp), Daniel “Dela” Delacruz (saxophone), Paul Wolstencroft (keyboards) and Andy Geib (trombone).
As the touring miles piled up, Slightly Stoopid released studio albums on a regular basis, developing and refining their sunny brand of reggae mixed with rock, funk, folk, pop and even punk rock along the way.
The group’s ninth studio album, “Everyday Life, Everyday People,” arrived in 2018 and features guest appearances from several major figures in the reggae world, including Ali Campbell of UB40, Don Carlos (of Black Uhuru fame), Yellowman, Sly Dunbar and Chali 2na (of Jurassic 5). While plenty eclectic, “Everyday Life, Everyday People” finds Slightly Stoopid leaning a bit more toward reggae than on some of the band’s previous albums.
Five of the 13 songs (“Livin’ in Babylon,” “Stay the Same (Prayer For You),” “Legalize It,” “No One Stops Us Now Nobody Knows” and “Fire Below”) qualify as fairly full-on reggae, while “Talk Too Much,” “If You Want It” and “Too Late” further the reggae-fied feel by dipping into the dub-style side of the genre. The album gets its variety from tunes like “Higher Now,” which blends rap, reggae and dreamy soul; “Glocks,” instrumental offering easygoing, full-bodied rock; “One More Night,” a tuneful acoustic folk-pop ballad; and “Everybody People,” which mixes jammy acoustic folk with reggae.
Doughty credits the guest artists on “Everyday Life, Everyday People” with helping set the tone for the music on the album.
“Just because of the guest stars we had on the record, it’s definitely more of a reggae-influenced record. But you still have songs like ‘One More Night,’ which is nothing even in the reggae realm,” he says. “I think for us, with the guest stars we had, we ended up doing more reggae than we usually do on the records, which is fine because we love reggae music anyway.”
With Slightly Stoopid joined by Sublime With Rome, Atmosphere and The Movement on this summer’s tour, Doughty says there’s always a chance fans will see musical collaborations on stage between Slightly Stoopid and the other musicians. These are moments he enjoys.
“What’s cool is it’s really something just special for the fans when they can see that kind of camaraderie,” Doughty says. “It really makes a difference in the shows. It’s genuine. There’s nothing like set up about it. That’s what’s so special about the bands. People can relate because we’re all just regular, real people.”
Sublime with Rome
By Alan Sculley, Last Word Features
For the third time in three albums, Sublime with Rome went to Sonic Ranch near El Paso, Texas, a studio Rome Ramirez (vocals, guitar), Eric Wilson (bass) and Carlos Verdugo (drums) like because it’s isolated enough to allow bands to really concentrate on the business at hand, instead of getting distracted during recording by nightlife and other recreational opportunities.
“I think Eric really likes that kind of rhythm out there, like no distractions. I’ve grown to love it as well,” Ramirez said in a recent phone interview.
But being at Sonic Ranch was about the only thing the making of the group’s new album, “Blessings,” had in common with the previous pair of albums.
The group’s first two albums were done in a rush. “Yours Truly,” released in 2013, had to be finished in about six weeks. The 2017 sophomore album, “Sirens,” came under a time crunch when the band got off to a slow start with songwriting and had to make up time during recording.
The experience of making “Blessings” (which was released last May), was a 180-degree change.
“It was so different. It wasn’t like ‘You need to make an album.’ Then, ‘You guys need to make an album right now,’” Ramirez said. “It was like, ‘We want to make an album (now).’ And all of the songs were written beforehand.”
What’s more, the group was hearing positive things from management, the record label and radio promotional people about the songs that were in play for album number three.
“That creates such a less stressful environment,” Ramirez said.
In all, Sublime with Rome spent a year and a half making “Blessings,” which tested the band’s patience, but ultimately had a major benefit.
“You’re able to put out a thought-out piece of material,” Ramirez said.
Making an album the group can stand behind is important for a group like Sublime with Rome, which has a considerable legacy to live up to that goes back three decades.
That’s when the original Sublime, with singer/guitarist Bradley Nowell, Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, formed. That group’s run was cut short in May 1996 when Nowell died from a heroin overdose — just as a self-titled third album was ready for release.
Nowell’s death brought a wave of attention to Sublime. Propelled by the chart-topping alternative rock single, “What I Got,” the self-titled album went five times platinum and helped cement Sublime’s place as one of the pioneers of what is now a thriving reggae rock genre.
The Sublime story could have ended there. But in 2009, Ramirez crossed paths with Wilson while they were both working in the same studio. The two began jamming together, and over time, became friends.
One day, Wilson asked Rome if he’d want to sing in a new edition of Sublime should Gaugh sign on for the project. Ramirez jumped at the chance, and with Gaugh on board, Sublime (soon renamed Sublime with Rome after Nowell’s family objected to the band using only the Sublime name) was in the studio working on “Yours Truly.”
The debut album was a significant success, spawning a top five alternative rock hit with the song “Panic” and giving Sublime with Rome a strong measure of legitimacy.
Gaugh left the band in 2011, and Verdugo, formerly of Tribal Seeds, now holds down the drummer slot.
“Sirens” didn’t generate a hit song on the level of “Panic,” but the album debuted at No. 2 on Billboard magazine’s Alternative Albums chart, and Sublime with Rome saw its audience continue to expand.
Now comes “Blessings,” which was preceded by a trio of reggae-centric singles, “Wicked Heart,” (which cracked the top 35 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart), “Spiderweb” and “Light On.”
The album found Sublime with Rome making one other major change, bringing on Rob Cavallo (known for his work with Green Day and the Goo Goo Dolls, among others) to produce after working with Paul Leary on the previous albums.
Ramirez said Cavallo and his engineer, Doug McKean, lived up to their reputation for creating exceptional sounding recordings.
“With what Rob has in his head and the way he can communicate with Doug, they are a deadly dynamic duo,” Ramirez said, noting that “Blessings” represents a significant step up sonically over the first two Sublime with Rome albums.
Ramirez also said “Blessings” might be a bit more reggae oriented than the first two albums, but there’s also plenty of musical variety.
With Sublime with Rome back on tour, the band faces a new challenge — crafting set lists that retain the back catalog songs fans want to hear while figuring out which new songs are connecting best with audiences.
One thing the group won’t do to make room for new material is stop playing the key songs by the original Sublime lineup.
“You know, we’re entertainers. We’re not out there to prove an agenda or shove anything down peoples’ throats. People come out to have a really good-ass time and hear some of their favorite music,” Ramirez said. “You put on a really great show and play songs that everybody loves … That’s kind of always been the M.O. from the start.”