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At Austin Urban Music Festival, waves of nostalgia and sea of hands

Peter Mongillo, Music Source

Staff Writer
Austin 360
From left, Wanya Morris, Nathan Morris and Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men were headliners for the Austin Urban Music Festival on Saturday.

‘Are you still with us, Austin? Put your hands in the air!" That was the rallying cry, met with a sea of hands, midway through Boyz II Men's set Saturday night at the Austin Urban Music Festival. The event, now in its seventh year, packed Auditorium Shores over the weekend with a crowd that rivaled the one on hand a few months ago in the same spot for Slayer's set on the closing night of Fun Fun Fun Fest.

Like Fun Fun Fun, this was a year of expansion for the Urban Music Festival as it grew to two days and booked high-profile acts including Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Boyz II Men. When Boyz II Men took the stage around 7:45 p.m. Saturday, people continued to stream in to the gate on Riverside Drive, carrying with chairs and blankets.

"Boyz II Men and Babyface, really everybody on the lineup, gave the festival-goers what they expected and more," said festival co-founder Homer Hill. "It's all straight-ahead, positive, good music, and there was a lineage that linked them all together," Hill said. (Edmonds wrote and produced some of Boyz II Men's biggest hits.)

Boyz II Men, the Philadelphia R&B group whose hit song "End of the Road" stands as one of the most successful singles of all time, performed without a band. Most people in the crowd seemed excited to hear the group's hits, including "Water Runs Dry" and "Motownphilly."

While attendance figures aren't yet available, Hill said that crowd on Saturday seemed on par with previous years, which had a turnout of around 15,000. The numbers weren't quite as big on Friday, but enough people came out that Hill said he considered the additional day a success. "With more contemporary R&B, programmingwise, it was more of a test," he said.

More psych. The Black Angels' annual Austin Psych Fest, which takes place April 27-29 at Emo's East and the Beauty Ballroom, added to an already strong lineup last week. Meat Puppets, Thee Oh Sees, Mind Spiders and Austin bands Holy Wave and the Ripe are among the 21 additions to the lineup, which already included the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Black Lips and the Black Angels. The festival is also hosting a couple of pre-parties: White Hills and Sleepy Sun on April 24 at the Mohawk, and Indian Jewelry, Christian Bland and the Revelators and more April 26 at Red 7. Tickets are available at www.austinpsych fest.com.

And another fest. Yes, SXSW is over, but Austin is still in the midst of a spring festival onslaught. After last weekend's Urban Music Festival, the next big to-do on the downtown music front is Austin Reggae Fest, an annual tradition that brings hazy grooves and irie vibes to Auditorium Shores April 20-22. We all know that Reggae Fest is as much about the scene as the music — Reggae Fest has traditionally been a chance for friends to gather in the sun, take in some music and celebrate spring.

But over the past several years as the festival's popularity has exploded (evidenced by entry lines that sometimes stretch across the South First Street bridge) the caliber of music has grown consistently stronger. This year's lineup is no exception, featuring a host of international heavyweights. Acts include Collie Buddz, a singjay from Bermuda who deftly straddles the line between dancehall grind and one-drop groove headlines. We caught up with Buddz shortly before SXSW last year as he was riding the success of his remix-friendly hip-hop hit, "Come Around." He's been working the international fest circuit ever since. Jamaica's New Kingston also performs on Friday night during the fest.

On Saturday, African outfit Tidal Waves takes the headline spot. The band, self-dubbed "the hardest working reggae band in South Africa," plays an engaging blend of rock steady reggae infused with African traditional sounds. Dubtronic Kru, a group with roots in both drum and bass and traditional reggae, is also on the bill. The Jamaican crew drops a mixture of sounds ranging from spacey dub to the kind of straightforward Lover's Rock that would make Gregory Isaacs smile.

The fest closes out on Sunday night with Rootz Underground, a young Jamaican powerhouse. While staunchly focused on spreading positivity and encouraging uplift, the band clearly has a wicked sense of humor.

— Deborah Sengupta Stith

Contact Peter Mongillo at pmongillo@statesman.com; 445-3696