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Scene report: Austin Reggae Festival

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 21, 2013

After a Saturday that included Lance Armstrong sitting in with his namesake stoner band Lance Herbstrong, and a crowd anecdotally described by longtime festival volunteers as the biggest ever, the scene at Austin Reggae Festival on Sunday was decidedly laid back. Around 3 p.m. there was no line at the front gate and plenty of room to wander freely inside. A strikingly diverse crowd lounged on blankets sipping cool drinks from cylindrical plastic half-yards. They hula hooped to the one drop grooves and blatantly partook in those illicit things that people blatantly partake in at these sorts of events.

The final attendance numbers for this year’s fest will not be in until early next week, but festival organizer Hugh Forrest (who, incidentally, doubles as South by Southwest Interactive head honcho) guessed the Saturday crowd was around 20,000. Lines were long at some points but no one was turned away and there were no issues at the gate.

Forrest theorized that a number of factors contributed to the robust turnout on Saturday. Fortuitously, it was April 20 or 4.20, the perennial stoner holiday. The crowd peaked, fittingly enough, around 4:20 p.m., he noted. The fact that the weather was spectacular, sunny and clear, but refreshingly temperate, certainly didn’t hurt either. Beyond that, perhaps the positive vibes associated with reggae music and the mission behind the event, the largest annual fundraiser for Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, were a draw.

“It was such a weird week,” Forrest said, noting the dual tragedies in Boston and West. “People are processing a lot of emotions. So to see so many people come together and support a great cause was kind of a silver lining to a very dark week.”

The money totals for the event won’t be in til next week either, but John Turner, Senior Director of Marketing and Branding for Capital Area Food Bank of Texas said a portion of the proceeds will certainly be routed to the organization’s operations in West.

“We had a team out there on Friday starting to work out logistics,” Turner said. “We will definitely be involved in the long term relief effort.”

There were no notorious celebrity appearances or record-breaking crowds during the couple hours I was at the Reggae Fest on Sunday. But standing to the side of the stage and watching San Diego band Stranger declare their new found love for Austin with the city shining brilliantly in the backdrop, that thing happened. For a moment it was totally easy to believe that Austin is in fact the mythical, musical wonderland that it aspires to be. Cynicism shot, I bought the hype. Yeah, I love it when that happens.