Clinton Fearon & The Boogie Brown BandBy Mollie McKinley / September 8, 2016
Clinton Fearon & The Boogie Brown Band Schedule
Friday, September 9:
9:30 p.m., CityStage
Saturday, September 10:
12 p.m., LeBauer Park Stage
3 p.m., Wrangler Stage
6:45 p.m., Dance Pavilion
Sunday, September 11:
4:30 p.m., Dance Pavilion
That’s what happened to Clinton Fearon, leader of Clinton Fearon & the Boogie Brown Band.
As a child growing up in Jamaica, Fearon sang in his church choir for six months, and he looked up to gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. Fearon actually made his first guitar, playing it until his father helped him buy one from a friend. After that, he moved to Kingston to start his own band.
Fearon’s career began with The Gladiators. That’s when reggae started to take over not only Fearon’s mind, but also his heart. Fearon played bass guitar for The Gladiators and contributed to the group’s unique vocal mix. His songwriting talent helped cement the band’s legacy.
Fast forward to 2016—this weekend, to be exact—when Fearon will share his own brand of reggae roots music at the 76th National Folk Festival in Greensboro.
The reggae beat is slow, like a heartbeat. It’s based on nyahbingi, a Jamaican indigenous folk percussion and religious drumming. Reggae also draws from mento, or Jamaican folk music, and from ska and rock steady, two native dance styles. Inspired by the Rastafarian movement that began in the 1930s, reggae calls for justice, freedom and equality.
Fearon, 65, was inspired by Rastafarianism, and especially by mento. “Every little style helps,” Fearon says in a phone interview from his home in Seattle. “Seeing [mento] is like, ‘wow, that’s very interesting to see up close, and see the different instruments they use.’”
In 1987, when The Gladiators’ tour came to an end, Fearon formed a new band of American reggae musicians called The Defenders and permanently settled in Seattle, where the flexibility of his bandmates gave Fearon constant inspiration. “We could come up with the parts and the lines, but leave room for everybody to play,” he says. “It wasn’t a rigid, in-the-box kind of thing. We left room for everyone’s influence.”
In 1994, Fearon formed his reggae ensemble, Clinton Fearon & The Boogie Brown Band. Today, the band is comprised of eight musicians who hail from across the United States, from California to New York. “That’s another reason I’m so excited for the festival—all eight of us are going to be there,” Fearon says. “That’s always the wish, that each gig we do, we all get to play together. We don’t get the chance all the time, but when we do, it’s magical.”
The band has performed at National Folk Festivals and “legacy” (post-National) festivals in other cities, including Butte. Mont., and Lowell, Mass. According to Fearon, the effect of the festivals is hard to sum up. “I don’t know how to put it in words,” he says. “To see the response [of the audience] warms my heart. Everybody there is there for the art and you can feel that energy. It brings in a lot of different people and different artists from different parts of the world. It’s very interesting—each act is uniquely good.”
Fearon has released 10 self-produced albums; his next, “This Morning,” will be released just in time for the festival. Reggae wasn’t always Fearon’s job, however; for a long time, it was just a way to stay out of trouble. “Things were really rough in Kingston, and it was easy to delve into madness,” he remembers. “I loved music too much, I couldn’t do it. Instead of making a fuss about something, I wrote about it.”
This remedy was just what the doctor ordered. Now, Fearon is content that people appreciate reggae for its positivity and lightheartedness. “How I try to write, even if it’s about a current situation, I love to look at it from the standpoint that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When we recognize that something is going on and needs fixing, we write like it will be fixed by the end of the day,” he says.
Fearon has often said that his band’s music contributes to the betterment of tomorrow. At the National Folk Festival, Fearon’s vision is that his music will help people who are enduring rough times—because there are always rough times. “We are all blessed,” he says, “and we are all important.”
“My motto is for us to love what we do, and do what we love. That’s the gist of the music, to take care of ourselves,” Fearon says. “To do all the good we can for as long as we can. Don’t forget to laugh, don’t forget to smile—that’s how it’s music for the soul.”