Toots and The Maytals up close

Toots and The Maytals not only stole the show when they took the stage this Saturday at UVM’s Springfest, they stole the attention of every fan on the green without letting go. The sheer presence of lead singer Fredrick “Toots” Hibbert, the man credited with inventing Reggae, is enough to require a Wayne and Garth groveling session. We’re not worthy. But Toots is his own hype man, and he performed like it was the Sixties: the decade that Toots first banded with the Maytals to form the Reggae genre. Toots has no doubt stayed true to his song, “I’ll Never Grow Old,” exhibiting his youthful exuberance Saturday by pouncing around the stage to his irie anthems – a cheesing smile on his face the whole time – as if he were a teenager. Well, despite the fact that he is not, I had the chance to sit down with Toots after his set and, after politicking with him a bit, found no discernable age gap between us. “Fifty-six,” he said of his age in a thick Jamaican accent. “Maybe fifty-eight,” he joked. “I cannot tell you!” he laughed. Toots was a bit coy about this subject, but not so much about his contribution to Reggae, affirming “it was me” when I asked whether it was true he invented the genre. “We had no name [for Reggae]. One day in Jamaica at a show we just yell it out.” Apparently the word came from “stregge,” a term used to describe someone who doesn’t dress properly, and it took off worldwide with Toots’ single, “Do the Reggay.” Smoke in the air, Toots reclined in the back of his tour bus with shoeless feet, and explained to me the origin of his style during a time when Reggae was without a name: “The radio…American radio was good,” he said, referring to his listening habits. “R&B and Wilson Pickett, most of the time Ray Charles.” Such artists had the good fortune to influence the “architect of Reggae,” and Toots had the chance to play the same role for artists of the younger generation when he recorded the compilation album “True Love” with such artists as Phish’s Trey Anastasio, The Roots, No Doubt, Shaggy and Rhazel, among other huge names. “Trey is my good friend. They all are,” Toots said, referring to his album associates. Though cordial in doing so, he was sure not to single-out any of his famous friends, saying “They are all the best.” It was impossible, he said, to put into words what he learned from recording songs with people like Anastasio and Willie Nelson. Instead, he just smiled as if he knew something I did not about the connection artists share in a studio together, and what they can learn from each other. “I learned a lot in Vermont in [Trey’s] studio,” where Toots says he, Willie Nelson and Anastasio recorded the album songs. “But I cannot explain it.” Because he has always made music in the name of peace, it makes sense that Toots was adamant in not picking a favorite artist. No one wants to see Bonnie Raitt and Shaggy in a brawl. But the idea of peace, Toots said from the sunk-in tour bus couch, is what the younger generation needs to be worried about. “You don’t need to war, and I am always about peace,” he says, emphasizing our generation. For hole-dwellers who did not know Toots’ message of “peace, perfect peace” from his lyrics, it’s been his platform for years. But as his performance of the hit song, “Monkey Man” indicated, there is no need for political persuasion when you have hundreds of college kids screaming like a monkey at your request. No, some songs are not so deep. I asked Toots where the “Monkey Man” came from, to which he responded – heartily laughing and coughing – “Oh man. This man who I used to [work on] music with…He was so ugly! But you know what? He had the pretty, pretty girl.”