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Katchafire and Maoli bring cool vibes on a hot night

Posted 8:43am on Saturday, May. 18, 2013

Being a world-music fan in North Texas can be as frustrating as rush-hour traffic on I-35.

On their American tours, many performers either just do the coasts or, if they do dare to visit flyover country, they’ll hit Chicago, Minneapolis, or Denver, but won’t venture south. (I’m looking at you, Vieux Farka Toure). Of course, when they do get here, sometimes they end up playing to what seems like more venue staff than paying customers (Tinariwen, Gilberto Gil).

So it was a pleasant surprise to arrive at Fort Worth’s recently reopened Ridglea Theatre Friday night to see a line stretched in front of the venue to catch the first-ever area appearance by leading New Zealand Maori reggae band Katchafire. It seemed like a healthy share of the Metroplex’s Polynesian community was here along with an assortment of dreadheads and folks who looked more San Diego than Southlake. That L&L Hawaiian Barbecue had set up a booth to sell food outside added to the convivial, beachy, backyard BBQ vibe (and gave everyone something to do besides sweat in the 80-degree evening heat).

Once inside, thanks to the classics being pumped out by DJ Playboy (Bob Marley, Dennis Brown), the crowd -- which didn’t come close to filling the place but wasn’t a complete embarrassment either -- was primed by the time Maui reggae-rock band Maoli took the stage. The group generated an infectious energy during a lively, 60-minute set and really got the enthusiastic audience skankin’ on the dancefloor with a cover of Marley’s Could You Be Loved.

While the eight-piece Katchafire didn’t possess Maoli’s charismatic stage presence, they made up for it with an even deeper sense of headbobbin’ roots reggae. Opening appropriately with the touring anthem On the Road Again (not the Willie Nelson song), they cruised through 90 minutes of their history including a slamming take on Collie Herb Man and brought out Maoli for a rousing version of Marley’s Three Little Birds.

Singer-guitarist Logan Bell has a soulful, Marley-inspired voice and the group locked into some persuasive grooves. The only downside was that the sound mix didn’t favor the two-piece horn section. (The other drag that harshed everyone’s mellow was the fist fight that nearly broke out between two dudes in the audience. Not cool, guys!)

Now that Katchafire has shown there is an audience for Kiwi reggae in Dallas-Fort Worth, could we possibly get Fat Freddy's Drop to pop in for a visit? Or maybe even Australia’s The Cat Empire (who haven’t been here since playing the Wildflower festival in Richardson in 2005)?

Hey, it’s summer and we’re looking at a stretch of 90-plus degree days ahead of us. We could use more of these cooling musical trade winds from the Pacific.

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