The reggae scene in Upstate New York has been a rich one, with the onset over 20 years ago by Kevin Kinsella and Elliot Martin’s formation of the groundbreaking roots band, John Brown’s Body. Since then, many reggae bands have formed Upstate, most notably, in the Ithaca and Rochester areas. But Syracuse has it’s own smoldering reggae movement, represented by the premier reggae band in the Salt City, Root Shock.
I traveled to Rochester May 11th to catch my favorite local band playing at the Montage Music Hall. The venue was dimly lit and has lots of cool memorabilia on the walls in the bar area as you walk in. Drinks and beer are very reasonably priced, too. The stage was set up in a corner, raised enough for excellent viewing. But, the space was shaped a little wonky and I wondered if that would affect the sound. As I would soon find out, sights and sound were no problem.
After a sweet opening set by Rochester’s own Forest Dwellers, Root Shock took the stage and caught fire right out of the gate with a lively rendition of “Everything” and “The Energy”, followed by crowd favorite “Come Alive”. The vibes were just getting started. Several songs later, lead vox, Jessica Brown, asked if everybody was “ready to dance.” When the ska influenced song “Many Paths” began, the crowd couldn’t control themselves and feet started moving. Brown continually showed her range all night long, exemplified with her vocals on the moving song “Sage”. “Babylon Tree”, a song that relies on a heavy drum beat, set by drummer Tyre Outerbridge and percussionist Jason Randall, is one of my favorite Root Shock songs; it’s beat and lyrics stay with you awhile. Bassist Bill Eppel lays down a wicked bass line that is true to the roots, Brian Laurie styles behind the keys, and vocalist / guitarist extraordinaire Phil Grajko kills it on guitar with facial expressions that change with every note. So grateful for Root Shock to be part of the Upstate New York reggae mosaic.
Root Shock performs often in Upstate New York and beyond. Upcoming shows are May 23, Sterling Stage Folkfest, Sterling, NY and May 30 in Turin NY at the Strawberry Jam Music Festival. Root Shock will also be performing at Taste of Syracuse on June 7 with fellow Syracuse super band, Sophistafunk.
Author and Photography by: Russell Flax