Knoxville got it like it likes it last week under a thick cloud of revolution, when Grammy Award-winning artists Ben Harper and Damian Marley played at World’s Fair Park.
The tour issued from Phoenix on Aug. 10 and commenced Sunday at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. It was launched to promote Harper and the new release of his double album “Both Sides of the Gun.” Though originally not intended as a two-disc set, Harper thought the contrast between softer songs like “Morning Yearning” and harsher ones like “Get It Like You Like It” consummated the album.
“These are all songs that I felt had to make it out,” Harper said in a live conference call before an appearance on “The Tonight Show.” “It was a creative choice. They weren’t going to be on the same record, but at the same time they complete my experience, creatively, and I feel that without each record it’s an incomplete body of work. So I had to find a way to not have them on the same disc but still have them in the same work.”
Specializing in slide guitar, California-born Harper plays his music in the context of many different musical genres.
“I don’t have a preference in styles,” he said “It is mood-specific. If I feel it, I’m as committed to that style as if it was the only style I make. The challenge is which direction to go in next.”
Now 37, married to actress Laura Dern and releasing his seventh studio album since the debut with Freund, Harper is trying to lead the younger generation to a better way in the style of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
And as if the album release and musical talents of Harper weren’t enough, he also shared the stage with another young legend — Rastafarian Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley.
Jr. Gong plays from deep reggae roots. His “Welcome to Jamrock” won Best Reggae Album at the 2006 Grammy Awards, one of two Grammys he received that year.
“(The album) reflects us,” Jr. Gong said in a B+ press release. “And I say us ‘cause it’s not just me that makes the album. We’re taking the baton from the elders who made rebel music — we’re new leaders of the old school.”
And as new leaders, the two musicians are compliments to each other’s style and songs.
“There has always been a good vibe on the road with our opening groups,” Harper said. “I think the only conflict (between our styles) is on my end and which Bob Marley covers I’m not going to get to do. And hopefully he can hold off on one or two from his set and then he can come out and sit in with us. That would be ideal.”
Sure enough, in the middle of the second encore, Jr. Gong and brother Julian stepped back on stage with Harper to rile the crowd with Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up.”
After the concert, many were speechless, but others in the audience were eager to talk.
“I would have paid $100 to see a show like that,” Brandon Castro, a junior in advertising, said. “Damian’s energy on stage was incredible, and I’d never been exposed to Ben Harper all that much, but I’m going out tomorrow to buy the new CD.”
Bryan Siegel, a University of Tennessee alumnus, has been to see Harper on six previous occasions, all of which he said were fabulous.
“He changes my life every time I listen to his music,” Siegel said. “He plays songs that make a man cry. And he and Damian have a similar message — peace, love and happiness.”
Ultimately, everyone went home satisfied and eager to protest against politics gone awry.
“Change is a big-ass tree and I’m a small mother fuckin’ ax,” Harper laughed. “I have the opposite problem as the Dixie Chicks, if they sing about politics, people split; if I don’t, people split. But I’m proud to be one of the many voices of the silent majority.”
Though the concert is over, fans can look forward to more Ben Harper in the near future.
“In the next five years, I want to put out a Reggae record,” Harper said. “And I also want to put out a real significant representation of the Innocent Criminals. And I want to make a record that I feel defines me the clearest and most soulful. There’s a record I’m trying to make that I know I can, and I’m trying to get to it.”
That means fans will just have to keep an eye on Harper to see what the future holds.