Never Grow Old: Toots returns to performing with Chicago appearance

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Toots by Heather Augustyn

Photo by Heather Augustyn

When a drunk fan hurled an empty glass vodka bottle at Frederick “Toots” Hibbert at a Richmond, Virginia music festival in 2013, striking him in the head, many wondered if he would ever return to touring. To be frank, he is not young. At 73 years old, the vocalist who came to the attention of the world first through his appearance in the movie The Harder They Come and then in collaborations with Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, and Bonnie Raitt before winning a Grammy himself, the injury was especially serious. He was unable to perform. He put his touring on hold while a $20 million lawsuit was settled by his attorneys against the concert promoter and his injuries healed. The day after the settlement in March of this year, the terms of which have not been disclosed, he announced a world tour that commenced in mid-June in California.

On August 13, Toots & the Maytals, sans the original Maytals, headlined at the inaugural Reggae Fest Chicago and event organizer Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records says it was a way to welcome the legend back to the stage. “Honestly, it was a no brainer. He had just announced that he was ready to tour again, and Toots has fans across such a wide spectrum. It was obvious he was the one to bring everyone together. All facets of reggae and world music fans know and love the legacy of Toots & the Maytals. There are only a few names that have that power!” Wren says.

The performance drew a crowd of tens of thousands and Toots displayed the same level of energy as his performances throughout his six-decade-long career. “The performance was amazing,” says Wren. “He seemed to really play the old classics including a bunch of ska gems right out of the gate! He gave the fans an amazing show. Everyone loved what they saw.”

One of those in the massive crowd who says it was his first time seeing Toots perform was Jim Cascino, co-host of the Windy City Sound System podcast. “His performance was much, much better than I ever could have expected. Because of the accident, it was hard to know whether or not he would give a good performance. Obviously head injuries are quite serious, and especially given that he was 70 years old at the time, that’s a pretty serious hill to climb. But Toots doesn’t strike me as a person that would start touring again at anything other than 100%, and that was absolutely the case at Reggae Fest,” Cascino says. “I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing him live before, so I don’t know whether his set list and performance were typical or not. But seeing him for the first time, it’s hard to even imagine that he was ever sidelined by an injury in the first place. His voice was as good as it was on his most recent albums, and he was dancing around the stage like a man who was forty years younger! WBEZ’s Tony Sarabia introduced him by alluding to Otis Redding, which was a very accurate comparison. I definitely saw more than a bit of gospel (à la Sam Cooke) in Toots as well as in the way that he interacted with the crowd through call and response and an almost sermon-like intonation, clearly a nod back to his roots singing in choirs. I also really appreciated that he added quite a bit of ska to his set, playing tunes like Never Grow Old and Dog War, and ending a lot of the songs in a ska tempo. In an interview in the Chicago Tribune, Chuck Wren said that getting Toots would elevate the festival, and he could not have been more right. I’m so glad he was able to show to the world that he’s back in fighting form with a stellar performance in our fair city!”

Toots Hibbert continues his 2016 tour with performances in England throughout August and September, culminating with the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise in mid-November.

Photo by Heather Augustyn

Photo by Heather Augustyn

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