Each summer, city of Wilmington, Delaware, hosts the People’s Festival, an event commemorates the life of Bob Marley. The reggae superstar lived and worked in the city in the 1960s and 70s. The event, now in its 15th year, is organized by Marley’s friends Ibis and Genny Pitts, who shared with the Delaware Online site their memories of their late friend. Here are some excerpts. The article can be accessed through the link below.
On how they met the Marleys:
Ibis met Marley after Marley’s wife, Rita, visited his specialty and gift shop at 24th and Market streets in Wilmington in 1969. Rita, who was living a block away with Marley and his mother, was looking over the art and jewelry from all over the world that Ibis sold. Ibis noticed she was barefoot. “I was curious about it and asked her where she was from and she told me Jamaica,” he says. Ibis soon met Marley and was given a 7-inch record of his 1967 song with the Wailers, “Nice Time,” which Ibis played over and over, night and day. At Booker’s home, at 23rd and Tatnall streets, Ibis would play drums in the basement while Marley played guitar. “We’d jam, but I didn’t really know who he was at that point,” Ibis says. “We just had fun with him.”
On Marley not going to Woodstock:
It’s the night before Woodstock, almost 40 years ago, and a 24-year-old Bob Marley is in Wilmington. He’s up late, helping his new friend Ibis Pitts make the homemade jewelry that he was taking north to New York the next day to sell at the music festival. And as Marley helps, Ibis is trying to persuade the future reggae icon to come with him to the festival, which also would become part of music legend. “I was all excited about going up there,” Ibis remembers. “We stayed up all night doing that and he still wouldn’t go. He kept a very low, low profile. I later got him to go with me one time to see my mother in New Jersey and I was so happy he did that.”
On Ibis Pitt visiting Jamaica:
In late 1969, Ibis went with Marley to Jamaica when his visa expired. It was Ibis’ first time out of the country, and he soon found himself in Trenchtown, a poor neighborhood in Kingston, which would later spawn the Marley songs “Trenchtown,” “Trench Town Rock” and the neighborhood’s famous shout-out in “No Woman, No Cry.” When Ibis walked the town’s dirt roads with Marley, followers trailed behind. “It was like Jesus with his disciples,” says Ibis, who later realized the followers were actually Marley’s soccer teammates, which
included several members of the Wailers. At night, they would all gather again and play music. “And I still didn’t know what this man was all about,” says Ibis, who played drums on those nights in Jamaica nearly 40 years ago. “We were just jammin’.”
On attending a Marley concert in California:
Ibis met his wife of 35 years, Genny, in California in the mid-’70s. And in the summer of 1975, the two heard an advertisement for Marley’s five-day residency at The Roxy in Los Angeles. Once Ibis heard Marley’s name, he packed his motorhome with his wife, who was eight months pregnant, and drove down to the Sunset Strip, hoping to meet up with Marley, whose career had grown considerably since they first met six years earlier. “When we got to the Roxy, there was a line all the way around the club and the show was sold out,” says Genny, who had never heard of Marley before. Ibis talked his way into the club and was soon reunited with Marley, whom he saw in concert for the first time that night. The couple stayed for the rest of the shows that weekend, hanging out with Marley and his band. “That whole weekend just totally changed my life,” says Genny.
On hearing of Marley’s death:
When Marley died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36, the Pittses learned of the news from a radio report. Genny was listening to WDAS 105.3-FM in her home when she heard a Marley song followed by the devastating news. “I was like, ‘She did not just say that,’ ” Genny remembers. “I just start hollering. It was terrible.” Ever since that day, Ibis has kept his hair in dreads as a tribute. (When Ibis would get a haircut, Marley would always tell him, “I see you’re still throwing your hair away.”)
The People’s Festival
The idea for the festival was born in 1993 at the Pittses’ home, at a party for Booker. As Booker was leaving, she announced, “The next time I see you, it will be in Wilmington, Delaware, where Ibis and Genny will do a tribute to Bob Marley.” Fifteen years later, the festival lives on to commemorate the lives Marley touched and spread his music and message of love, peace, unity and equality. “He’s an important person to me,” Ibis says. “And since he had roots here … I just wanted to do that for him and his legacy.”
The festival takes place in Wilmington’s Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park this coming weekend. It begins at 1 p.m. Saturday and will draw about 3,500 music fans. Tickets are $15 in advance; $20 the day of the show. This year’s acts include The Original Wailers, which features two former members of Bob Marley & the Wailers: Al Anderson, who began with the band playing lead guitar on Marley’s 1974 album “Natty Dread,” and Junior Marvin, who joined with Marley for the first time by playing lead guitar on the 1977 blockbuster, “Exodus.” (The Original Wailers are scheduled for 8:30 p.m.) Other acts slated for Saturday’s celebration include Ras IQulah, the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, the Inca Band, Johnny T., The Welfare Poets, Precise Science, the Bullbuckers, The Urban Shaman, Ky-Enie and Supa Nova and Last Emperor.
Photo: Bob Marley in the fall of 1976 in front of his house at 23rd and Tatnall streets in Wilmington. Photo belongs to the Pitts family and can be found in its original context in the article below.
The article by Ryan Cormier can be found at http://blogs.delawareonline.com/pulpculture/?p=4485