Words by DJ Gravy, Photos by Kevin Ornelas
New York always has a million things happening on any given night but when you get invited to see a real-life legend like singer/ actor/Jamaican icon Jimmy Cliff in an intimate setting, you don’t have to think much about schedule conflicts, you make a point to be there. Now add to that the fact that this private event was held at the soon-to-open Miss Lily’s Variety, a boutique slash juice bar and takeout shop located right next door to the popular downtown Manhattan restaurant.
The event, timed to coincide with the release today of Jimmy Cliff’s new Sacred Fire EP, was broadcast live to Sirius Satellite Radio, the first in a series of “Radio Lily” broadcasts. (To commemorate the evening, Miss Lily’s Variety also produced an exclusive, limited-edition Jimmy Cliff t-shirt, available here). Downtown scenesters, industry folks and reggae people mixed with Hollywood boldface names: It isn’t everyday that you see people like Salman Rushdie, Matthew Modine and Julian Schnabel at a reggae show but, hey, welcome to the world of Miss Lily’s (if you haven’t yet been indoctrinated).
Also present was my favorite juice man: Melvin Majors, formerly of Lifethyme Juice Shop in the West Village, who is now making his amazing blends in the Miss Lily’s Variety backroom, where you’ll also soon be able to buy patties and takeout (And yes, you’ll be able to get Miss Lily’s jerk delivered right to the crib, too—at least if you live in Soho). The gallery space also features rare 7-inch records, Jamaican soap, reggae videos and other assorted items. A handful of images by photographer Ricky Powell (who was also present) remained on the wall from his recent 50th birthday gallery show there last week, alongside framed Jimmy Cliff LPs setting the mood for the special event.
The performance itself had a storyteller-type vibe, not unlike NPR’s Tiny Desk series, with radio personality Pat McKay hosting an informal Q+A between songs. Playing his own guitar, Cliff performed both classics and new material from Sacred Fire (which is produced by Tim Armstrong of punk rock band Rancid), including a brilliant cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” that lyrically references The Harder They Come and Cliff’s iconic Ivan character.
Cliff spoke during the Q+A about getting into music as a teen and how he basically A&R’d Bob Marley’s first record with Chinese-Jamaican producer, Leslie Kong. At one point in a story, he forgot the name of something and called himself out for having a Rick Perry moment. When songs required crowd participation with call-and-response chants, we happily sang with this legendary artist at an event that we’ll surely look back on years from now as a historically relevant moment for three areas: Reggae, New York City and um… oops, forgot—brainfreeze.