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Reggae icon Don Carlos comes to Moe's Alley and the Brittania Arms Songwriter Showcase inches closer to a Santa Cruz County talent showdown.

By Garrett Wheeler

Boy, am I glad MTV doesn't care much for reggae. Jamaica's main musical export has yet to be the subject of mass media focus, and most commercial radio stations seem oblivious to any reggae artist without the last name Marley. Sure, there have been inklings--Matisyahu graced TRL last year, and Sean Paul's collaboration with Beyoncé on her chart topper "Baby Boy" was certainly a hit, but for the most part, reggae music has stayed relatively underground. And I couldn't be happier.When was the last time you went to a concert headlined by a real living legend? If you're into country, I'm talking about Garth or Tim--if it's rock, how about the Stones? Now consider the various convenience factors--ticket price, proximity to stage, price of a beer--and you'll realize that you could have done better investing in a TV surround-sound system and a Live in Tokyo DVD.

Unless you're a reggae fan. Then you'll probably think of last Friday's Don Carlos show at Moe's Alley. The founding member of legendary roots trio Black Uhuru is no stranger to Santa Cruz, having booked regular gigs at the Catalyst over the years, and his debut outing at Moe's was a rare treat for local reggae fans.

Always one to try for the best view possible, I found myself wedged directly in front of the stage, an arm's length away from the Don. His sweet-toned voice and remarkably perfect pitch have made Carlos one of the most famed singers in all of reggae, and here I was, close enough to give him a high five, which I admit I did, twice.

The set opened with an original tune from drummer Wadi Gad before the band kicked it into high gear for Don Carlos' arrival onstage. The celebrated vocalist skanked his way to the microphone, opening with his '80s classic "I Like It." Rolling straight into the next song, "Living in the City," Carlos' band let loose, with trumpet player Gavin DiStasi leading the charge beside saxophonist Gabe Eaton. For the next hour and a half, Carlos and company kept the irie-vibed dance party going full-bore, pausing only to take requests from the crowd. At that point, I asked him to play a more obscure B-side, "Hail the Roots," which was obviously not a part of the band's rehearsed set list. But Carlos obliged, singing the chorus a cappella before diving into a few Black Uhuru hits, including the Rasta anthem, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Thanks, Don Carlos, you made my day.

The Local Factor
Earlier in the week, I decided to drop in on the Britannia Arms Songwriters contest. The annual event has been running strong for nearly three months, heading toward week 14, where the songwriter champion will be crowned. Tuesday night's showcase featured three talented local musicians, beginning with the homespun folk tunes of Sady Frye. Next up was Peter Cardilla, whose rock-tinged melodies provoked some love from audience members and fellow competitors alike. Capping off the solo set was Matt Vasquez, a talented songwriter whose contemporary acoustic rock ditties reflected West Coast favorites like Jack Johnson and G-Love. The night ended open-mic style, with Santa Cruz favorites Ukulele Dick and Jeff Blackburn putting on a little showcase of their own.

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