By Bliss Bowen
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
Long gone are the days of the Reggae Splashes that Upstream used to brighten in Old Pasadena and elsewhere.
Despite the disappearance of many old haunts, not to mention the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, the band continues to keep area audiences dancing and feeling hopeful. They return to Farnsworth County Park in Altadena on Saturday, Aug. 14.
This time last year, Upstream frontman Haile Blackman was philosophically recounting how the pandemic shutdown had caused him to wonder if maybe, suddenly, his performing career was over for good.
He expressed gratitude for the career he’s had, and he laughed at how little time it took for him to hop back onstage (even if it was a livestreamed concert in an empty venue with a few crew members and no live audience).
But it was still a surreal possibility to contemplate. The son of the late Ras Shorty I —aka Lord Shorty, the prolific father of soca music — Blackman has been performing since he was 12, first with his family in Trinidad and Tobago and then with his own band, which he formed there in 1989 and brought to California in 1991.
He needn’t have worried. Upstream’s open-hearted music — with feel-good Caribbean vibes magnified by Blackman’s energetic showmanship and Derek Brewstafari’s steel drums — provided a tonic that fans reached out for throughout the shutdown and loyally responded to in ways that helped the band keep going. Embedded in Upstream’s songs is a persistent music-is-life message celebrating community and connection — virtues that have felt precious and threatened over the past 18 months. They’re no less vital now.
Barely two months after Southland stages started reopening, it’s tough for artists to resume their normal summer schedules, but some, like Upstream, are seeking outdoor performance spaces on lounge patios and at festivals, amusement parks and civic concerts such as Saturday’s show. The all-ages, open-air concert in the Farnsworth Park amphitheater is one of the weekly concerts being presented there throughout the summer. Subsequent weekends are slated to feature surf party outfit the Hodads, Fleetwood Mac tribute band Gypsy Dreams, and a series grand finale on Sept. 11 with a performance by Johnny Cash tribute band the Walking Phoenixes.
WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14
WHERE: Farnsworth County Park, 568 E. Mount Curve Avenue, Altadena
COST: Admission is free
INFO: upstreammusic.com, bit.ly/FarnsworthPark, altadenarotary.org