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Toronto Summer: 'Cool down' at 2014 Irie Music Festival

A grassroots music festival — which attracted a few thousand people and snagged headliner Maxi Priest when it launched in Toronto more than a decade ago — has become the city’s biggest showcase of reggae and world music, attracting a crowd of 100,000 last year.

The Irie Music Festival is a free, family-friendly event which takes place on two weekends in the summer.

The first, on Aug. 1-4 in Nathan Phillips Square, is timed to coincide with Caribbean Carnival.

“It seemed like a natural time of the year when all things Caribbean were being celebrated,” Irie co-founder Phil Vassell said in an interview.

“We wanted something that focused on reggae and it seemed like a nice compliment. You can jump up at [carnival,] but you cool down at Irie.”

A second concert is slated for Aug. 23-24 in Mississauga’s Celebration Square.

The festival grew out of the Toronto Urban Music Festival — which became more focused on hip hop and R&B — and has featured everyone from Jamaican ska band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires to Cuban jazz pianist Hilario Duran.

And aside from the live performances, there’s always dance, food, activities for kids and visual arts displays.

“It’s a music festival and more,” Vassell said.

“There are traditional and non-traditional fans — not just hard-core reggae enthusiasts.”

Here are some of the musicians performing at this year’s festival:

Friday, Aug. 1: Alison Hinds (soca)
Saturday, Aug. 2:  Richie Spice (reggae)
Sunday, Aug. 3: Etana (reggae)
Monday, Aug. 4: Bob Marley Tribute by Errol Blackwood (reggae)

Saturday, Aug. 23: Richie Stephens (R&B, dancehall, reggae)
Sunday, Aug. 24: David Rudder (calypso)

The Irie Music Festival is one on a long list of world music concerts in the city this summer. Here’s a sample:

Afrofest (African)
July 5-6
Woodbine Park

Festival of South Asia (South Asian)
Aug. 23-24
Gerrard Street East, between Greenwood and Coxwell Avenues

Havana Cultura Festival (Cuban)
Aug. 18-22
Ossington Avenue

Ashkenaz Festival (Jewish)
Harbourfront Centre
Aug. 29-Sept. 1