The first North American visit from the traveling World of Music, Arts & Dance festival — known simply as WOMAD — this year proved, at the least, that American music fans will respond to something other than the usual radio-format pop hits. Musicians, artists, speakers, dancers and chefs from around the globe converged on this converted football field for 10 hours of eclectic entertainment that rendered such recent events as the Lollapalooza tour a distant and hazy memory.
Not that the musical lineup, despite a theme of world-influence, didn’t sport a commercial edge. Hitmakers Peter Gabriel, Sinead O’Connor, Ziggy Marley, Crowded House and P.M. Dawn dominated the main stage, while the more ethnic-oriented performers were relegated to a smaller second stage.
Much more accessible than Lollapalooza, WOMAD offered free admittance to youngsters; free, uncluttered parking and easy venue access. Discreet and friendly security added to an overall atmosphere of cooperation.
Headliner Gabriel, who organized and launched the first WOMAD show in Europe in 1982, played an engaging 11-song set, comprising mostly his biggest hits. Far less dramatic than his recent L.A. Forum concert (Daily Variety, July 27), Geffen artist Gabriel this time relied on the power of his music and his world-class backing band, leaving the elaborate staging and special-effects props of his indoor concert behind.
Gabriel’s “Steam,” as well as the tension-filled “Digging in the Dirt” and “Blood of Eden,” both of which featured accompaniment from an excitable Sinead O’Connor, were crowd-pleasing songs that nicely crowned the long and busy event.
The Drummers of Burundi, veterans of the first WOMAD show, followed Gabriel’s slot and closed the proceedings with a choreographed set of invigorating rhythms , performed on drums carved from the trunks of the giant d’umuvugangoma tree.
Second-billed Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers, containing many of the late Bob Marley’s children, offered a loose 50-minute set of contemporary reggae, highlighted by the band’s Virgin Records hit “Tomorrow People” and dad’s “Could You Be Loved”– extended into a long jam — and “No Woman, No Cry,” which featured the voice of Steven Marley who, like brother Ziggy, sounds hauntingly like his father.
The setting sun served as a nice frame for New Zealand’s Crowded House, whose mellow “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and bouncy “Chocolate Cake” were warmly greeted. Songs from the band’s next Capitol album, “Together Alone,” met with less success.
England’s James, a six-piece melodic pop outfit signed to Fontana/Mercury, played the second stage and showed why the band has such a rabid following in it’s homeland.