The Wailers return to the Berkshires with a new leader

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GREAT BARRINGTON— Aston Barrett Jr. is taking over the family business.

The Wailers' 27-year-old drummer is now leading the reggae group that keeps the music of Bob Marley and The Wailers alive.

"This band was always run by my father," Barrett Jr. said of original member Aston "Familyman" Barrett during a recent telephone interview with The Eagle. "He put me in charge to run the band now."

With a mix of new and old personalities, that responsibility isn't always easy.

"It's very difficult because dealing with some of the original members, they are my uncles," Barrett said, using the terminology he applies to every Wailers member.

On Saturday night at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, early members Junior Marvin and Donald Kinsey will join Barrett and other musicians either blood-related to or referred by past Wailers. They will be playing tunes off "Legend," a Bob Marley and The Wailers record released after Marley's 1981 death that includes hits such as "Three Little Birds," "Buffalo Soldier" and "I Shot the Sheriff." While keeping the "Wailers" name is a way to show respect for his own family, Barrett also wants to pay homage to Marley.

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"Bob Marley [was] not a normal person. He [was] a man sent from God. He changed the world. He really changed the world into a different place because the world was really divided back then," said Barrett, who wasn't alive to meet Marley, but has heard numerous stories about him from the elder Barrett.

Marley's influence on the group extends beyond its sound and social conscience. His son, Julian, passed along some of his leadership advice to Barrett.

"He told me that Bob said, 'You can't handle everyone the same way. Everyone is different, and you can't expect them to know or to act a certain way. Sometimes, you have to explain it to them. Sometimes, you have to keep on explaining things. Being in a leader position, you have to understand that you can't jump to conclusions,'" Barrett recalled Julian telling him.

Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Barrett said he never considered shunning The Wailers. Unlike some children of successful figures, Barrett was happy to follow his father's path.

"A lot of them would say, 'I want people to accept me for who I am and stop comparing me to my father, and blah, blah, blah. But my thing is, like, you could put me in any category with my father, and I'm proud of it because a lot of people don't have that opportunity," Barrett said.

A multi-instrumentalist who has collaborated with Lauryn Hill and Julian Marley, Barrett will have his fingerprints all over Saturday night's show. But The Wailers' sound that night shouldn't be much different than when it performed at The Colonial Theatre in recent years — or when Bob Marley and company were playing decades ago. The idea is to maintain the same sonic framework onstage while forming new, future-focused habits as a group off it.

"We're making sure it's more structured now," Barrett said.


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