Friday's Ragga Muffins Festival offered my first chance to see the remodeled Fox Theater in Oakland, which just recently opened. The first impression was one of amazement: the venue is big, impressive, and luxurious, yet comfortable as well. Unlike the Paramount and the Warfield, the Fox rocks. It's got some cool, subtle details, like the zellij patterns in the ceiling, but also intelligently-designed, modern ergonomics which contrast the building's old-school, historical landmark status. There are terraced levels leading down to the stage, for example, which means its easier to see from the back of the venue; and the smoking section is high-ceilinged, with vertical vents, so you don't return from a smoke break coated in tar. Other pluses I noticed included the friendly attitude of the staff; one usher even offered photography tips. And with several bars in operation, wait time for a drink was minimal. Finally, Oakland has a cool spot for larger shows–a place you'd choose to be at without reluctance and of your own accord.
As for the concert itself, it also impressed. I can't remember the last time a big reggae show happened in Oakland (previous Ragga Muffins have been held at the Bill Graham Auditorium), and the upgrade in venue seemed to have a positive effect on both performers and audience. There were no major gaffes to speak of; the only minor ding was the loud sound check performed prior to K'naan's set. Unfortunately, I missed Rootz Underground, who started playing exactly at 7 p.m., but it does say something that the opener was on and off the stage on time. Highlights included Lee “Scratch” Perry donning a dreadlocks-equipped hat, K'naan updating an Ethiopian jazz classic with hip-hop beats, and Stephen Marley's acoustic rendition of “Mind Control.” All in all, an irie introduction to what looks to be the crown jewel in Oakland's emerging Uptown nightlife scene.