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Anita Thompson

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'Peoples' Reggae at the Aspen Jazz Fest

Posted: 09/08/11 04:35 PM ET

ASPEN - A sellout crowd on Sunday at Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day weekend festival saw sunny weather and vibrant live music that had 11,000 people on their feet dancing and celebrating the holiday.

One band, Leon and the Peoples, was a welcome surprise to the already happy fans of Michael Franti and Zac Brown as they packed the dance floor with fans from across the country. Leon and the Peoples, a 2007 International Reggae and World Music Award (IRAWMA) nominee and one New York City's hottest rising bands has successfully completed their first North America Tour, in front of other sold-out venues including House of Blues, Hard Rock Live, The Docks in Toronto, BB Kings, NYC, The Roxy in Boston and this Sunday, in the Aspen Valley.

Leon and the Peoples, that is, Leon and his band of seven musicians, smiled and waved as the crowd grew more and more dense with energy rising and audience singing and shouting for more.

First thing I noticed was the involvement Leon had with his audience. By the end of his third song, he had the entire stage filled with cheering festival-goers, some who appeared to be self-appointed go-go dancers. Others, just happy to have such good, live soul music in the house.

One member of the audience, New Orleans native Bridget Balentine, who has lived in the valley for decades with her husband, deputy fire chief Rick Balentine, danced and swayed to the music with a smile on her face. She is no stranger to live soul music either. She returns to her native Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras every year during breaks from the Balentine Collection business. When I asked her about the show, Bridget said "this is great -- real earthy energy. You can feel the soul coming through."

The day after the show, chilling by the river in Woody Creek, I asked Leon for his take on the festival. "It's a very well run festival and I was impressed -- impressed with the stage and the entire grounds. People had fun. At a festival, you've got to be free to do what you want. It was very diverse."

Also, why was he so adamant about having access to his audience? It turns out that Leon happens to be a professional actor as well (30 hours away from a plane to start rehearsals of his new play debuting in Washington DC, titled Why Do Good Girl Like Bad Boys).

"One thing about me, " Leon said "spending so many years as an actor, going to so many concerts, I always wondered what I would want to see. I thought I'd like to see more interaction with the crowd, let them know that I'm signing with them."

Indeed!