Celebration of musician George Wesley to end Wilkes-Barre Fine Arts Fiesta
WILKES-BARRE — When George Wesley played his annual gig at the Fine Arts Fiesta last year, he took the familiar Public Square stage for what became his final performance.
The beloved local musician — revered for his kind disposition and gregarious spirit as much as his mastery of reggae — would succumb to liver cancer two months later, leaving a family and an arts community to grieve and ponder how to properly honor Wesley’s legacy.
What followed was an outpouring of musical ceremony by Wesley’s former bandmates, musical disciples, fans and family members, and that movement to celebrate the Old Lion’s life and work will continue.
Young Lion, a band comprised of former members of Wesley’s I-tations and area musicians will play in tribute to the local reggae legend at 4 p.m. Sunday. The performance will double as the closing ceremony of the Fiesta.
Drummer Chris Condel, of Bangor, toured with Wesley for 12 years and their association evolved from musical partnership to friendship.
“You could call us best friends,” Condel said. “He took an interest in my family. We talked about his family. I knew the real George.”
Condel said knowing Wesley affected him in a positive way.
“If you compared me before I met George to me afterward, humbled is one difference that comes to mind,” Condel said. “He taught me that if you have great ability to play your instrument, that’s great, but it doesn’t make you a better person.
“Compassion was the other thing, not just for music but for people. Whatever your situation, he would accept you.”
The importance of family was another value Condel said Wesley impressed upon him.
“When I first met (Wesley), I had just had my first son, who was 4 months old,” Condel said. “You hear about the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and all the wrong ways it can take you, and he was one of those cats that let you know what was important.”
Condel will be joined by former I-tations bassist Lion Sanford, South Side Bandits guitarist Jamie Zaleski, Pittston pianist Angelo Miraglia, Howard Chang and Wesley’s son, James Wesley.
Condel said the Sunday 4 p.m. spot at the Fine Arts Fiesta was a cherished part of the yearly schedule with Wesley.
“The community was always good to him,” Condel said of Wilkes-Barre. “They always respected him and had him play at their events.”
But for Wesley’s final performance, at the 2016 Fiesta, Condel was absent.
“For some reason, my schedule got crossed up, and his son was the last to play with him, which, to me, was beautiful,” Condel said. “I don’t know if he planned it that way. Who knows how long he knew he was sick.”
Fiesta board member Kathy Bozinski said when presented the idea to have George’s friends play a tribute to him at this year’s event, she was met with a unamimous ‘yes.’
Bozinski said she had “the honor” of introducing Wesley at his performance last year.
“It was a cool day, showering on and off, and what was beautiful was that the crowd still turned out,” Bozinski said. “He played even longer than he was supposed to. Sadly, that was the last time I saw him.”
Bozinski said the board is thrilled to have Young Lion perform in that same time slot to end the Fiesta.
“We want to celebrate George and his music and the musicians who played with him,” Bozinski said. “It’s not a tribute; it’s a celebration.”
Condel said he is honored to have been asked to pay respect to his late friend, of whom he said, “Musicianship flowed through everything he did.
“Everything he did, he did with conviction. There was no other way for him to do it. If you’re going to do something, do it right. Even if you’re going to screw something up, don’t do it half-assed.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: A tribute to George Wesley
Where: Fine Arts Fiesta, Public Square Wilkes-Barre
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Additional information: The Fine Arts Fiesta is free and open to the public.