Friday, December 26, at the Grog Shop.

The '80s were an exciting time to be a reggae fan in Cleveland. Not only did we boast a number of internationally recognized touring bands; they, in turn, were well supported by a dedicated following. You could have asked anyone in town about reggae, and they'd be as quick to mention I-Tal as Bob Marley. For a time, I-Tal was the biggest band in Cleveland, genre aside.

The group formed in 1978, when reggae was receiving its initial commercial push in the States. For the next 16 years, the group performed relentlessly and, in the process, hipped many Ohioans to the Jamaican genre, with its tasteful blend of rootsy covers and clever originals. The neck-breaking pace, however, eventually caught up with singer-guitarist "Papa Dave" Smeltz, and I-Tal disbanded. "I was exhausted," he admits. "I needed a break."

"We're taking it easy these days," says original bassist Dave Valentine. "I think we're happy doing three or four shows a year. It keeps it fresh."

Since regrouping last year with Smeltz, Valentine, and original members Chris Dunlop (drums), Bob Corouso (percussion), and singer/multi-instrumentalist Carlos Jones (on loan from his own PLUS Band), I-Tal. once again reflects a precious aura of enthusiasm that at one time the group had nearly forgotten. "We're having more fun than ever," says Papa Dave. "And we'll keep doing it as long as people support it."