"Why come down when you can be up?"

That's what Reggae Sunsplash founder Tony Johnson wants to know. It's the essence of reggae, he says. "Coming together and lifting our spirits."

The first Sunsplash, a week-long musical blowout starring reggae icons Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, took place in Jamaica 12 years ago. The organizers lost a ton of money, but they didn't care. Reggae isn't about making money. It's about making wonderful, spiritual music. So they ate the debt and kept on going.

The Sunsplash in Jamaica has become a national treasure. It bolsters not only the country's emotional spirits but also its economy. And it has grown beyond the beaches of Montego Bay.

There are mini-Sunsplashes all around the world -- North American tours of 42 shows in 40 cities and European tours with stops in West Germany, Finland, Switzerland and Belgium. It's not just a Jamaican beach blowout anymore. It's an international blowout.

"We are all trying to break down the barriers and look at the world in a more multinational way," says Johnson. "We really have to come together in unity, to have our national identity but live together."

The Reggae Sunsplash 1990, starring Burning Spear, Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths, Shinehead, U-Roy, Shelly Thunder and the 809 Band, takes place Wednesday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion beginning at 5:30. Tickets are $15 and $20. For information, call 1-800-543-3041.