If you want the short story of my experiences at Reggae on the River, 2015, it goes like this: I planned; I attended; I enjoyed. There, all done. However, it is my custom to use my blog to not only recount experiences, but to extract from them some sort of sage assessment.
Each episode will consist of a vignette written to stand by itself, but which will also link with all of the others to attempt to imbue the reader with a basic understanding of what the attraction is to gathering with thousands of others along the Eel River every August, when it is most likely to be hot.
Lounging around the camp early Saturday afternoon, I was basking in the glow of anticipation, with Stephen Marley due to come on stage in less than twelve hours. Despite the paltry amount of sleep that I had been able to sneak in, while absorbing some of the overflow of enthusiasm raging throughout the night, on Friday, I was buoyant.
I knew that adrenalin would fuel my goal to be able to surpass my normal bedtime of eight o’clock, if I continued to follow my plan of no alcohol. Though there was enough booze to float the Queen Mary in the immediate vicinity of our camp the entire stay, it had no attraction to me.
After breakfast in the volunteer pavilion, with Casey this morning, we had spent a fair amount of time in the ERRP booth (Eel River Recovery Project), engaging in animated dialogue with the individuals running the booth. I say “we,” but I was merely a paperweight, strategically placed in the booth to take advantage of the oscillating fan, that wafted a cool breeze my way every thirty seconds or so.
Casey is so in his element in this setting, being able to intelligently discuss goals and objectives for addressing the politically volatile subject of the environmental damage done by illegal grows. That is only one of many, the statewide drought compounding each and every issue.
This eclectic gathering of personalities here at ROTR is the perfect cross-section of our culture, ranging from those who simply are on the festival circuit, to those who fill prominent roles in the local community. Much gets accomplished in the trenches, over the course of the 100 or so hours, that the party rages.
Honestly, though, if I could follow the dialogue with any degree of accuracy, I could learn something. Unfortunately, the majority of the time, all I can do is grab onto bits and pieces of information, and try to make some sense of order later on, when I have had time to run the sound track back through my head, putting fragments of pertinent data in its proper cubby. The problem with the cubby in my brain, however, is that the light is pretty dim, and those cubbies all look the same. Sigh.
The booth was located only a couple hundred feet away from the main stage, so I was brought instantly to a sitting attention mode, when a Carlos Santana-type of sound exploded in my eardrums. I sprang out of my chair (music has that effect on me) and headed out, shooting an apologetic shrug of my shoulders in Casey’s direction, by way of explanation for my departure. He got it.
It’s just too hard to keep my spider-webbed brain focused on anything that comes at me through my ears. The inability to process information aurally is another manifestation of my mood spectrum disorder, and it surfaces any time more sophisticated principles are being bandied about in my presence. At least I understand why it is that I struggle, even if others don’t.
What I was hearing was the opening set of Alerta Kamarada, a Columbian group who infused a most pulsating rhythm and beat into their music, a sound that brought the crowd surging into the bowl. I headed through the gate into the backstage area, and up the ramp/steps to the side-stage, where I viewed all but the biggest of acts.
I had the stage practically to myself, with only twenty or so in the area that could accommodate another fifty, easily, so I was draped over the railing, taking pics of the performance. It was galvanizing, and though I was completely unfamiliar with the music, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Upon completion of each act, we were asked to vacate the stage for ten minutes or so, something that I ultimately decided was done simply to allow others to be able to access the precious side-stage areas. By clearing everyone out and seeing them scatter between each act, it meant that those who returned ten or so minutes later got a fresh shot at obtaining a decent spot from which to view the show. No one could “own” a spot.
The crew running things was well-versed in its function, and I got to the point where I knew every one of them, so that all I had to do was shoot an inquiring glance at any one of them, to find out if I could return to the stage. When all is said and done, this optimum access to the music was something I never could have anticipated, but will always rely on in the future.
On came Emmanuel Jal, a performer with a background so macabre, as to render him worth seeing for this reason alone. Born in Sudan, he was left on his own at age seven when his mother was killed by pro-government forces, and he was forced into a soldiering profession, at that early age.
For four years he functioned in an army comprised of kids, engaging in civil war until he was rescued by Emma McCune, a British aid worker, who smuggled him to Kenya. Though McCune died in a road accident not long after, and Jal spent years living in the slums, he was able to educate himself, and discovered hip-hop. His music reflected his experiences.
An ancient woman, even older than I, tottered past me to glom onto a portion of the railing a short distance to my right, her knees, creaking seriously, dipping almost imperceptibly to the beat of the music.
This dude on stage has more soul in his little finger, than most people have in their entire being. Oh! Look at Auntie! What an inspiration. I am seriously impressed. And a roach? She’s rocking the reefer too. It does not get any better than this!
All attendees were either brothers and sisters, or aunties and uncles. All terms were meant to convey respect, and I had to converse with Auntie. This was almost too much for me to ingest.
“Has anyone told you that you are looking good, Auntie?” I gave the term of endearment the “ah” sound, rather than the “ant” sound, as is Casey’s manner. I had had to yell over the sound of the music.
She glowed with the words, nodding in acknowledgement, and offered me her roach, which had been reduced to almost nothing. Pulling out my always-available Altoids tin, with some already-rolleds, I introduced some purple diesel into the equation. Auntie did not miss a beat, literally and metaphorically, as she immediately saw the benefit of what I had to offer. We each continued our respective efforts at keeping time with the riveting music, until the set ended and we went our separate ways.
There’s hope for me yet.
Again, my main goal throughout the weekend was to maintain a strong independence, so that those dedicated to ensuring that I had adequate support, need not worry. I stayed with the music as Ghetto Youths Crew, featuring Skip Marley, Jo Mersa Marley, Black-Am-I, and Wayne Marshall, came on.
Skip Marley, Bob Marley’s grandson, was making his West-Coast debut so that was pretty epic. I enjoyed the set immensely, again marveling that I could listen to a solid hour of music that I had never heard before, and enjoy every moment. Such is the nature of the genre.
Listening to those family members of Bob Marley, on stage for three different sets, was being as close to the person who single-handedly made reggae so mainstreamed as one can get, and I savored the experience.
Afterwards, I returned to the camp for a meal of two boiled eggs, with salt and pepper, the remainder of my Spanish rice, and an apple, all according to my ongoing plan of eating lightly and regularly, so as to not have to worry about running out of fuel.
I think I am ready. The bowl is a crush of humanity, and I need to be a part of that. I do not want to take up residence, but I need to be able to wade into the center of the crush and just absorb it with no fear. No anxiety. Just acceptance that all are here for the same purpose: to take in the music.
As unfathomable as it is, I began my trek into the center of the bowl, a feat I had been preparing for all day, making my way one baby step at a time. Had a camera followed me from above, the route would have resembled that of a maze. One step left, one step right, two steps backwards, to avoid the dude in flight.
Effortless. All this energy and it’s all positive. I can be in the center of this, simply because I don’t have to be. I don’t have to be at this venue but I am. I owe a lot to Casey, Lito, Conner, Mid-Sized David, Bull and Minnix, just to name a few.
And in a few hours is Stephen.
Tomorrow: The Main Event