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.
# 3: The Fumble
Upon our return to French’s Camp, with the humongous Wolf cookstove from the Mateel Center, there was much celebration for a job well done. With the help of a couple of dudes already at the center, four of us had been able to muscle the colossal stove up onto the trailer and back to the venue, where it would be used to prepare meals for the artists who were to be performing at 2015‘s version of Reggae on the River.
The hazardous nature of the task, what with the stove weighing in at over 500 pounds, plus the stop at the diner for an unanticipated and unwelcome meal, had me feeling more and more off my game. In attempting to acclimate myself to the venue before the throngs arrived, a nagging question kept thrusting it ugly head out of the foggy depths of my cottage cheese brain:
Why was I doing this again? Annie has told me for the past 25 years that I would hate it, there were too many people, it was too hot, and she wanted nothing to do with it.
Uh, don’t threaten me with a good time.
However, that was before I had met and become an ardent admirer of my new best friend, Pandora, who has introduced me to the Stephen Marley station. I am addicted. There is no other artist who could have motivated me do even attempt this, other than Stephen.
Good Buddha. What a circus. It’s a good thing we have our own strongmen, Lito and Mid-Sized David, who had unquestionably been the two main reasons why we were able to accomplish the chore. And oh, my stomach. Why didn’t I just nibble and say I wasn’t hungry? Hmmm. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Digging my own grave? Shooting myself in the foot? Take your pick. I can hang in until tonight, and then I’m going to hitch a ride out of this zoo with Lito. He’ll take pity on an old fart, for sure.
Casey came from out of nowhere, asking as he came up to me, “How are you doing, Pops? Are you keeping hydrated?”
“On it, Brother Man,” showing him my water canteen, which I had carried everywhere, refilling it repeatedly at the pickle barrel-turned-ice-water-dispenser, that was kept habitually stocked with the precious fluid of life, the entire time that folks were on the festival site.
“Great success. So listen, I didn’t mean that you should be one of the crew who went after that beast. How did that go?” He listened as I gave him the brief outline and went on to tell me that I should not feel I had to do stuff that was meant for the younger set.
Yeah, well, we’ve had this conversation before, young Grasshopper.
“You have to conserve your energy for the Show,” had been the explicit message.
Casey and I had talked most recently only a day or so before, when he had taken me aside and let me know that he-and all the crew-would provide absolutely all the support for me that could possibly be imagined. On the other hand, I was not to feel pressure to attend the festival, and the way he communicated this information left me convinced that he was being straight with me.
I knew that his message was heartfelt and he had assured me that I was free to simply tag along with him on his travels, if that was what was most comfortable for me.
“It’s so hard to get things started because there is so much drama. I was trying to get a radio, so that Nate and I can communicate over the weekend and it’s not happening right now. Sorry you got stuck on that job.”
“All good in the ‘hood,” I said, suddenly having misgivings about my plan to bail out that same night, and return to the mountain with Lito. That old Catholic guilt. Of course, Lito wasn’t intending to return to the mountain, but would do so if I asked.
That’s just the kind of guy he is.
Argggggghhhhh. Just when I make up my mind, along comes something to shake it loose again. Well, no challenge there. I have gone back and forth on this so frequently, I feel like a dog who can’t make up his mind whether to be out on the deck, or in the kitchen. In and out. In and out. Stay or not stay. Stay or not stay...
We were kept busy until well after dark, finally wrapping up the last of the cleanup of the storage closets, the maneuvering and repositioning of the entire contents of the outdoor kitchen, and the hookup of the electricity and gas, around nine-thirty.
Nate was holding court beneath the newly erected carport that helped form the huge canopy, beneath which attendees of the festival would be able to enjoy their meals and down-time out of the sun. Nate was the kitchen setup site leader, a man known by most simply as Bull.
I took Bull at face value for those first two days, a big guy with a raspy voice, who obviously relished his role in the process, but who had about three good men’s work he was trying to accomplish. The net result was that he appeared fragmented at times, stymied by either local politics or his own ambition. Hard to say which.
Annie told me that she liked this guy and his wife. From what I can tell, so far, I don’t think he knows if he’s coming or going, but he’s sure breathing hard.
I felt neither affection nor dislike for this blustery guy, but my opinion had been slightly skewed the wrong way earlier, when Bull had failed to deliver on what could have turned out to be a deal-breaker. We had been standing in line for lunch when he came by, and he gestured that we should follow him.
“No standing in line for my crew,” he said. “Take a seat and I’ll be right back.”
Awesome possum. Anytime I can get service, I’ll take it. Not that I am hungry, but Annie warned me how important it is for me to eat. Otherwise, I’ll keel over like I did on the ferry coming back from AT&T Park that time.
On the other hand, I will not be ingesting a slate of anxiety-reducing chemicals, including cannabis cookies, alcohol, Lorazapam and Vicodin, as has been known to be my remedy for ensuring I am so anesthetized that I can handle the stress of being in the stadium, amongst ALL those fans. Now all I need is cannabis plus the sessions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy already notched in my little pea brain.
We traipsed down the bank in the shade behind the kitchen, alongside the trailer-truck refrigerator unit, able to feel the frosty air furiously trying to stay confined in its own refuge, but spilling out anyway into the 106 degree weather, any time Dan the cook had to get something out.
I never minded the heat, having come equipped with a small ice chest and a bag of ice, fortuitously obtained when Casey and I filled the truck with gas, prior to arriving. Interestingly enough, in grabbing a snack, as decadent as it was, we had each elected some vinegar tater chips, and water. Always water.
I kept ice cubes in my hat at all times. It accomplished two things: the ice kept me cool, and the fact that the melted water dripped down my face, made it seem as though I were working fiendishly hard. A twofer if ever there was one.
It was here that we had the most profoundly Alice-in-Wonderland conversation with a tourist passing through. Having seen the venue from the highway, he asked if we were attending. We had all of our camping gear, we were animated and we were buying junk food. Here’s your sign.
When informed what it was all about, and finding out that it was reggae music being featured, he waxed on enthusiastically on how much he enjoyed the genre.
“Is Bob Marley gonna be playing,” he asked brightly?
Without skipping a beat, Casey responded, “Only in spirit, but one of his sons, and several grandsons will be there.”
Did he just ask if Bob Marley was going to be playing? [Bob Marley died 34 years ago, in 1981, at the age of 36.]
Now as we waited for Bull to bring us lunch, he didn’t. After an hour, of lounging around doing nothing, not wanting to go back to camp in case the lunch showed up, Bull hustled past, taking no notice of us. Casey raced after him.
Less than five minutes later, lunch in the form of tasty burritos and a salad, was delivered. Better late than never, I suppose, but I was grateful that I was not really hungry or else I would have been annoyed. Actually, throughout the entire gig, I never once allowed myself to get too hungry.
Now, the moment was approaching, we were gathered together, Lito and Conner were poised to spring, and I was formulating the best way to present my case.
Think, old brain, just one more time. Should I just bail without a word? Should I try to explain? “The ship is taking on water, lads, and I need to get back to [Annie] dry-dock.”
I can’t do this...I don’t want to do this...I want out of here.
And just like that, I was watching Lito and Conner making like the wind, and blowing out of there, already thirty feet away, and Casey was saying, “Come on Pops, Let’s find the bathrooms so that you will be able to find them yourself tonight, in case you wake up in the middle of the night.
In case? I wake up a half-dozen times a night to use the facilities. The only reason I would not is if I were dead. But he’s right. This is a crucial mission.
“Great success!” was all I said.
Tomorrow: The Transmogrification