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.
Originally my plan was to hitch a ride up to French’s Camp on Friday, making sure I arrived before 4:45, the scheduled start of Stick Figure, one of four bands playing over the weekend that I had penciled into my must-see column.
I changed my mind, however, and decided to go ahead and drive my truck up to Garberville, where I would take the shuttle back to the site of Reggae on the River, 2015, simply because I wanted the flexibility to be able to leave when I decided, and not have to depend on someone else.
When I texted my plan to Casey, he told me he had gotten a parking pass for me in the Tosh Lot, and that he would meet me at the parking lot, just south of French’s Camp. All I had to do was text him when I went through Leggett and he would meet me at the lot shortly thereafter.
“Where’s the Tosh Lot?” I asked him as I tossed my duffle bag and small ice chest into the back of his truck.
“I think it’s this one,” he responded, “but I could be wrong. I’ll ask this guy at the gate.” He did and the guy didn’t have a clue, one of many times I was to realize that each person working was only a minuscule cog in a huge machine, and knew nothing more than absolutely necessary. We headed back to French’s Camp.
All went according to plan except that in the hustle and bustle, Casey had forgotten to bring the parking sticker to put on the inside of my truck, so we knew we had to make a return visit to the lot. After consulting with the dude who was manning the gate, to make sure that no towing would take place, we went ahead and got me my wristband, along with one for Ian.
Ian is a dude who had accompanied me from Bell Springs Road, because he was working on-farm, but was getting a ride form a friend back up to Portland. We headed back to the campsite, so that I could haul in my gear and set up my tent.
As I came out, I posed the question of Casey, what did he think? Should I hang on to my wallet and truck keys, burying them in one of my deep cargo pants pockets? Or should I keep them in my tent? I decided to put them in my San Francisco Giants bag, in my tent, which turned out to be the wrong decision a few minutes later, when we went back to put the sticker on the inside of my truck.
We got around that problem because Casey managed to affix the sticker to the outside of the window, by using the windshield wiper blade as a stabilizer. All went for naught, however, a few minutes later when we got back to the main camp.
Deciding once and and for all to make sure my truck was parked in the correct lot, Casey asked at the main entrance, where the Tosh Lot was.
“I don’t know, but that guy in the motorhome over there was just asking the same question. I told him to ask over there where you get your wristbands,” he said, gesturing toward the area where we had been a few minutes earlier.
“Be right back,” I said, and jogged over to ask the same question. It turned out we were standing about a hundred feet away from possibly the best parking for the venue imaginable. The Tosh Lot was the first parking facility one encountered upon turning right into the French’s Camp site. Unbelievable.
Things were falling into place nicely. We returned to the parking lot where my truck is, for the third time, but the third time is the charm, because now my truck was going to be where it was supposed to be, and it was still at least an hour away from Stick Figure time.
I had missed them at the Emerald Cup last December, simply because there was no schedule of events. The bands played in the order they were supposed to, and it was guess and by golly, as far as exactly when that would be. I missed out. Such was not the case at ROTR.
We were lounging around the camp a while later, at 4:20, acknowledging the moment in the most logical manner, with me building up anticipation for the upcoming musical event. Conner had filled me in on where I could go with my pink wristband, and the most significant spot was backstage, where we were allowed to walk up the steps to the two side-stage areas, which allowed viewers to be on either side of the performers, but at a higher level, so we were looking down on them, from about thirty feet away.
Out over the expansive bowl, people would be congregated in front of the stage to view the artists. I simply could not believe that I did not have to suffer the agony [for me] of being in the middle of all that humanity. I was grateful for my advantageous viewing spot.
A new band began to play as we lounged in the camp, and I listened idly to the music in the distance. I did not recognize the song. A second song began, again not one that I recognized, and someone asked, "Who's playing?"
"Stick Figure, I think,” someone ventured.
WTF? Twenty minutes early? Later days, men...I’m Audi 500.
I sprang out of my camp-chair and darn near ran the three-football-fields-long route down Rasta Road, to the main performance area, where I made my way back behind the huge stage, and up the steps to the side stage.
And so the moment had arrived, that precise instant of the culmination of all my efforts to be here, standing on this raised platform, and listening to a group which unknowingly had lured me, hook, line and sinker, into the fold.
I was profoundly impacted when the band began to play “The Rocky Road,” the song that effectively started me on my current path, and I could not restrain myself. Though I was bouncing to the beat of the lilting music, dancing in place as enthusiastically as possible, the tears were streaming down my face.
I danced, I took pics and I cried.
“No destination, nowhere to go,
No obligation, no one to call.
The rocky road is getting long,
The rocky road won’t take me home.”
I remembered coming out of that pit of misery, when Annie was first diagnosed with kidney cancer, had a kidney removed along with a tumor, and had taken a flat in Willits, leaving me alone on the mountain to tend the home fires.
“Situations, they come and go.
No hesitation-you walk out the door.
So what do I do? I got nothing to lose.
I keep it cool around you, you, you.”
I remembered the operation to remove her thyroid, only eight months later, and the second onslaught of tests, appointments, and discomfort she then endured.
“I lie awake-I got my eyes wide open
I listen to the rhythm and the sound of the ocean.
I try to sleep but then I am awoken,
The sound of the train always gives me hope to see you
To see you, to see you, to see you.”
And finally, I thought about Annie’s decision to give up the little apartment in Willits, and make the transition back here on the mountain.
Relaxation, it will ease your mind.
Expectations, don’t waste your time.
So, come on let’s go to the great unknown,
Don’t stay home, stay true, true, true.
And here I am, functioning in a venue that I never thought possible. Great success, if ever there was one.
This venue, this music, these folks around me, all family to one degree or another, all surged together in a wave of emotion to overwhelm me, the first of several such cathartic moments I was to experience over the weekend. I was to encounter a feeling of such comfort and support, as to send me home after the event was finally over, in a most satisfied and comfortable state of mind.
Life can be a rocky road [at times] but it’s the only road we get. So long as it includes moments such as these, I for one can handle it.
Tomorrow: “Tomorrow Is Another Day”