Reggae in the Rockies

With Kevin at his father's for two weeks and Zen with his papa for the evening, I had the day off. The new guy, Tim, and I took off in his van for Missoula. We pulled the bikes off and started wandering up and down the river--to see the beautiful new carousel in the park (each horse different and amazing) to visit my old haunts, stopping for chocolate and huckleberry ice cream cones at Goldsmith's. My scoop fell off but Rusty, Tim's Catahoula, enjoyed it as much as I would have. We stopped at the Jeanette Rankin Peace Center where Tim bought a gourd covered with beads and a set of cowbells from Cameroon. He found a beautiful beaded vest at Carlo's One Night Stand, too. Then we had Szechuan shrimp at the Mustard Seed and headed up for the night's gig.

Tim owns his own company, Loop Communications, and installs telephones all around town--half the government agencies in town and lots of the old businesses since his family has been here since they first dug the mines over a hundred years ago. But that's his day job. He also plays in two bands, 'Vintage'--you can figure out what they play--and 'Jah Provide', a reggae band. He's been playing in bands since he was in seventh grade; two of the guys in this band, Chuck and Doug, both vocalists and guitar players, have been with him in most of them since then.

We got up to Marshall Ski Area and had Tim's drums set up before anyone else got there. I played roadie and helped him lug up all this equipment that I still can't properly identify: the trap, the bass, the cymbals, and then all the extra percussion thingies a good reggae drummer needs.

The band was set to play for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament group (If you've never played, it's a blast! Like rugbee, with Frisbees...and if you know any rugbee players, you can imagine what kind of folks these are). They had a tremendous feed set out by a local caterer with tons of pasta loaded with garlic and marinara sauce. After the other guys showed up with the rest of the band equipment, I helped unload and then sat down with the girlfriend of Steve, the sax player; 'The Kid' is 21 and he blows a very mean sax. His girl, Kate is 20, and an English and Theater major at local Carroll College, a stunning blonde who was reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe. We both hung out reading (me--Robert Johnson's We) in no-man's land, that special place reserved for the girls of the boys in the band.

Fascinating to watch them set up as they warm up to get ready and figure out where everything plugs in. The other guy in the band is Paul, a horn player who just had a brain tumor removed and is still wearing a turban to cover where they cut into him. That doesn't stop him from wailing on his trumpet...

They finally started up at ten and the only person dancing was Ann, Paul's 'girl'. Most of the kids were still out on the porch, talking and laughing and, well, warming up to hear a reggae band. Most of them were mid-twenties and they all wore those little river sandals and looked like those circles of kids who play hackeysack, all sort of 'alternative' jocks. I had changed from my mountain biking clothes to a pink off-the-shoulder maillot with one of those wrinkled rayon skirts that make a huge circle when you spin. Now most of those kids were young enough to be my sons, so I wasn't about to ask any of them to dance; I felt like the English teacher chaperoning the high school prom. But I also wasn't about to not do any dancing so I got up and started a riot of Sufi dancing, spinning like a dancing dervish.

I firmly believe dancing is good for the soul and when it's set to a reggae beat, there something akin to a religious experience. 'Jah Provide' means 'God provides' and he/she/it did--four hours of fabulous music. By the end of the gig I was dripping wet and it was all I could do to keep out of the way of hoppin', boppin' near-teenagers. Tim really let go and he was pounding away at the drums; I've never been a 'groupie' before but that was enough to make me one...you can be one, too...they've got a great CD, Reggae in the Rockies on which they do all their original music. That night they played a prayerful version of "By the Rivers of Babylon" and lots of tunes by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, as well as their "If You're Not Dancing, You Might Be Arrested" and the title song from their CD.

These Ultimate players really know how to have a good time and after we packed up the equipment Tim and Paul and Ann and I sat out under the stars of that Montana night in a big rented hot tub.

About 3:30, we took off up the Blackfoot and camped out in Johnsrud Park. We meandered back down to Helena, stopping at a lake where Tim's first wife and his oldest daughter were camping with a group of his old friends; we went a round on their folf course, Tim with his battered white frisbee and me with my state-of-the-art Aerobie. Then we stopped at a lake and took a long cool dip--it was already 92 degrees--and stopped again at Elliston to dive off into the Big Hole near Zen's papa's house. By late afternoon we finally got home and the big rain clouds settled down over the city, so we were forced to get a couple of videos and eat a home-cooked meal of green grapes and Basmati rice and chicken breasts with Szechuan sauce. And sleep at last, with Rocky Mountain reggae weaving through all my dreams....

Written in 1996...
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