Tuesday, February 12, 2008
BAND TOGETHER MUSIC FESTIVAL 2006
from Avenue Magazine July 2006
Wilmington’s Sai Collins and the Getaway Drivers were invited to play on the bill with a day’s worth of musicians varying in styles, hip-hop, blues, acoustic folk and rock. The Getaway Drivers includes Eric Vithalani on bass guitar and percussion and Dan Maggio on drums. The band takes two vehicles to Band Together in Maryland bringing several friends as long as well, Kristy, Marc, Jayson, Jill and I. Jayson, having become friends with the band from attending performances, will unofficially be part roadie, part photographer and mutual support.
Eric says this is a large show for them to play, at least in its conception. He recounts a story of paying for a metal band long ago where their first show was in a dive.
“It was a strip joint where they put plywood on top of pool tables and ugly chicks danced on top.”
In lieu of cigarettes and stopping to smoke Jayson chews on Slim Jim’s whose smell waifs through the car piercing our conversation. He switches to Fruit Roll Ups, which in all honesty, I thought weren’t made anymore. Somewhere in Virginia, off exit 31, we stop for gas and a stretch. Phone calls are made, bad food purchased and everyone notices the strange skies, expressing concern for the festival.
Kristy steps out of the van and asks who wants snacks. She will have several new names by the weekend’s end, one of which will be Snack Queen, for she always has something to nibble on, from roll-ups to Peanuts Gummi Bears.
The drive to Damascus seemingly takes little time, the six hours pass easily over conversation. Sai’s phone rings a lot, the two vehicles communicating along the road, from event planners and from the friends we will meet with soon. Jayson and Sai navigate effectively with instructions from the Internet, down to the mile. Road trips have been rendered efficient and their surprises lessened. The only surprises left are the people you encounter at pit stops where the counter workers are at ease, always ready to get off work yet the travelers are worn and weary.
In Damascus, everyone hangs at Shari’s second floor apartment arriving not long after the sun recedes. The floors are hardwood and shoes and flip flops pile up near her apartment door. It seems we from North Carolina are the only ones wearing flip flops. We are referred to as surfer and hippie folk. But I think we are somewhere in between.
Sai catches up with Shari and Elsa, sitting on the couch, taking pictures and hugging one another.
The apartment walls are different colors and the decorations elegant. A high wall is painted with texture and Shari says you can see god or Jesus in the texture. Some see it and some do not. Everyone relaxes; some go onto the porch to smoke. The air out is muggy and cool. The porch is small but soon grows crowded.
It isn’t long before Sai, Eric and Dan play music in Shari’s living room. More people begin to come over. Cell phone conversations consist of bring beer and bring alcohol and that Sai is playing. A cast of characters filter into the apartment, a vibrant assortment of life. Choppy Chope steps onto the porch with a wooden cane and Mohawk.
“That’s right, a black man with a Mohawk is on the porch,” he says deadpan looking like Fishbone. He introduces himself to everyone, a local performer and music producer. It quickly becomes evident that Shari has a varied list of friends. She is a delightful host, moving around to everyone. From time to time she comes out to the porch to see how we are and always says something funny, says her neighbors don’t like her because of her parties and that she doesn’t really care. Her energy is infectious and something to be admired. It rivals her generosity. People collect in her back bedroom to smoke and plays Choppy Chope’s cd of music whish is a mellow blend of beats
The band continues to play an acoustic set in Shari’s living room, improvising and playing their songs or the occasional cover. One of which, ‘Simple Man,’ is a polar opposite of the one Lynyrd Skynyrd made famous. The band slows it down, fleshing it out acoustically with both Dan and Eric on percussion and Sai’s deep vocals bringing it together.
Outside the sky falls apart, raining like torrential downpour found only in the likes of Columbia, South America. It starts and then grows stronger and stronger. The rain is severe enough to set off a car alarm that never ceases. The loud ringing has no effect on the residents and continues until the battery grows weak and then less audible. More people pile onto the porch to which Shari expresses faux concern over the weight, laughs and returns inside.
Just after midnight the rain stops suddenly and the car alarm has finally given out. It quickly feels cooler and less muggy, a good sign for Saturday’s show. Elsa explains that people in Maryland are finicky, that they tend to stay at home with onset of inclement weather.
Shari offers to let us sleep over but there isn’t enough room for the eight of us. Sometime after one in the morning we return to our vehicles and follow Elsa to her town home a few miles away. She has a room in her three story town home. We will sleep in her basement/living room where a ping pong takes up much of the floor.
After settling in we turn on the big screen television to check the weather for Saturday. According to the newscast the day is to be clear and devoid of rain. A welcome sign given what we sat through less than an hour ago.
Cobblers Knoll is a hundred acres of private land in Damascus, Maryland and the location of Band Together, a concert held June 3rd, 2006, organized by the president of Edge International, Siobhan Downs. She is the owner of Cobbler’s Knoll and has planned something along the lines of a modern Woodstock utilizing local music to raise awareness and funds for social and economic problems here and abroad concerning domestic violence and the needs of children living in developing countries.
A long winding stretch of road cuts a path finding it’s to way those hundred acres of land. Trees have not been cut for a long time, curling over the aged asphalt forming a nearly natural roof to which vehicles pass under. The stretch of road is evidence of a neighborhood pleased not to mature into the modern age.
There are signs along the road about snow routes, a reminder of a harsher season. Hand painted signs that read Band Together 2006 adorn poles and old farm equipment pointing attendees to the event. These signs foreshadow the homegrown, hand made feel to the event.
A tall shirtless young man points the way in, smiling with a shovel across his shoulder. The sky is still grey and the morning is cool and slightly wet. The skies are a reminder of the massive rain storm from the night before. We pass a two story blue house in the center of the property and there are large tie-dyed sheets hanging on a small building and clotheslines.
We park at the rear of the field behind Stage B, the ‘rock’ stage. It’s early, and the clouds blanket the sky leaving everyone a little chilled, still not awake completely. A blues based band plays to an early and light crowd just after noon. Jayson and I finish our egg and cheese sandwiches picked from a local eatery. Sai gets on the phone to contact event coordinators and find out the band’s time slot.
Everyone builds their tents, some going up fast and some require extra effort. You hear things like, what’s this pole for or you got an extra stake? I just bent mine. Dan throws up the mansion of tents. It has four rooms and shaped like four igloos connected to one another. It’s ridiculously huge, white and light blue in color.
There is a feeling of community; of common ground to everyone we come into contact with. Everyone is respectful and courteous. The workers have shirts that say Band Together on front of yellow and red shirts and read FAMILY across the back. People wave and smile to everyone they don’t know.
Living in an area where strip malls are plentiful and apartment complexes dominate our general neighborhoods it takes time to digest the massive amount of land that surrounds us. There is green grass that fills our field of vision, for as far as we can see, surrounded by tress and a ceiling of blue sky scattered with grey and white cottony clouds. And there is another stretch of land entirely on the opposite side of Siobhan’s home.
The vastness gives reason to breath, relax and want to never erect another building if it was possible. Just a few miles away from this property lays the concrete and steel, the strip malls dependent on energy and asphalt littered with cars. Here are people, and music, open land and port-o-johns. For the next day we will feel content to be lost in a field, free from contemporary appliances and noise other than music.
Music is planned for the entire day, noon to midnight. Bands from all over attend. Damascus’ own, Soup’s Uncle and Diacritical from Virginia. The Natural Breakdown is from New Jersey. Sets are typically forty five minutes. As soon as one band finishes another is rushing to get set up.
One of the event coordinators, John, is in charge of getting everyone to the stage. He approaches Eric who is sitting on a lawn chair far behind the stage near the tents and says that their band is supposed to go on in ten minutes.
“We were told five o’clock,” Eric explains. John apologizes and says there was a mistake. Eric immediately gets on the phone to find Sai. “Hey, they want us to go on now. You need to get over here.”
Initially the band was to play a slightly longer set because another had to cancel, but now their set has been adjusted. It is unclear what happened but irrelevant now because John keeps pushing to get them onstage. John keeps apologizing and remarks about going faster to which someone says, it can’t go any faster.
The band gets onstage and Sai makes changes to his guitar. The band works through familiar numbers such as ‘Shawna’s Star,’ ‘Scarlet Butterfly’ and ‘Worth the Drive.’ Sai is passionate in his delivery, even after singing these songs so many times. He regales each one with a brief story about them, that one is for a friend he was close to and their effect on his life and another about driving all night to surf.
The most engaging number, ‘Sober Me,’ in which the chorus ends with a lion’s yell of this song is not about war! In a time where much public protest is focused on the justifiable concern over our country at war the song is about needs that are sometimes forgotten, unprotected sex and pregnancy, hunger, domestic violence and education. Sai intersperses part of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ towards the end to grand effect. The set ends and Sai thanks the audience and mentions the importance of awareness and events such as Band Together.
Sai’s friend, Asia, has driven down from New Jersey for the show and takes the opportunity to shoot photos of the band in a field of tall straw grass as the sun sets. They play impromptu songs on a djimbe drum and tambourine.
Bands that follow are just as engaging. The Natural Breakdown follows with their mix of jam band hippie rock, soul and a guitarist that burns through songs like Stevie Ray Vaughn. He will occasionally look out to the crowd, seemingly shy and covered in a black beard and lengthy dreads. They have their own message to spread as well.
“You will not know unity until you know there’s no difference between you and me” the singer belts out as the final chorus. “The revolution is not physical,” he says over and over. His vocals are like recent years Van Morrison but more soulful and melodic.
The band plays the type of music that disintegrates spine and muscle, creating a looseness that people will spontaneously dance and swirl to. The music is a surprise, mixing that positive, hippie vibe with music that absolutely cooks when played live.
The sun sets on the band as they close the set. While departing they are asked to play a little longer to which they do. The band returns, proceeding with the encore, three additional tunes, and everyone is pleased.
A guy dancing in front of the stage does a front somersault landing flat on his back. He lies still, breathing rhythmically. He doesn’t move and people stare, their eyes diverting from the fallen guy and back to the stage. His girlfriend, perceived as his girlfriend, comes over and touches both of her hands on both sides of his face. She smiles as he smiles, his red face matching his red shirt.
As the set finishes we return to the tent area at the rear of the woods behind of the stage. Dan comes away from the van with a Bud box and Eric starts in on a package of Oreo’s and then crawls in his tent for a power nap. It is quiet and relaxing there, a welcome crowd of friends and new friends. Pablo and Amy have come down from the Bronx to hang for the day.
I sit in a tent cooling off from the heat now that the sun is out and warming everything up. I reach into a large bag of peanut M & M’s and talk about traveling with Jill. She has lived around the world as a teacher. There is a heavy band playing in the background, part Alice in Chains, part Mad Season. They’re heavy without wearing out the crowd.
The next band, Soup’s Uncle, take the stage as night takes over. We step outside after they begin the first song. Like Natural Breakdown, there is looseness to their sound, more groove heavy in places, a sludgy Black Crowes crossed with Phish.
Their singer, slightly heavy set, plays guitar and pushes out vocals that shouldn’t come form him. He has curly dark hair and a goatee that makes him look like a cult leader, but his delivery is sanguine and subtle. He is part Canned Heat, part Bob Weir, vocally. And he blisters on the guitar, trading seemingly cold looks at the bass player whose long hair flops back and forth. They are from Damascus and the skinny shirtless guy from the event entrance used to be their drummer.
“I quit cause I knew I wasn’t good enough,” he says. “I told ‘em, I know a better drummer.” He is an avid supporter, hands out free cd’s to the audience.
They close their set with two covers, ‘Beautiful Disaster’ which sounds better than the original and ‘Bulls on Parade’ which comes off almost note perfect. The singer gets Zack Delaroacha’s vocal inflections down.
It gets cooler, cold for most wearing shorts and flip flops. People break out long shirts and pants, socks and shoes. I have come unprepared, not thinking that the night would get this cold. So out come blankets and sleeping bags. There are no lights around the field, only the glow from festival workers’ flashlights and headlights on vehicles from ATV four by fours used to travel across the acreage. The stage is a beacon of light amongst all this open land. Everything else is black as night, the ability to only see a few feet in front of you and the vague distance. The generator for the stage runs quietly, powering stage lights and music equipment.
In the band area, deep behind the stage, people have collected. There are chairs and blankets. Jill and I rest flat on a blanket and under a sleeping bag. The stars burn small like flashlights far away in the night sky. Their dim light pinches the dark blue sky, a half moon sliver floats just left of center. Everything in sight has the heavy glow of dark blue. The ground is dark, the grass barely visible, yet the very same dark blue. Skin and hair appears a shade of black and blue. A red sleeping bag is purple.
Just in front of us sits Asia’s car, blocking out the bright lights of the stage perfectly. The light is blocked almost entirely and what light available slips around the shape of the car, splintering through the windows, glowing like something unseen and approaching. I am reminded of a scene in Close Encounters where the spaceships are imminent from below a hilltop road, the light reaching upon the seekers.
Intermittently lightning bugs glow in the distance, and in the sky above us the sharp glow of lightning bugs falsely appears as a shooting star.
There is the smell of smoke, of firewood. A small stream of it moves across the sky.
We turn around to see that Snack Queen started a fire with Marc. Marc cut thick limbs and is laying them in as Snack Queen works to get the fire going. She is persistent, determined and successful. So her name changes to Fire Goddess. The timing couldn’t be better for it has grown colder and the dew has made everything feel wrong. The smell of the fire is soothing and brings extra light to the darkened field. The fire brings others around. Sai returns with a girl but they leave again to check out a group at the hip-hop stage.
The fire burns long enough for everyone to enjoy and get used to before the Yellow Shirts arrive, part of the Peace Patrol, security. They’re cool about it, asking us to extinguish the fire but keep on talking about it, almost talking down, explaining how fires can’t be within a hundred feet of the tree line or something. This irritates Dan who sarcastically says something about how they can leave now. They stay longer. I believe they just want to hang out, enjoy the fire, but eventually leave.
Regretfully the fire is extinguished and it gets cold again fast. It’s as if we were shown paradise for fifteen minutes and someone burned it down. Back under the blankets for warmth. The smell of the fire gone out is an unhappy reminder. Sai returns later and says that it’s okay to have a fire because there’s one up by Siobhan’s house. So another fire is struck and fresh wood is cut and torn hurriedly from limbs. It hasn’t burned long before Eric comes back and says that a volunteer fire department truck is on the premises. We can see their truck rolling in the distance, headlights on the prowl. This being more serious than the Peace patrollers, we pour water quickly on the fire. There’s not enough so Eric pisses on the fire. It goes out and we can see the volunteer truck driving around trying to locate the fire. They circle, stop as though searching, and then drive away.
Everyone decides to walk down to the house where a large bonfire is going in a pit with large tree logs. A half drunken guy in a white T-shirt stands next to the pit holding a blue Solo cup. He doesn’t say much and motions for people to move. He does it so carefully that it appears he’s eyeing a fight. People move back and he tosses the contents of the cup on the fire and it explodes upwards with a burst of flame like a mushroom cloud. A wall of heat moves away from the fire and a trail of fluid falls outside the pit into the dirt. Someone comes over and stamps it out.
A large group of people circle the fire, staying warm, drinking beer and smoking. The sound of djimbe drums all around, people laughing, people coughing, the smell of smoke fresh in the air.
Some have drums and guitars. On the other side of the fire a group of people begin playing music, tribal and rhythmic. I can barely see them, the wisp of fire flames casting enough light and movement that the players seem like ghosts in the near distance. Their playing and movement appears animalistic, slowly in sync with the music. They make up songs, creating within the moment. It calls to mind what life what must have been like before so much technology, people getting together for comfort of one another, for the love of music.
The music constantly changes from song to song. The last I remember them playing was an old Stone Temple Pilots song, ‘Plush’, and it sounded wholly different. If only someone was there to record it besides the recorder in my brain.
Marc, Kristy, Jill and I retreat into the blackened field, walking quickly to stay warm. The sound of the music at the bonfire is still present in the night. It can be heard all the way back to the tents. Marc and Fire Goddess starts up a third fire and we all sit nearby for a while until feeling tired brings the night to a close. I don’t know if Siobhan is happy with the result of her gathering. She’s been inside most of the day. It’s a good idea. There’s another concert planned for September. There need to be more shows, things that aid problems that can’t always be solved through bureaucracy, events that pull awareness out of the black.