Culture Club

I used to have a friend who had a lot of mottoes. One of his best was "Life's a team sport." Which means at least play like it is. Share your water at a rave, or buy an extra ticket to give away at a Phish show. Sure, you might bestow your miracle on some Wall Street lawyer's kid from the Hamptons who grew dreads when he was 17, bought a hacky sack and bid his white, upper-middle-class existence a stoned farewell. But so what if the kid's operating with a safety net? At least he's not learning how to play femora to the corporate sharks.

Phish heads, neohippies, granolas--I say we need these people as antidotes to reality. I think our world's better off if someone who really wants to can make hearing live music outdoors a guiding force in life.

Take Rob, for example. A 19-year-old from Vermont, Rob Stieglitz caught a ride with a friend from Vermont to Louisiana last month for the New Orleans Heritage Jazz Fest. "The French Quarter was insane," he says. "It was just all piss and beer."

Three weeks later, Rob was crashing at my house, along with three women from Boulder, Colorado, and a German shepherd/Akita puppy named Israel.

A little history:
Somewhere in the madness of the Jazz Fest, Rob hooked up with Shannon Gray and Camden Moody, who had driven all night and day from Boulder for the festival. After it was over, Rob accepted their invitation to--what the hell--come hear music in Colorado for a while. There he met Nicole Goings, a friend of Shannon and Camden. Nicole, Shannon and Camden, all 19, grew up together on Hilton Head Island, a resort community off the coast of South Carolina. Nicole had recently left Hilton Head for Boulder to live with her dad and attend Front Range Community College. Camden had dropped out of college in North Carolina after one semester, and Shannon had just finished four months of following Phish around the country when the two decided to--what the hell--join their old friend in Boulder.

About a week after Shannon and Camden got back from the Jazz Fest, they and another friend named Christine tried to sneak into a show by the reggae band Culture. The show was 21-and-over, but they slid into the club during sound check. They got kicked out before the concert started, but not before Culture's keyboard player Peanut told them the band was supposed to play a reggae festival in Phoenix the next weekend.

Now, here's where I come in.
Christine called a Phoenix radio station and asked if it knew anything about a reggae festival. The person answering the phone told her to call New Times, and New Times' operator forwarded her my way. I told Christine that Culture was headlining the first night of the second annual Reggae Fest World Party, last Friday at Symphony Hall Terrace downtown. Then she asked if I knew how long it took to drive from Boulder to Phoenix. I guessed 15 hours. "I think we're gonna do it," Christine said.

I was holding extra tickets to the festival, and my course was clear. If five people are so into a reggae band that they'll drive 30 hours out of 64 to see it, I figured, they should at least get free tickets. And--what the hell--a place to stay. "Seriously?" Christine asked after I proffered floor space. "I'll call you back later this week."

That was Tuesday morning. The group left Boulder Thursday night and rolled into Phoenix around 5 p.m. on Friday. The trip from Boulder had taken 17 hours, thanks, they said, to frequent pit stops and several extended episodes of stargazing. The group--Nicole, Shannon, Camden, Rob and Israel--arrived in Nicole's '93 Chevy Blazer. It wasn't until much later in the weekend that I realized Christine--my original contact with the Boulder contingent--wasn't even riding with the wild bunch. It seemed she had a test in massage school on Monday and couldn't swing the trip.

Futons unfurled, backpacks stowed, tostadas consumed and pot smoked, my living room became a crash pad, and by 9 p.m. the four Boulderites and I were ready to go hear some reggae. But first we had a problem to solve, and that was what the hell to do with Israel. Right after the crew arrived in Tempe, one of them remarked that Israel had been drinking lots of water but had only "made wee-wee" twice in the last 15 hours. That got me interested in Israel's whereabouts, and I came into my living room just in time to see him happily making wee-wee near the love seat. "Gross!" Shannon yelled, stomping toward the puppy and dragging him outside. "Gross, gross, gross!" Shannon uses "gross" in place of "bad dog" for house-training purposes. Evidently, Israel couldn't get enough of the word, because the first thing he did upon getting back inside was make some more wee-wee, this time in front of the bookcase. "Gross!" Shannon yelled. "Israel, gross!"

Clearly, the dog could not be left to roam the house while we were gone. But the record-high temperatures made locking him in the Blazer a sketchy proposition. I pondered the quandary for a minute, then started to dismantle a futon frame--nothing to do but barricade the little bastard in the kitchen. Five minutes later, I had serviceably puppy-proofed the doorway. Israel quickly realized something had gone horribly wrong with his day, and started hooting and howling like a pissed-off chimpanzee. Silently apologizing to my neighbors, I turned off the lights on Israel--no dampening effect whatsoever--and trailed out after my guests.

We got to Symphony Hall Terrace about 20 minutes before Culture took the stage. We split plates of Jamaican jerked chicken and Ethiopian food, topping off our repast by gnawing on slivers of licorice root purchased at one of the myriad one-stop Rastafari stands. Slayed by the heat and fatigue of the drive, the women splayed out on the relatively cool concrete to wait for Culture as Rob and I scored a couple of daiquiris, trying to ignore the incessant "Get your Reggae Fest tee shirt" pimping from the stage.

Wait a second, Rob! Look, in that booth over there, signing autographs! It's . . . it's Freddie Powell, brakeman for the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team. Hey, Freddie, how's the team looking for '98? "Oh, we be jammin' there in Japan. Last time in '94, we beat the U.S. team, and in '98, we hope to go all the way, you know."

Freddie, I notice you're selling some hemp jewelry here. Is it safe to say that ganja is an important element in the Jamaican bobsled team's training regimen?

"Well, I'm not going to preach for what is against the law here. We definitely don't do anything that's harmful to the human system. I'll say that. But I think you can't tell another man how to pull on his pants."

Thanks, Freddie. Smoke 'em in '98.
Culture came on a little after ten and immediately locked into a deep groove that sparkled with warm colors. Live, good reggae will bring you into the beat until it's all around you, and Culture is an extremely good live reggae band. I could see why the Colorado four had made the trip.

The next morning, Israel sounded reveille at 9 a.m. The kids headed back to the festival a few bagels later, where I met them that afternoon in time for a lazy set by Tribal War. I skipped the Wailers Saturday night (on the 15th anniversary of Bob Marley's death, no less) to make the Ministry show in Mesa.

Nicole woke me up early Sunday morning. The Blazer was packed. Before we hugged and said our goodbyes, three of the quartet had a quick murmured conversation, then whipped out calling cards and asked to use my phone. I wondered what was up until Nicole got through and a smile crossed her face. "Hi there," she said in a heart-melting drawl. "Happy Mother's Day!"--David Holthouse


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