10k Lakes & The Dead
Real True Confessions With Padre Pienbique
The Big Wus Japanese promoter, Mr. Yasu Kondo, has been spending the last week in Minnesota hanging out with folks and getting ready for the 10k Lakes Festival.
A rabid music fan, Yasu loves everything about festivals: The vibe, the family, the embarrassment of riches on stage that never make it to Japan. Although he wasnt overly thrilled with this years line-up, he confided that he was looking forward to finding a band or two that hes never heard to make up for the lack of big names.
Fast forward to Sunday night, after he returned from the party. The first thing he said when he walked in the door was: Three people died. Drugs. What is wrong with hippie people?
Al Sedacca, Big Wu Family Reunion security chief, stopped over for a beer and said two people died.
After a couple Google searches, I could only find one dead guy, (discovered at his campsite on Friday morning.)
No matter if its one guy or three, theres something dumb going on here. Besides, this kind of irresponsibility is piss in the well for everybody. Navigating the State Trooper gauntlet on the way to Harvest Fest in southern Minnesota was hard enough before. Campers should expect nothing less than full body cavity searches upon driving south of Geneva. Not to mention that police can now count on a healthy bump in funding for overtime officers every time somebody plugs in a Fender amp.
In a related story, authorities announced that (according to their undoubtedly inflated street value) $25,000 in drugs was seized over the weekend. Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon said a little over a dozen arrests were made. I dont know the actual attendance, but if a square ten thousand people showed up, the police confiscated an average of $2.50 worth of funny business per camper. Of course, not everybody feels the urge to do drugs. But then again, $2.50 is hardly a dent in what the average hi-ball blows through during a festival weekend.
The news was vague on the amounts of drugs- one assumes generous amounts of weed and mushrooms, and a healthy pile of ecstasy was intercepted- but when heroin and toot topped the list, I shook my head. These people dont want to just listen to the Dead; Shit, they want to be the Grateful Dead.
Heroin, despite playing over 1,500 shows in 49 states, is the one substance Ive never even seen. But the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was lit up after Northfield, MN Police Chief Gary Smith estimated in an ill-fated press conference that up to 150 (14.5%) high school students were bona fide junkies. Flinging such far-flung estimates even farther into the stratosphere of unreality, Smith guesstimated that said dragon-chasers financed their $800 a day habit by selling stolen iPods and such. Pushing the figures out to their logical conclusion tells us that the chess club is blowing $120,000 a day, or $43,800,000 a year in hot goods. Thats in a town of 18,000.
For all the hubbub, Northfield Police had only handed down three indictments and seized a paltry four grams of heroin. I havent the foggiest idea what the current street value of smack is, but Im sure its less than $10.6 million a gram.
Real or fabricated, heroin has never done anyone any favors. Jerry, Brent Mydland, John Kahn and a thousand others were put on permanent vacation after fooling around with smack. Meanwhile, Northfields Police Chief is now on paid leave as the rest of the city tries to resume its reputation as the home of Cows, Colleges and Contentment. (Perhaps everyone stops by the imaginary methadone clinic on their way to second period algebra class.)
Yasu pointed out that he feels like the scene is changing, and not for the better. He covered jam bands all over the west coast and the Colorado Rockies for seven years, writing reviews and the like for Japanese jam-sites. Hes been around the scene long enough to know the family values and pleasant behavior taken for granted at festivals. He seemed genuinely disturbed.
During the time he spent traveling and writing, the jam scene was enjoying its heyday: SCI still sounded like String Cheese, Phish was spoken of in the present tense, and the members of the Dead were still on speaking terms.
Oh well, times change, and that wont change. Theres always new music coming out, but it gets harder to see where the roots are, never mind where its going. Bonnaroo is becoming a classic rock reunion zoo while hosting newer bands like Wolfmother, which sounds exactly like Black Sabbath circa 1972. No matter how much I rock out to Wolfmother, Im not seeing them as the future of jam rock. (The less we mention the Police in this context, the better. Sting can play up his tantric yoga and Save the Earth trip all he wants, but he has yet to deliver an honest days work improvising his way through anything.)
On the bright side, Yasu is positively upbeat about the scene in Japan. Because the country gets its fix in moderate doses, jam rock is still rather fresh in Tokyo. Yasu said it feels like the west coast did five years ago. Heres For Theres, a Japanese Dead cover band, draws dynamite crowds whenever they play, as they should. The groups leader, Tak Suzuki, looks and sounds like a Japanese Jerry Garcia, down to the grey-streaked mess of hair and teardrop glasses.
(If you feel so compelled, check out Tak playing Friend of the Devil with the Big Wu on youtube:
Other native bands are flourishing, as well as imported acts. Yasu hosted Wavy Gravy for a storytelling and goofing off tour, and God Johnson for a successful run of dates. Hes planning to bring Stephen Perkins/Willie Waldman side project Banyan (with yours truly on bass and former Karl Denson picker Brian Jordan on guitar) as well as a second Big Wu tour to Tokyo and Yokohama before the year is out.
Other promoters have been busy bringing the music, despite Japanese Immigrations refusal to admit some musicians with unsavory rap sheets. Keep in mind that Paul McCartney got the official nish-nish for twenty years. Even the politest society can get testy, no matter who left a joint in the sock bag. (And Paul is supposed to be the nice one I could see Lennon getting refused on the grounds that Yoko Ono comes with a strict no return policy, but Paul?)
Either way, music that feels good transcends borders. And as far as I can remember, this stuff was all about feeling good: Grooving at a show, passing the time in a traffic jam, or getting it on with a crispy live CD are all testaments to the power of music. Personally, I love it when people confess they got a hummer while cranking Red Sky on the tape deck. Really, its the finest in audience participation
But the growing darkness of people dying at festivals is more than a mathematical certainty; its a sign that were not taking care of one another. We were all better off letting the biggest stars teach us to leave the junk alone. And no, its not an act of unkindness to dampen a prospective junkies enthusiasm with stern words. They probably wont listen to words of wisdom, but everybody can draw the line somewhere. Seems like a fine place to start.
So where is the scene headed? Some of the classic hallmarks are still present- Musicians are sitting in with each other. But now you cant cross two cats on stage without it being a reunion of sorts, as everybody is or was in a band with everybody else: Warren Haynes sits in with Bob Weir, (who he used to play with), brings Derek trucks to sit in as well (who he used to tag guitar solos with in the Allman Bros.), Barraco plays keyboards, (and used to be one of Phils Friends), who used to play in some form of The Other Ones/Dead with, while Molo, whos been in everybodys band until, etc. And etc. some more.
Somewhere at some time, this incestuous family tree should be plopped on one big stage with all of the branches that have shared a stage with one another present in some form. The result would surely be that everyone who has ever been written up in Relix would be standing around, wondering who has an open A-string everyone else can tune to.
Take that, Bonnaroo.
Be nice to your Mother, Drink your milk, and don’t do heroin!