One of the best nights I ever had was a Fourth of July party in Colrain, Massachusetts. My friend Field grew up there and it’s one of those places on the map where the back-to-the-landers and the old school farmers held it down in an uneasy but magical equilibrium until the city people realized how pretty it was and started to buy second homes. Night follows day and we had spent the day lounging around the apple farm his family had carved out of the forest in the late ‘60s, leaving off the hill to swim in the clear, cold water of the Deerfield River with all the other local people at Sunburn Beach, which is really just a big rock at the confluence of a feeder stream.
Life on Catamount Hill was always about love, land, and family, and one of the things that I loved most about it was knowing that every time you went up there, there would be a different mix of people, spanning generations. Always dogs and kids and people playing games. Always boys testing their skills against each other in something, whether music, or food, or feats of strength, or pond hockey, or soccer. Terry, Field’s dad, presided over this scene as a quiet godfather, a Marine who protested Vietnam after he got out and married his wife Judith after meeting her in the scene in Berkeley. And them two taking apart a VW bus and putting it back together and then driving it across the high line of the U.S. headed east looking for a place to drop roots. They wound up wintering in a trailer on the back of a friend’s farm in 1969 and that man gifting that piece of land to them to start their family, which became them and Field.
On that day Field had set up his portable record player outside and we carried it around with us rocking out to King Tubby, Bob Marley, I-Roy, and Lee Perry records. Nearly all of the hippie boys and girls who grew up in that part of the world left their small corner of the map to explore life’s adventures, but they came back for family events and for the Fourth of July. One of them put the word out that he and his little sister were organizing a party. They were a few years apart and the way those things happen in small places the word filtered out fast and basically in a matter of hours a whole generation of youth were spending their days like we were, knowing they would head up to that party at night.
Coming up the driveway you could tell it was going to be enough of everything. Enough music, enough weed, enough girls, enough good feeling. What happened was all of that and even more. They had an outdoor volleyball court with fencing around it to keep the ball from rolling down the mountain. Some of the boys had played soccer in college and we took the net down and started to play four a side on the sand court and as the party grew around us, went from dusk to night. More and more fellas came and the quality rose and rose and we had the reggae bumping and the girls got curious as to where all the boys were and came out to watch and we played winner stays well into the night with the friendly ferocity that brings out the best kind of invention and athleticism. When we finally stopped there wasn’t much time left for the band and the party but it didn’t matter because the party had happened right there. People were meeting people and smoking and going for walks and there was a warrior energy on the court that was full of love.
Maybe there’s a river like that river where you live too. And a place like that place. And a party like that party. And when I think about Bob Marley waking up early in the mornings to run five miles to the river to bathe and then coming back and playing soccer and not ever shying away from a tackle and all of that to get his mind still so the music could start. And then they would play it all through the night on the hill at Hope Rd… I think that’s like zen, a waking dream of body mind continuum with brothers and sisters all around and day feeding night feeding the music.
There’s a recurring theme in the reggae conversation these days. Maybe it’s forced by the media or maybe it’s real: that Jamaica wants its reggae back. It doesn’t want to be subjected to an explosion of white boy reggae that changes the way the world thinks about the music and about the country where it started. But that’s not what’s happening to reggae.
Raga is a sanskrit word for melody, but it also means a feeling or a phrase or a color. Music isn’t notes, it’s feeling. And a feeling is life. When you have a night like that, it connects you to every night like that and to everyone who’s had a night like that. And what’s happening with reggae isn’t American or Hawaiian or Filipino or Chicano. Anyone who feels it knows it, which means the Jamaicans know it too and all they have to do to get back on the world stage is to play.