Baja Bash 2003 | 7.24 - 7.27 | La Jolla Indian Reservation | San Diego, CA
"It is time for us to forget about the things that may be troubling us in the 'real world', and to be one with nature, art, music, and good friends." This was the heart of Baja Bash North. It was truly a haven of good peaceful folks and music, very much in the tradition of the Grateful Dead with improv jams, cover bands, and a peaceful creative joyful friendly vibe that's expanded to incorporate new forms of experimental, improvisational, fun-loving music from a variety of backgrounds and ideas. This year's Bash was lucky number 13 but the first year ever it was at the La Jolla Indian Reservation. It was a great spot for this kind of music and vibe with the ultimate improvisation guru, the river, flowing through the large spread-out area.
The eclectic funky bluegrass of Blue Turtle Seduction opened the festival on Thursday night, seducing my legs into believing they were attached to a leprechaun. They were so happy to be opening the festival, and it showed. They were also the first to invite Alfred Howard to join them on stage with his mind-expanding, socially conscious lyrics bursting in jam raps like an extension of his heartbeat.
A modern version of Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin took the stage next and called themselves Electrovibe. Tiffany sang deep throaty awesome funky blues, but it was really all about the bass. Huge fingers pummeled the instrument in yellow light, playing with the full roundness of palms and fingers; they defined the word "whomp". The drums, keyboard and guitar all complemented this soulful sound and my arms began throwing themselves from bent elbows.
My entire body joined in when new monsoon headlined the main stage with seven men showcasing different sounds in turn (it was a Thai, Brazilian, Indian, Cuban, hamburger joint that hasn't decided which meal works best so they serve them all). I was drawn to the percussion of Brian Carey, playing the wooden side of his congas with drumsticks at times, while Rajiv Parikh sat cross-legged massaging the tabla's unique sound at the lip of the stage with fast rubber fingers.
Trekking back to my camp at night I crossed out of the festival world into a weekend camping trip along a quiet gurgling river with late night campfires. A hint of festival remained with a large parachute canopy creation flashing lights and playing gentle transient music while shadows of people morphed within.
Rivers can flow in delicate currents, swirling and rippling like intricate mosaics; they can rush and pound in rapids through a maze of rocks; and sometimes they gurgle, blip, and splash you in the face, and all you can do is laugh. Ten Ton Chicken flowed in the latter manner on Friday with songs about bad bad cream, salmonella and other light indigestible tunes. They were pure fun entertainment with an animated saxophone player materializing jester energy in his sleeveless Warriors jersey growling periodically, like Teen Wolf, and squiggling and wiggling around stage with a goofy dance and funny faces, while the keyboardist smacked a tambourine against his shoulder at times as if his arm had mutinied and taunted, "Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself."
The Big Wu are masters of a different kind of fun energy that dissipates into free-flowing currents of high-energy and gentle jams. They definitely fit into this Grateful Dead niche of music, thriving on extended jams and unmapped musical explorations, as Chris Castino exemplified when he asked, "Ever not know what you're doing? It feels good, not knowing, living the unknown. Okay, we're gonna, not play this one." They're a couple of regular guys playing good music and I've come to appreciate their Wu stylings more and more since this year's Big Wu Family Reunion. I watched them during the slower songs, amazed that it sounded slow. Chris, on guitar, and Terry VanDeWalker, on drums, played intensely and creatively with sounds and off-beats. The bass and keys threaded long mellow notes that left room for experimentation while maintaining a coherent song. They were joined by a few guests (Willie Waldman on trumpet, Norton Wisdom expressing their music in paint form, and Ben Chambers on bass). They left me feeling the vibrations of all my senses stimulated, still pulsing through the current--though it was gone (the fate of live music), it remained an invisible imprint on my unfolding present.
The present which unfolded directly into the funky grooves of Tea Leaf Green, and like a magician's scarf, continued to unfold through the night to early morning. They played upbeat, intense water music--my body flowed without thought and dove into their sound. "You go girl," and "Fuck yeah," men shouted at me as if I had a choice in dancing. Don't they feel the music too? I didn't decide to dance; the music got me and it didn't let go, not even when my feet plastered themselves to the squash-yellow carpet in front of the main stage, leaving the rest of my limbs flailing and grooving like a plastic moose toy that jiggles and wiggles as if all its joints suddenly inverted in goofy spasms when you push the button underneath.
TLG & Friends (Sat. Night)
"This is my friend Trevor. He likes to play the piano," said Josh of Trevor Garrod who climbed over the keys, squeezing music from all angles like juicing an orange with your weight above it, below it, to the side--bursting every last fleshy capillary against the plastic dome, singing in a voice I want to believe. Josh Clark bounced around the stage, his face twisted in musical agony, fastidiously strumming the guitar, smiling and playing in a way that screamed, "Yeah!", pumping the crowd with his demeanor. Ben Chambers thwomped hard melodic rhythms on his bass, and Scott Rager, on drums, played interesting beats while sweeping it all into a cohesive sound. At the back of the stage a man stood reading a book by headlamp for a while (I wonder what he's reading, "How to be a Rock Star in Ten Easy Steps"? "Overcoming Stage Fright"? "Nietzsche"? So many possibilities). The pace dropped and rose and they threw themselves into it like pecking hens. Ben took lead vocals to sing a little Snoop Dogg while Trevor and Josh sang "Bow wow wow, yipee yo yipee yay" in sweet gentle harmony. They have a great energy that smiled as they played through the night under shooting stars.
Saturday had the most music and was the pinnacle of the festival. The main stage had Rockfish, Delta Nove, The McCloskey Brothers Band, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Travel Agents, Robert Walter's 20th Congress and a late night set with Psychedelic Breakfast, while the second stage had Crucial, ATF, Tapwater, The Maykers (A tribute to JGB), and an all night set with Tea Leaf Green and Friends.
After spending all Friday night with Tea Leaf Green my groggy eyes wouldn't open to squint at the sun. Do I need a bloody mary? Water? I'll start with water and an obscene amount of brown rice and see where that takes me. I didn't make it to the main stage until three or so for the McCloskey Brothers Band. It was a rough slot to play; a dozen people or so hung out in the shade pacing themselves for the day. They were in good spirits though, joking and playing hard. Their songs reminded me of my childhood (a dangerously ambiguous description--let's hope my childhood didn't consist of imaginary friends that told me to set things on fire). Luckily, I blocked those memories out and implanted more friendly ones of a little girl with blonde curls ringing bluebells on a Colorado (where these guys happen to be from) mountainside smelling the vanilla breath of Ponderosa Pines. They have a classic rock sound I heard from acoustic guitars on that hillside (very unlike their electric mandolin, banjo and bass. The mandolin had a crescent bit out of it, as if the Cookie Monster snuck in, smoked some grass and took a bite out of the first round thing he saw). And we arrive at their last song (so soon?), with beautiful lyrics that carried the vibe of the weekend, "This magic can be here on this earth. It's magic just to be with you here today."
They closed and cleared the stage for my favorite band of late, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Brian Haas' keys twinkled like light skipping on ripples of water under the waves of black fabrics filtering afternoon to the stage. I taste the music in my mouth; it tastes like aloe, tangy, licking something with millions of sharp pores. I feel it in the air. Tiny hairs on my cheek stand up, my face is inside out, rolling in the summer breeze; I am a balloon rubbed against shag carpet. It's all melting away. I would be exposed if I could tell where "I" exist, but I can't. The music is in everything; my blood flows to it, gurgling like spitting lava. Flies make love on my knee, well, this is a song about love. Next came a song about Miles Davis called "Fall" (the season after summer and before winter that happens some places in the country, as Brian explained to the California crowd), the flies lost the mood. They quickly started buzzing after one another again with another love song, "Good Energy Perpetuates Good Energy." They played songs about leaving one's body, nature, evolution, and of course Brian's pet squirrel Nibbles, with Reed Mathis playing the part of Nibbles. Alfred Howard joined them and sang P.E. from his CD (Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra). It's great to hear artists take advantage of the fact that they have a microphone in front of them, and people in hearing range to say some words about the state of the world and the advertising, capitalistic, industry-driven machine we're riding without much balance--balance comes from hearing different voices, or finding your own (rivers don't survive from a single source, especially if the source likes trees in dollar form).
Brain Haas & Jason Smart of JFJO
Politics aside, Baja Bash originators, the Travel Agents, took the stage to play some classic rock covers. They were the only band that played at the first Baja Bash, and they've been back every year since. I hadn't seen them before and was expecting all Dead songs after a colorful older man told me, "It's Dead time," and practically skipped over the steep dirt hill to the main stage, but they played a variety of classic rock. The lead singer has a great voice. The audience danced with a healthy mix of capes, shawls, blankets and I believe a moo moo while a montage of peaceful bumper stickers flashed across the screen behind the stage: "No Time To Hate", "One Show at a Time", "Give Peace a Chance", "Walk in Balance" and many more, too quick to read, but enough to sink in.
More disturbing pictures, like the ear of a baby tunneling down the birth canal, swirled on the screen behind Robert Walter's 20th Congress. Something is churning. Is there more going on here? My eyes blinked open in sunglasses going through time, backwards, to the giant ladybug age of the 70's. The microphones took a bit of the spotlight to start the set.
The saxophone played around the mic like a hummingbird making love to a flower, while the drummer's mic stand had a few too many and fell toward his drums; he caught it and pushed it back to standing, it fell, he threw it back, it fell, he pushed it back and didn't miss a beat through the mic's entire embarrassing ordeal (the stand will be at rehab for the next month). Their music is unique, interesting and driven. There's a lot of talent on stage playing with sounds, but they manage to create fun music you can dance to barefoot in the grass amidst the experimentation. Robert Walter on keys and Will Bernard on guitar played alone for a while--leaving me standing like a drooling stone, completely captured. They played a soundtrack to my dreams that night.
Cheme & Bernard of RW20TH
"Go to the Shwag Shack to get your fresh Tapwater," announced the band, Tapwater; the first, and only, band who played on Sunday, offering free mimosas for those who stuck around. Their music was really fun and I was sad they were the last band. They played a hoe down type song with interludes of the Beatles' "Blackbird" and ended a fast song to the tune of "My Generation" very abruptly with, "I haven't written any more words" Stop! Okay. No, not you. Well it's over isn't it? Yes.
Words: Reanna Feinberg
Photos: Zack Ehlert
JamBase | West Coast
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For more of Zach's photos from Baja Bash 2003, please go here.