This past weekend of the quarter moon, a chilly breeze tempered the usually hot June sunshine, as the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival got off to cool start. Locals noted the traffic was light Friday in comparison to previous years, but by Saturday afternoon the parked cars were lined up from Boonville all the way north and south along Highway 128 and the moving traffic was steady in both directions, with both vehicles and an incredible variety of pedestrians.
The ‘village stage’ in the grove of big timber behind the Apple Hall and the ‘valley stage’ at the rodeo grounds in front of the big grandstand were far enough apart that the music at either wouldn’t be drowned out by the other. In between was the ‘dancehall’ where DJs played recorded music. Then there was the ‘drum temple,’ a big grassy area surrounded by vendor booths. People were dancing everywhere, on stilts at the village stage, indoors at the dancehall, with veils at the drum temple, and shoulder to shoulder at the valley stage.
When Jamaican-born reggae legend Don Carlos (nee Euvin Spencer) took the valley stage at dusk on Saturday night the moon was at her zenith, the thick smell of marijuana was in the air, and the crowd was shoulder to shoulder, except for occasional couples who were a good deal closer. One woman was on her back momentarily in the middle of the walkway with her man giving her mouth-to-mouth. The imposing lawman, deputy Orell Massey, stood by smiling as a great river of humanity flowed past him into the area in front of the main stage. Don Carlos kicked off his gig. The crush was impenetrable. I shouldered my way through with a camera and a gas mask, the marijuana smoke being as impenetrable as the crowd. Don Carlos was magnificent. It was said that he will be headlining the revived Reggae on the River this year in Southern Humboldt.
Despite the cool weather, a great many people were exposed to the sunshine and moonlight, especially one thrilling young woman who wore nothing but face paint above her waist. The moonlight became her, but by the time it got dark, she’d found her shawl. It got pretty cool. By midnight, the waxing moon had disappeared over the hill to the west, a few drunks had gone over the hill to the east, and the music had moved indoors so the sleepless Boonville natives could get some rest.
Cool might also describe the attitude of many locals. People in Boonville like their rural setting, sequestered from the turmoil of the outside world, the seething oppression out there that a lot of Regge music is all about. Bumperstickers extolling liberal platitudes are all very nice, but when a huge crowd of artists and fans singing their demands for love and fundamental change invade our sleepy little town, our sleepy residents become uncomfortable. And parking becomes a problem for downtown businesses.
Most of the stores and cafes seemed to be doing a spanking business. The lines for morning coffee were so long at Mosswood Market and the General Store in Boonville on Saturday morning that by the time I got there all they had left was decaf. Little groups of vagabonds with their packs, their inevitable dogs and their inevitable guitars took up positions to panhandle passersby. In one group, a banjo had been stolen, and the fund drive was to get the victim a new banjo. “We only need $165, couldn’t you please help us out?” Another guy only needed $6, he had $2, which he pulled out of his pocket to show how honest he was. Why did he need six bucks? He and his two friends, who were waiting in the car, wanted tacos. Some of Louis Perez’s friends had set up a taco stand in front of Pic N Pay. “We haven’t eaten all day,” the guy who needed taco money said. It was only a little after 9am. But they had the appetite of youth and the taco meat smelled delicious. I gave him 6¢, 1% percent of his stated goal. He was disappointed but hid it well, showering me with gratitude as I strolled on.
A street musician with harmonica and guitar was working the crowd with old Dylan standards like Desolation Row. He was very young and his guitar one of those cheap little things you can get for $10 at a yard sale, but he played it so well it sounded better than a Martin Dreadnaught. The young man sang, “Right now I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters, no, not unless you mail them from Desolation Row,” and blew his harp.
Down in front of the ice cream parlor, Nahara had set up her massage table and had some street clients in a state of bliss. The General Store was standing room only, Alicia’s had a crowd, and so did the Redwood Drive In. There was a steady flow of gasoline at the pumps, about 80¢ a gallon higher than Ukiah; but, hey, this is Boonville!
Back at the Fairgrounds, the musicians were still in their camps, but the drummers were energetically pounding out a rhythm to a big group of women getting their morning jazzercise — there was one Gene Simmons-type dude, it wasn’t all women. But most people were milling round the dozens of booths full of exotic clothing and jewelry. And the food stalls. All sorts of divine aromas drifted along on the breeze. As the day wore on, the grills were soon sagging under the weight of roasting meat and the lines of hungry music lovers were getting longer and longer.
Jah Thunder Wisdom was grilling African food Ghana style –salmon, chicken, cholo fries, black-eyed peas. The longest line was at the Indian food booth, but they were too busy to talk to me about their fare, which must have been tasty. A kid of maybe ten or twelve, Bakyne, was selling knitted bags; he had an armful and strolled the pathways. (They were very cool bags, and sales seemed brisk.) Everyone was dressed in such outlandish costumes, mostly red, gold and green with lots of khaki shirts and patches, that a straight-looking fellow like me stood out as an oddity, and my merely conventional garb garnered a few snide comments.
Deputy Craig Walker told me everyone was behaving themselves pretty well. One fellow had to go over the hill for drinking too much cheap vodka, but he was back the next day ,and another guy had to go over for buying him more cheap vodka, after he’d been specifically advised not to. The deputies were vigilant and understanding, settling most disturbances with a few words of advice to the bad actors.
It all ended Sunday night, and if you couldn’t hear the music from anywhere in town, KZYX simulcast it over the radio.
Now all that’s left to do is clean up the debris and count the cash. My Monday evening Boonville was immaculate, and the cash probably had been counted.