Just Above Sunset
The Boogie (Phillip Raines plays North Georgia)













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The Boogie

 

I was inspired by the tales of Bastille Day and the images of Paris in a mood of celebration.  My eighteen-year-old son is moving out this week, getting a place with four other guys who will also be attending Georgia State University on the concrete campus in downtown Atlanta.  Georgia State is where I studied Journalism for four years, where my wife got her masters in education; my mom even went there for her PhD.  I remember so vividly moving out and getting my first place with a geology major.  My motive was pure.  Get a place to bring home the ladies.  It didn't work as well as I fantasized, but it put me in the frame of mind of adulthood.  My mom was so happy that I was moving out she started smoking cigarettes again after a break of almost twenty years.  She only smoked for about five years after I moved out - a type of rebellion I am just beginning to understand.  Still it puts a lump in my throat that my first-born is leaving the nest.  He plans to study in Paris his junior year, so maybe I'll finally go then and see how the French celebrate first hand.

 

In contrast to Bastille Day I celebrated Fourth of July weekend at a Boogie.

 

It is an invitation-only music festival in the North Georgia mountains.  There were four hundred or so campers in tents, and cabins in the hills above the main stage all enveloped in huge trees and soggy paths.  There were other smaller stages, for acoustic music, and amateur musicians and of course guitars circled in campsites.  There was a waterfall, a pond for swimming and lounging on floats, an outdoor kitchen beneath huge tarps rigged high in tall pines, wood smoke rising from fires and grills, tables in long lines where you could grab a paper plate and fill it up with pasta, or roasted meat or corn grilled in the husk.  There is no money exchanged at a boogie.  The bands, the cooks, the dishwashers are all volunteers.

 

The two guys I work with never miss a boogie.  They had hyped it all week as the date approached.  Mike, my helper for fifteen years, off and on, said, "your horn would really be appreciated there."   I had heard that phrase before from another friend who invited me to come to the boogie every year for years.  That friend, Chaunkee, had been my best friend since kindergarten.  He was a great guitarist and record producer, no doubt one of my smartest friends, and had turned an inheritance into a fortune developing a subdivision with green space that had earned him awards from the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy.  About this time last year he was killed in a motorcycle wreck.  The loss hit me harder than any other death.  At his funeral there were a lot of hippies from the boogie.  As I met them they were all amazed that I was such a close friend of his, and a musician, and I had never been to a boogie.  On a whim on a hot Saturday I announced that I was driving up to the mountains to attend this thing.  "Like I'm wandering the earth, honey, like Cain in Kung Fu - I'm going to this," I told my wife.  I stopped by Sam's Club and bought a cot and a couple of cases of beer (prompted by a cell phone call from my co-workers) and drove north to the mountains.

 

There were a lot of reasons why I had never been to one of these things.  Usually I was gigging and, if not, I was doing something with the family, watching fireworks on the town square, or at the treehouse camping on the river.  I also have a little bit of cynicism about hippies with acoustic guitars.  "Fuck a bunch of kum ba ya, " I'd mutter.   I gave up sitting in on jams almost a decade ago, burned out from playing in clubs every week end and not really wanting to play with amateurs.  It had been stressed to me that there were really good players at this gathering, not just amateurs, but still I shrugged that off.  The guy who owns the land where it is held is probably the best steel pedal guitarist this side of Nashville, but there isn't a lot for a sax player to do in a "pickin'" situation of blue grass or country.  What pulled on me the most was that there were dedications to my departed friend planned.  The last footage of him was a home video of him walking from tent to tent wearing out an acoustic guitar just a few days before he was killed.  There was one moment in the video where the cameraman said something to him and he tilted his head as if to say "Yeah right..."  - and I saw that expression all through my life to my earliest memories of childhood friendship.  Some of my fondest moments were playing on stage with him when we were briefly in the same band, but we had never shared the stage at a boogie.

 

I arrived late Saturday afternoon, greeted on a gravel road by a guy with a pony tale and beard, built like a fireplug.  I rolled down my window to hear him say to the car ahead of me, "You should know better than to show up at a boogie at 6:00 on Saturday night.  You don't belong here, turn around." Yikes, I thought.  This is contradictory to the open lovingness I was told was everywhere.  After seeing the truck with two obviously local mountain boys turn around the guard came up to my window and said forcefully, "Who are you here with."

 

"Mike Emerson" I said, hoping I had said the right thing.

 

"Yeah, he said you'd be coming.  Park over there - it's all that's left".  I rolled my truck onto a rut road flanked on either side by blackberry bushes and squeezed out the door into thorns and carefully slid tightly beside the bed of my truck, rustling thicket.  I walked past the guard and down a gravel road.  Campsites came into view, people sitting around coolers in folding chairs, laughing.  At one campsite a huge iron chandelier with candles was hung from a high branch, near that a teepee and tents and tarps of all design were rigged ingeniously from branches.  I could hear music in the distance as the road slanted further downward.  Trudging up the hill were my co-workers.  We greeted and I explained that I had the beer and my horn to carry.  After lightening the beer load by the tailgate before we left I grabbed my horn and walked down the canopied road.  They had not brought camping gear and slept under the stars.  I felt less like camping in that extreme and began asking them about anyone they might know with a cabin with a spare spot on a couch.  They talked about how they had danced the night before after doing an undisclosed compound that had reduced their already scant inhibitions. A scruffy kid passed us on the road and said "happy boogie."  They replied to him with the same greeting.  I thought of conventioneers saying "boola boola" in a Vegas hotel hallway.  I passed the portable toilets (now really hoping for some one with a cabin) and heard a cornet soloing to a swing blues.  The soloist was awful - no that's too mean, the soloist was a beginner.  I thought if they let him jam I'd be most welcome.

 

We went to the stage in the deep green light of a steamy evening in a valley surrounded by steep hills.  My first thought as the music grew louder was good drummer, bassist too.  Without hesitation I pulled out my sax and walked up on stage nodded to the other players and stepped up to the microphone.  I started to play, weaving around the singer and more dancers crowded the stage, one guy in a sarong (it's just so wrong) began spinning like a whirling dervish.  A skinny red head spread her feet in the sand and put her hands on her knees and threw her head in a low circle like a fan made of long hair.  The coronet player was an old man, large in the chest and tall.  He smiled as I took three rounds, encouraged by the singer guitarist.  The crowd screamed.  The two guys who work for me raised their fist in the air and hooped "Yo Bubba" (an unfortunate stage name of mine).  Mike had heard me play.  Tony never had.  Tony is a videographer from New York between meaningful jobs.  He is laboring for me and sending out resumes until he finds something.  He was visibly surprised I could just step up and play with a band.  The next song the band played was "Shaky Ground" by Delbert McClinton, a song I'd played with a dozen bands countless times.  I leaned to the old man with the coronet.  I shouted to him as the guitar began the riff.

Click here for larger image...
The author, Phillip Raines

"It's in E minor, the trill is the 6th and seventh, the top note is the minor third."  He looked at me with sad eyes and stepped behind me and left the stage.  Oh shit, I thought to myself, the other players are going to think I said something like "If you can't play better than that get the fuck off the stage" or something rude.  I looked at the other guys on stage and held my hands up and shrugged as if to say "I dunno" and just started playing the riff along with them.  After the song the steel pedal player said over the microphone, "Roy come back on up when you want to now." 

 

Roy I later found out owned the rental cabins that housed most of the musicians and served as a resort most of the time.  He later gave me his card and invited me to the VFW hall to jam with him and his buddies.  He was a nice guy, but I guess he figured if he didn't know what I was talking about maybe he shouldn't be jamming just then.  I drifted off stage after I had worked up a pretty good sweat.  I wasn't getting paid so I wasn't going to wear myself out.  Beside the stage was an entrance to the pond.  Children were playing with a toy float, their mothers were splashing water over each other (topless) and a guy with a pony tale walked past them all, naked and dove into the water and swam away.  I didn't flinch.  I'd seen naked hippies swimming plenty in the river near my tree house.  But that was the theme at this Woodstock-lite event.  Do here what you can't around the straight world.  As night fell better and better bands played.  I was invited to play with each of them, and only introduced as mystery sax man.  I appreciated the anonymity.  I ran into a wild woman who is coincidentally dating the guitar player in my main band.  "Where's Chip?" I asked her.

 

"Oh he's at some skeet tournament.  Says he doesn't want to camp around a bunch of hippies.  Want to do some mushrooms?"  I had already checked on my truck, and it was blocked in by cars, so I knew I wasn't driving home.

 

"Yeah sure, what the fuck," seemed like the appropriate thing to say.  All she had to wash them down with was some whiskey, but it had ice cubes in the cup and once again I didn't flinch as I chewed them up and swallowed them.  I didn't puke either, though the thought crossed my mind.  In about a half an hour the red orange sunset gave way to the blue velvet sky of night and a haze of mist cleared to reveal stars like I never see in the city.  The shrooms were mild by the standards of my college days, or maybe the weight to quantity proportions were all wrong.  Nonetheless warm waves rolled over me and shapes softened and I felt that silly moon-faced smile lock on my face while I listened to the band and smelled wood cook fires sending smoke that mingled with burning hemp that was in no way concealed.  I got back up on stage and played a few more songs with a blues band, keeping on my sunglasses.  The crowd cleared a circle and a fire eater chomped on flaming sticks that reignited, then a girl handed him three torches which he lit with his breath as if he had held a remnant of flame in his mouth and he began to juggle fire.  The song surged, the singer said take it sax man and I laid into it, ignoring the tremors, ignoring the fire juggler, diving into myself where the music comes from.  When the fire juggled extinguished his torches the song ended and I staggered off stage and put my horn back in the case.  The dancers screamed until the next song started, and then stomped trance-like, lit in the glow of the stage lights.

 

The girl who gave me the shrooms invited me to her campsite to grab some more beers.  I really think she was proud of her set up and just wanted to share it with some one.  Hovering over her dome tent was a ragged canvas canopy on four short poles with the words "Horris Ward," a funeral service in Atlanta.  "Nice set up," I said.  "Where'd you get the canopy?"

 

"On a curb in front of a funeral home.  Pretty cool huh?  Want a beer and a shot?" 

 

Jo Lee is full of spunk, blonde, cheerful, strong.  I was glad I'd run into her.  My co-workers had disappeared with two girls in long flowing skirts, each wearing wreaths in their hair.  I figured they were looking for a maypole to dance around or something.

 

As Jo Lee shone the flashlight in the cooler I couldn't help but say, "Hon, I think you set up camp in a poison ivy patch.  It's all around the cooler."

 

"Naw, no way. Poison ivy has three leaves."  I gently took her flashlight and pointed it to the leaves.  "Look 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3."  It was everywhere.

 

"Well, maybe it won't be so bad since it rained earlier today," trying to say something nice.  We each did a shot of tequila, I grabbed a water bottle from deep in the ice and we left.  She asked me if I minded walking a ways.  She wanted to show me a cabin where some friends of her were staying with a great view.  "I don't mind, if it's not too far, or too steep."  She looked a little disappointed after I said steep.  I didn't want to tell her I'd ruined my knees doing masonry and carrying an extra fifty pounds around for a decade or more.  Though she was the girlfriend of my guitar player I didn't want to seem weak or unattractive.  She tilted her chin up and said, "I know a guy with a golf cart down at the kitchen area.  Maybe he could drive us up there.  It's his cabin I wanted to show you."  We met him and she asked him for a lift.

 

"What the hell", he said "I need a refill on my drink," and shook his ice in a red plastic cup.  "We'll have to use your flashlight so sit up front with me."  I sat on a bench in the back of the golf cart watching the world unfold behind me, unable to see what was ahead, only seeing what we had just passed.  The driver zoomed over a narrow wooden bridge that was no more than an inch wider than the golf cart.  One slip up and we were in the creek, but we bumped off the bridge onto the path, all saying "Whoa" then laughing.  I gripped the handles of the bench seat tightly as we bounced quietly on the gravel, when suddenly the road became steep.  I was pulled towards the ground and knew if I let go for a moment I would tumble out and the two in the front wouldn't notice me missing for a while as she pointed the flashlight and laughed and prattled and the driver drank his drink, then the rest of hers.  Suddenly the constant dark backdrop of mountains covered with trees opened up and we were above the horizon, looking over layers of hills fading blue in the distance and a near full moon that seemed to spring out from behind the distant hills. The sky became huge and clear with a ring around a near full moon.  All of it breathtaking.  Whether I was straight or high, the judgment would have been the same. "What a planet," I muttered as we took a sharp turn and came to the cabin.  It was all cedar on the inside with a wall of glass that faced the same view that had thrilled me on the ride up the mountain.  A hot tub was just off the living room and deep snoring came from a closed bedroom door.

 

Jo Lee threw the door open and said, "Stephan, what the fuck you doing sleeping through a boogie?  Get the fuck up and party with us."  His snoring was only interrupted with a murmured "muzzen muzzen muzzen mumph."

 

"You can't wake him up when he's sleeping that deep- you might as well not even try", shouted the driver from the kitchen pouring rum over fresh ice in the red plastic cup.

 

"Ah, you big pussy," Jo Lee said smiling and gently closed the door.  I pulled a water bottle from the cooler and she called out "Hey come check out this balcony."  As I walked out the door I turned out the lights in the living room so I wouldn't contaminate the color of the night sky.  We leaned on the rail of the balcony, looking below at the treetops where the land folded in a crease and made the valley where the boogie was going on.  Fires twinkled dimly through the trees beneath us and music from the stage drifted.  There was just enough of the mushroom in me to be in a state of wonder, and I felt like I finally had time to notice it.  I felt good.  Deeply calm.

 

"What a view" I said, "just beautiful."

 

"I knew you'd get a kick out of it."  The driver joined us out there and soon we left, rolled back down the steep hill, me again looking backwards, gripping tightly, surprised again as we rolled across the wooden bridge, back down to the outdoor kitchen and finally to the stage.  Jo Lee went to the sandy dance pit, and I slipped beside the stage and pulled out my horn.  It was getting on 3:30 and the singer, a guy with a beard and ski cap was turning to the other musicians, quickly showing a chord pattern, huddled in the familiar powwow of faking it on stage.  The best mic for me to take was right beside the drummer on a little riser.  The song had a kind of Grateful Dead feel to it.  In fact it may have been a Grateful Dead tune for all I know, but it was easy to catch on to.  I didn't know any of the guys, but the bass player looked familiar.  It was hard to say.  He had a white beard and was bald. It was about the third song that I realized I had played with him in one of my first bands called the Urban Gorillas.  I think I was twenty-three.

 

The songs I play with soul bands or blues bands or even the wedding band are drastically different than "Dead" tunes.  I know that good players have worked with the Dead, Branford Marseilles did a few tunes with them and I had played along with Garcia solos as a study in improvising.  It is so rare as a soloist to have that kind of format and feel behind you.  The instruments weave solos, stepping out between breaths so to speak. The other players become an amen section to musical testimony.  The singer drifted in and out, possibly making up lyrics.  It all seemed to work.  It may have been the most interesting playing I did that night.  At a quarter till five the bass player said "That's it, I gotta crash" and pulled his cord out of his amp.  I asked him (after we recognized each other on stage) if he had a cabin, and better yet a spare spot on a sofa.  He said yes to both.  We walked up the trail to the cabin, me carrying my horn up a slippery slope, huffing, puffing.  Bob told me as we walked that the drummer on that jam played with Zappa for six years.  Gave seminars in new age spiritual drumming to non-drummers.  What a niche.  Before I bedded down on the sofa I emptied my pockets into my shoes and took off my belt and quickly fell asleep, waking to the sound of heavy rain early morning, drifting off again and waking finally to the sound of distant ethnic music (belly dancing?) and the smell of coffee.

 

The bands that morning were not the kind of bands you can sit in with.  Some band played medieval music and a woman danced naked but for a wreath of twigs.  She wasn't ugly, but wasn't a stripper.  Every one around the dance pit smiled and acted like it was nothing out of the ordinary.  I played with one horn band, but wasn't comfortable reading off their charts.  I joined in on couple of tunes, but left soon thereafter, at home in time for fireworks that evening on the town square.

 

I don't know if my friend's spirit was there when we were playing.  I know he was in my thoughts as I wondered what it would have been like to play at that gig with him.  I could easily imagine him raring back, lifting on his toes, eyes shut, pulling his guitar neck up with his mouth open, then pointing the guitar at me, me playing the same lick with a twist at the end for him to take.  The moments I've missed in my life that I wish I had taken, filled in with something else, hoping for another chance to take them, hoping to have it all.  Gone like the last solo I played, barely a memory.

 

 

Copyright 2004 (text and photo) – Phillip Raines

Used with permission.

 

 

 

Also by Phillip Raines –

 

Phillip Raines photo-essays from March 28, 2004…

  • Real Work: Masonry
  • Music: Playing a gig on Saint Simons Island a day or two before the G8 Summit.

The photo-essay on The Treehouse he built deep in the wilds of northern Florida in The Treehouse by Phillip Raines - continued in a second piece Treehouse Chronicles with supplemental photographs from September 1, 2003 in Phillip Raines Photographs - the first re-edited with additional text on 4 August 2003 and the second from the 24 August 2003 issue.

 

Phillip Raines' appreciation of James Brown from the issue of November 9, 2003 is here: I Was Just This Close

 

Phillip’s work first appeared in these pages on June 1, 2003 with Phillip's Tale - "When I was in my early twenties I was taking sax lessons at an art consortium housed in a school built in the twenties…."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: The editor’s old Martin – and he didn’t attend the Boogie.

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Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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