If you’re anything like me, (and if you are, you should get a therapy dog or something quite honestly) we keep our stressors with us. You know, the stuff that really grinds at us. It builds up in the fibers of our tissues and causes us to ache under the weight of it. For me, it’s stuff like the usual worry about family, illness close to me, a demanding job and maybe not the least of all of this, the state of the country with a mentally unstable white nationalist as president who controls the fate of almost a million immigrants to this country who know no other life and followed the rules and believed our country’s promises while the party in charge tries to take health care from poor people. The ugliness and hatred that this administration has enabled, THAT stuff gets to me.
This isn’t a political essay, but things like that, be it personal, or community , I keep with me. It weighs on my psyche. I know I am responsible for managing my own stress and I do, but like a lot of music obsessives, the music I listen to. needs to serve a purpose. I don’t consume music casually, it’s not something for the background. So I looked for something uplifting this summer to augment the usual “3 chords and a cloud of dust” that makes me drive fast and sing off key as a motor down the highway. I am still a loud/fast rules kind of guy but I needed to soothe my aching soul too and there is one genre that has always done that for me. Reggae, and oddly enough punk rock took me to reggae first.
My love for reggae starts with two of my major musical influences. First & foremost , Joe Strummer. The Clash incorporated reggae music right from the get go, even covering Junior Murvin’s essential “Police and Thieves” , much to Murvin’s dismay. The other influence is my cousin Mike Gilbert who introduced me to artists like Yellowman, Augustus Pablo and the cool ruler himself, Gregory Isaacs. These records would sit on my shelf alongside The Jam, The Damned Joy Division and the Sex Pistols. Later on, second wave ska would be up there too.
Even when the topic is repression, or slavery, reggae music with it’s hypnotic beat always seemed to be meditative to me, in as much as any music can be. It always made me feel clearer of mind, lighter of spirit. Back in the day I had a GE boom box that I painted the speaker grills with the familiar red, yellow and green. I felt like reggae just sounded better playing from a boom box. The music was so uplifting, the vibrations positive. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when you listen to this music. It lets you take your mind off things and as we know, it’s too much thinking that is typically our undoing.
So with all this angst on my psychic plate, and stress weighing on me like an anvil, I sought out as much reggae music as I could find. I stumbled upon an excellent radio station from San Diego but they play too much Sublime and 3rd wave ska for my tastes, so between the Sirius XM station and my own personal reggae collection of artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, The Wailing Souls, Black Uhuru and the like, I had established a pretty good diet of reggae this summer. I looked for current reggae artists that rocked a similar vibe, like Chronixx and Perfect Giddimani, and it all helped immensely, but still something was missing. Live music. I need to see the music live, and be in the community of riddim and feel that beat in my bones. The only way to get that is to see it live. Being as I live in the snowiest city in the nation and one not known for attracting too many traveling artists, I figured island music would be hard to come by so my best bet would to look around for festivals or traveling bands with local-ish dates, Ithaca is a good place to look. I struck out everywhere in my quest to feed this hunger. So I did a google search “Reggae Bands Syracuse” and I came back with Root Shock. Lo and behold, they’re from Syracuse, right under my nose all this time.
I knew the name from seeing it in the local press but I figured they were like a lot of the jammy/funk bands playing around town. I dig that stuff but it was not what I was looking for. Turns out Root Shock is exactly what I was looking for. Root Shock is exactly what I need.
I had heard their music and looked at some videos before going to see them for the first time, I knew that they were spinning the vibes I needed from a musical perspective, I knew that they were a talented beyond words and professionally presented band. I was learning that they have a message of hope and positivity that I was so hungry for. I knew all that but this band like all great bands is one you need to see perform live. That’s where the music takes flight and becomes more than music, to me anyway Seeing them for the first time at Funk n Waffles one exceptionally muggy evening was a revelation that I did not expect.
I walked in, stoop shouldered, carrying all of life’s baggage with me and was quickly transformed right from the opening song, “Come Alive”
We forget this glory
We waste our energy
To win this war against our enemy
We’ve got to believe
Free our mind from captivity
Father, Spirit and Love, the Trinity
Power and strength from the Almighty
All nations will sing
Ooooh, my soul
All people, come alive, come alive
COME ALIVE. A direct call to action! Yes! This is what I am looking for, it’s what I have always been looking for. THIS is their London Calling, the signature song to kick off the set. The manifesto! Jessica Brown’s strong, powerful voice calling us, pleading with us to come alive! To feel the positivity within us, and it is within all of us to come alive and carry it forward, no matter who, no matter what.
I can hear cynics already start to whine, look this stuff isn’t just a bunch of soft liberal mindfulness drivel to me, although I am a soft liberal who meditates to be sure, but this stuff works. This stuff, positivity and acceptance of all people? This isn’t just STUFF, this is THE STUFF and Root Shock know it.
I stood there, slack jawed for a moment. Sometimes we ALL need to be reminded of how we waste so
much time in this life hanging on to so many things rather than rising up and making the changes BEING the change, if not in our community for God’s sake within ourselves! It’s like Patti says, “The People Have the Power” we have to use it, we have to seize it, we have to come alive! I’ll tell you this, when you see this band, the last maybe 10 seconds of this song will be the best 10 seconds of your life as the band goes HUGE for the finish. It will induce goosebumps.
Every song from there on in held me entranced. Positivity, empowerment, self assurance in these lyrics.
Reggae beats mixed with soul, some jazz fragments here and there, Dan Valvassori on guitar reminds me of some of the great jazz players I’ve seen, he has such incredible touch. Phil Grajko on guitar is exceptional as well, Phil also sings. If Phil were the only lead vocalist in this band, they would still be great, but Jessica Brown take it to the next level.
You can’t talk about reggae without that bass , and Bill Eppel with that signature Rasta bass he plays is BOOMING. Don’t believe me? Go see this band, wait ’til they play Babylon Tree, see for yourself, then tell me I’m wrong. BOOM. Drums rock solid, keys on point, most of the time I have seen them the keys have been handled by Brian Lauri who is some kind of a wizard on those things, getting the groove going so hot he can hardly stay seated, THAT guy can bring it.. The percussion guy Jocko has a Theremin for godssakes!
Did I mention that Jessica plays the melodica, you know, like Augustus Pablo did? Some of the best classic reggae has a melodica, more melodica! That cowbell shit is for the dinosaurs man! This band just sweats integrity, credibility and honesty in music and lyrics.
As the night wound down Jessica said “I hope we offered you some joy, so some positivity and if you are going through some stuff right now, like we all are, we hope we were able to help lift you, we hope you will bring it with you.
Wait a minute! How did she know? How do they know that I have all this shit weighing upon me? That yeah I am going through a lot of stuff? How did they know???? How did they know that I came to see them to BE transformed, to be lifted?
They know, because we ALL have our stuff we go through and Root Shock knows the power of the riddim, the power of positivity and integrity and inclusion.
Seeing this band is like joining a community. I have seen them play to a predominantly younger crowd, and I have seen them at festivals where people from 7 to 70 are grooving to the soul filled reggae vibes. Every time I see them at one of these local fests, I look at the crowd to see folks who maybe haven’t seen Root Shock before, and invariably, before too long, they are bopping along with the rest of us. They become converted. They are being ministered to and THAT, is something that can change the word. One small pebble of positivity in the ocean of negativity that threatens to drown us will have ripples that can save the world.
Every summer, here in Syracuse, we have a wine and jazz festival in our city square. Root Shock was on the bill one muggy Friday evening but weren’t on the big main stage. They were relegated to a side tent where bands play between the main stage sets. Often times these tents end up half full, folks who have been sitting in front of the main stage are out looking for food, for drink, to socialize. That was the case for Root Shock that night, the set started with the tent half full and ended with the tent over flowing. Shortly after they started their set with those positive vibrations and soulfully infused reggae rhythms people started to trickle in. All kinds of people. Families with kids, people of all colors, people of all ages, everybody was smiling, everybody was grooving, many people were dancing. The more they played, the more people drifted over to hear. It was incredible, the ovations were incredible. Nobody wanted the set to end.
I saw Root Shock again just yesterday afternoon at my favorite of all festivals in my city of summer festivals, The Westcott Street Cultural Fair. The band fed off the incredible energy of the gathered crowd and in one hour had everyone grooving and wanting more. THAT’s what this band does every night.
Root Shock have something that other bands don’t always have, a mission, a point of view that trancends the notes played by the incredibly talented players on the stage. To see Root Shock is to put your soul in their hands, and know they will enrich it, and lovingly return it to you, so you can do the same to others. If that stuff isn’t world saving stuff, well then we are ALL hopeless.
I needed Root Shock and I found them at just the right time. I have been to hundreds of shows in my life, that’s what I do and there are some that at the end of the night where I am exhausted from the shared express of energy that some shows require from an audience, that exhaustion is thrilling. But there are some more rare shows where I feel energized, refreshed. Root Shock always leaves me energized, refreshed and more positive of spirit Root Shock has it figured out. You would do well to figure it out too and go see them, I’ll be close to the front.
Root Shock plays on 9/28 AND 9/30 at Funk n Waffles in downtown Syracuse. Two shows, two different sets, two great opening bands. Look, I’m 52 goddamned years old and I’m committing to a TWO DAY night out? Yeah, it’s that good.
10/Advance/Day 15/Door/Day 12/Advance BOTH nights package available here.
I’ve embedded their SoundCloud stream of their debut album with permission. Listen to the songs, every one is great. Look, when you go to the show, grab a copy. It’s really good. Or you can get a copy from: Amazon | CD Baby | Google Play
Images used by permission of Bill Eppel/Root Shock and Tracy Grimm.
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