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“We got high outside the Elevens.” I’m five minutes out from Gateway City Arts and I’m telling my boyfriend how long it’s been since my last Danny Pease and the Regulators show. If you’re not a local music carnivore: 2014. A Southern boy who stuck around post-grad, my boyfriend hasn’t warmed to many Valley bands yet, but I convince him he’s gonna like this show.
DPR has this super-positive energy and sweet vibe that I’d seen in bands from the Low Country, like Sol Driven Train, his home state favorite. The fact that there’s a touring band from Maryland in the mix tonight caught his attention, no doubt. It’s 9:30, maybe halfway through the first band – Van Gordon Martin and friends – and we are all impressed. The musicianship in this band is stellar and sets the bar for the rest of the night. I’d seen VGM a half-dozen times at least, but not with this line-up, and the love is in the air. Reggae, dub – the band is all over the stage having a great time riffing off each other and we love it.
The room looks different since my last visit, but it feels friendly and I relax. We get drinks at the bar and scope out the room. I catch Danny’s eye and we hug hello. “Last time I saw you, ya got me high outside the Elevens,” he smiles. I wink at my boyfriend. Dan Pease is good people and he gets excited telling us about the scene they’re building in Holyoke, supporting local music with a cool venue for young artists to grow and evolve their sound.
“Gateway City Arts is always changing, always trying to be better, and they’re really good at it.” Van is off the stage now and hugging Dan, telling him how much he enjoyed the room’s energy and can’t wait for the rest of the night. As we walk away, my boyfriend describes it as one of the best opening acts he’s ever seen. The crowd’s building – it’s 18+ – and there’s some buzz as the second band sets up.
“Uglies Nation” T-shirt-clad boys rock out hard-and-fast and front-and-center, caps tipped and words lipped as Bumpin Uglies takes us for a ride. I really don’t care for the band name, but Uglies Nation don’t care, so I let it the fuck go and enjoy the show. Their fans’ excitement breathes life onto the stage, and the band loses themselves in the music. Post-third wave ska reminiscent of Rx Bandits and Sublime, they don’t disappoint, but by 11:30, I’m pretty antsy for DPR to hit.
We find some chairs off to the side. A girl in skinny jeans and low heels stumbles toward us carrying half a pink cocktail and slumps over in the chair next to me. She asks some baseball cap about her friends he doesn’t see. Her pink puke falls unnoticed between the chairs and a runny puddle of relief is forming around their feet. I try to get her an Uber home when Baseball Cap cuts me off. “Mind your own fucking business! We can take care of ourselves,” he yells from the curdling pink puke puddle. “Hey, hey, hey…”
My boyfriend is standing behind me now, a good foot taller than Baseball Cap. “If you guys were having a problem, I’d leave YOU alone!” he tries appealing to Boyfriend. Slumped Over Girl is still slumped over. “If I was having a problem like this and you didn’t help, you’d be a fucking asshole!” I can’t believe this guy. Slumped Over Girl is tugging on Baseball Cap, “It’s okay, we’re leaving, we’re leaving.” I let the bar staff know about the puke and we cross the room to the courtyard.
It’s cold. Boyfriend stays just inside as the crowd moves in for DPR’s set. I catch a nice breath running into old friends from DPR and Fear Nuttin Band outside. Roosta’s just sat in with Bumpin Uglies and everybody’s glowing. I’ve heard Roosta in different settings over the years, from blasting the mic with Prowla and the reggae-metal fusion of FNB to chanting over classic riddims on Iganic Sound System, but my favorite memory is from Shanti Starr’s Mount Mineral Music Fest a couple summers back.
We’d just lost Alchemystics’ founding member Demse Zullo in a terrible tour van accident, and the small local family-thrown fest was a moving memorial to our friend. Roosta performed an incredibly soulful set with Ian I, just the two of them. I’m glad to see him, Jake Curran, Chris Regan, and the Fear Nuttin Band family here – there’ll be more treats on stage tonight. I feel better and head inside to get my skank on and shake off the earlier bullshit.
No such luck. Baseball Cap found two Graphic Tees to fight the Boyfriend. Boyfriend is wearing a goddamn Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes T-shirt for fuck’s sake and is not gonna fight you. Heady Door Guy gets involved and the Graphic Tees get the ‘Cap to back down. We settle in for DPR while Boyfriend fills me in. Oy.
Right at home on the Gateway City Arts stage, Phaze, Kenn, and the band lead the crowd through their set with a pride and joy equaled only by their fans’. This band is everything I promised the Boyfriend and more. Reggae, rock, ska, hip-hop – every band member is showcased in a seamless set of socially-conscious songs and driving, dance-y beats. The crowd is a smiling, bouncy troupe, full of devotion for this heady band of hometown heroes. We dance for a few more tunes, but the Boyfriend is understandably all set. We head out – I get it.
I’m disappointed, but Baseball Cap aside, the event was really cool and I’ll definitely check out more shows at Gateway. Dan was right – they’ve got a good thing going here with a real community-centric vibe. If I could change one thing about my night, I’d buy Baseball Cap a CD so he could spend some time with DPR’s serious wordsmiths. This favorite of mine is off their 2011 EP, Watchout! This is Kenn’s lyric from their song called “Grow.”
You’ve only got one life to live, so Better take some time; learn, love, and grow Show respect but never bow your neck Stand your ground when they hold you down I try to love my life for all its scars Seeing good in bad’s gotten me this far Risks to take, I’ve got mistakes to make Roll with it, if you don’t bend, you break