by Matthew Bretz
A handful of years ago, when Hurricane Francis came charging through the peninsula, me and mine grabbed what we could and fled north for higher ground. After twelve hours of stop-and-go we landed in the tiny town of Bruinswick Georgia. Bruinswick sits on the coast of GA and boasts some seriously beautiful scenery in the form of a small resort like island called St.Simon’s Island. Other than that there isn’t much happening. We were stuck there for over a week and it wasn’t long before we were tired of scrabble and ventured out into the island. Friday night we came across a small upstairs bar named Rafters. It was cool little bar and obviously the main place to be on a Friday night in Bruinswick. We could tell because all thirty of the young people that live in Bruinswick were there. There was also a band on that night by the name of Passafire. Back then they weren’t much more than a sublime cover band, but there was a lot more to come for the baby banders we watched that night. Years later I would see them again- this time at the House of Blues in Orlando opening for Pepper. After years of writing new songs and polishing their style I was happy to see a totally different band than I remembered. Another year went by. Last month I caught a quick ad on the radio for a Rebelution concert going down at FIT that very night. I’ve seen Rebelution before and liked them so I went to the show…guess who else was there? Passafire.
It’s a cool Monday night on the FIT athletic field, located on the corner of university and babcock. The crowd isn’t huge, but the vibes are. FIT is a dry school so there isn’t any alcohol allowed, but we don’t care…we’re catching a buzz from the enthusiasm in the air. it’s a reggae show so put on some tie dye and tuck your dreads up under your knit cap. Security is tight so watch what you’re carrying and if anyone stops you just tell them “evry ting is irie”, you’re with the band!
Walking around the field, listening to Outlaw Nation, the first band of the night, I notice some vendors set up on the left side. Vendors at open air venues are my favorite- I always find something I haven’t seen before- so I bee line straight for the tents. Disappointment quickly sets in as I realize how little there is to behold. One refreshment tent- selling soft drinks, one student run org- with multiple petitions for various environmental/political actions groups and one tent set up for selling merchandise for the bands. When I get to the merch table I ask where I can find the guys from Passafire, I’m eager to see if they remember me and if I can maybe hook up an interview. The guy I ask just happens to be the keyboard player and I probably should have known that…not the bet start. I explain who I am and where we’ve met before and he claims to remember me, but there’s a vagueness in his tone that makes me thin he might not. No biggie…we set up the interview for later in the evening. The plan is for me to watch the show and then meet them by the RV they are touring in. that being settled I grab a bottle of water and slowly head towards the stage.
Back In the eighties the Police put out an album called Regata De Blanca, which translates loosely to “reggae for the white man”. This is also the phrase they used to describe their music. It wasn’t racist- it was an acknowledgement to the idea that they might not stand up to the reggae bands from the islands. And if their reggae wasn’t exactly genuine on those terms then it must be something different, something new…and “white boy reggae” was born. In the nineties bands like 311 and Sublime drove the genre into a an international frenzy and now in the new millennium we have groups like Rebelution, Pepper, the Expendables and Passafire keeping the fires fueled.
Passafire takes the stage and blows up immediately. There is no hesitation or build and the audience is soaked in energy. There is a strong, cold wind blowing through the field tonight, but with the close knit crowd and Caribbean flare in the atmosphere I barely feel it. Passafire holds themselves out away from a lot of the bands in this genre by adding well written elements of rock, funk and jazz. They also throw in lots of surprises to keep it interesting. There are a number of acts out there just bringing a smooth rhythm with accents on the two and four. Not satisfied with something so simple- these guys are working hard to achieve something greater and more unique. I’m impressed and I’m not the only one. The crowd loves these guys and its well deserved.
After the show I get a text from Adam, the keys player, to meet them at the RV.
Walking up the steps in their “tour bus” I’m greeted by Adam and ojhoh, the bass player…as well as a nameless man sitting at a table pounding away on a computer.
Pass: We only have a little while before Rebelution is done and we have to be at the merch table to sign things. Should we get started?
MB: Absolutely! And my first question is…where is the bathroom?
I’m pointed down the hallway and given instructions to avoid “number 2” at all costs. I of course comply and when I return I find a chilled shot of vodka waiting for me. So much for a dry campus.
MB: So you guys have just released your second CD on Law Records- owned by Pepper, how did you hook up with those guys?
Pass: Our lead singer actually chased Brett from Pepper down with a demo CD and asked him to listen to it. A couple months later we got a call and the rest is history. Those guys are great and they have treated us really well.
MB: I feel very fortunate that I keep running into you guys. Its also a little weird though…haha! Truthfully though, its great to have seen you in various stages of development along the way.
Pass: It must be fate. Looks like you’re stuck with us…poor guy!
MB: Can we talk about Van Halen for a second? I want to hear everything.
Pass: It’s a crazy story actually. Our booking agent also books for David Lee Roth’s solo project. For some reason Roth likes to have this one reggae band open for Van Halen whenever possible. Whatever the circumstances- that band couldn’t play with them for a sold out show they were playing in just few days. So we get this call from our agent right? And he says “hey, hypothetically speaking if had a chance to open for Van Halen would you do it?”.
MB: That’s the dumbest question I’ve ever heard!
Pass: That’s what we said! So we get on a plane tat night and fly out. The next day we rent a minivan and drive to the venue with maybe half the gear we normally have to play with. VH had like five buses and two semi-trucks. 15 year old Wolf Gang rolls up in a limo with two hot blondes. It was like something out of the movies.
MB: And you guys showed up in a minivan…
Pass: Yeah…we show up in a minivan…haha!
MB: What were they like?
Pass: No clue…they didn’t say a word to us. We did get to see Eddie sound check his guitar in an empty arena though. That was sick!
MB: So what’s next for you guys?
Pass: We’re gonna keep touring and doing our thing. We have some more dates with Pepper coming up and we’re looking at maybe doing something with 311 down the line.
MB: Sounds good! You boys definitely have a permanent spot on my I-pod.
Rebelution was almost done with their last tune and it was time to wrap it up and let Passafire get back to their waiting fans. It was a good night and I’m happy to have such great music in my backyard.