LIVE in the Age Of COVID: Dr. Jah & the Love Prophets @ Jericho Drive-In, Glenmont 8/07/2020
When the COVID hit the fan and the world shut down, Americans quickly addressed one of the most important issues we faced: “HOW ARE WE GOING TO SEE LIVE MUSIC???” Seriously, the question wasn’t “When” we were going to see it, but “How.” Priorities are everything, especially during a pandemic.
That said, if Americans are anything, we are go-getters and problem-solvers; as such, the idea of using drive-in theaters as music venues cropped up early, and did make the most sense: Drive-ins were open-air with large amounts of space to spread out, and if people wanted to social-distance, they could stay in their cars. Since then, at least three drive-ins in Greater Nippertown have hosted concerts, with more shows on the way. I decided to check out the scene at Jericho Drive-In in Glenmont, just a few miles east of where I used to play Rock & Roll Morning Deejay too many years ago.
In the spirit of the headliners and the documentary film that would follow them, Bob Marley’s stellar album Exodus was playing on Jericho’s carrier-current FM station as I pulled up to the front row of the theater. There were three rows of cars, almost all of them with families or friends gathered around their vehicle. Most of them were maskless, which kept me inside my car until the call for the Men’s Room could no longer be ignored. I’d survived five months of House Arrest and wanted to keep that streak (and myself) alive.
A group of kids playing together on the other side of the drive-in were masked, giving me hope for future generations, and kept playing until the emcee politely asked them to “Please social distance.” The adults were all hanging out on blankets and lawn chairs, on fenders and tailgates. Essentially, it was Friday night at the town bandshell – except the “bandshell” was a fully-enclosed stage with light show and smoke machines, and the local orchestra had been replaced by one of the Capital Region’s premier party bands.
To be fair, people did wear masks when they went around to socialize with other concertgoers, or when they walked to the concession stand, to Twist Ice Cream, or to the restroom. And to their credit, Jericho Drive-In had their own social-distance game locked in: If you wanted anything from the concession stand, you could only order it through the theater web site, and could only pick it up at the door of the building. I was able to get a cup of No-Sugar-Added Raspberry Swirl ice cream from Twist when I walked up to examine their massively varied menu, so I was happy and cool by the time WEQX’s Jeff Mo’rad brought on Dr. Jah & the Love Prophets.
Apart from a video drop party for their new disc Creation, the band had been off the shelf since they played Putnam’s Den on Bob Marley’s birthday in February. But there wasn’t any sign of rust on frontman Dave “Dr. Jah” Geoghegan as he called out “ONE LOVE!” and then counted the band into the opener “96 Degrees.” Original reggae is thin on the ground in my world, so I was digging the sound just as much as the “Rye Bread” aficionados parked on either side of my car.
While tracks like “Skanky Dreadlocks” and “Party Life” included lyrics that encouraged ingestion of controlled substances, Dr. Jah is one of the tightest bands I’ve ever seen, easily switching from your standard loping reggae vibe to a superfast ska ‘tude worthy of The English Beat. Geoghegan and Pete O’Hearn’s guitar solos were always on point, as was David Oliver’s keyboard work. Along with established Dr. Jah originals and great work-ups of the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On the Mountain”, the band weaved in great tracks from Creation like “My Little Bird” and “Riding Through Zion”, which Geoghegan said was getting mad airplay on “EQX, EXT, CDB – the radio station, not the drug!”
“Man, it was great to be back with everyone,” he told me a few days later. “It’s a real treat to have all our fans come out and see us again. When you’re a musician, you harvest great energy from them just as they do from you. The social community aspect of live performance is so important!”
With that in mind, the vast sward of green grass between the cars and the stage looked tailor-made for fans of a badass dance band like Dr. Jah – and it was entirely empty for most of the ninety-minute set. While people boogied down with the folks they came with, nobody left the area around their respective cars. Part of it might have been the pre-show admonition not to “be the reason they don’t have any more shows here”, but I think most of it was the lesson of Florida’s beaches and Texas’ parties had sunk in. “Party responsibly” has taken on a whole new meaning in the Age of COVID, and almost everyone at this show took it to heart.
Dr. Jah wrapped things up with the pensive “Freedom’s Time Has Come”, which Geoghegan dedicated to “a couple of great friends and musicians in the community” we had lost recently, including renowned engineer/guitarist Ted Orr. It could have been a downer, but the vibe was more like “Let’s celebrate the time we had them in our lives.” The whole night was a celebration, when it came down to it, because live music was back in our lives, and even the bugs couldn’t ruin it. The music continues at Jericho Drive-In August 28th with Start Making Sense, followed by a screening of a movie that’s almost as twisted as the Talking Heads – Jeff Bridges’ masterpiece “The Big Lebowski.” Be there. Aloha!