John Brown, American abolitionist and freedom fighter, was hanged after leading a raid at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. Unlike many of the better-known abolitionists, Brown believed that it would take more than fiery rhetoric to bring about the end of slavery-his belief in the necessity of firepower is what made him so dangerous, and what gained him a seat of notoriety in U. S. history. In the liner notes to Among Them, the second full-length release from Boston's John Brown's Body, singer Kevin Kinsella recognizes parallels between his band's project and Brown's crusade: Brown was a white man fighting for an "African cause," and JBB is a mostly white group playing reggae, "liberation music for black people." Unlike Brown, however, Kinsella and the rest of JBB are not filling storehouses with ammunition, poised for imminent attack. Instead, they participate in a musical tradition steeped in dissatisfaction with the status quo, with an underlying belief in God's salvation and the ability of all humanity to live together in peace.

See John Brown's Body come to life this Tuesday at Jay's Upstairs.

The storybook success enjoyed by John Brown's Body over the past decade could explain their less-than-fire-and-brimstone approach. While still in high school in Ithaca, N. Y., Kinsella started up The Tribulations, a band which, by the late '80s, was nationally known for its true-to-form renderings of Jamaican classics. In 1993, the band spent two weeks in Jamaica, soaking up the "authentic" reggae sound they aspired to.

It was Kinsella's draw to a more roots-reggae sound which caused artistic differences among the members of The Tribulations, resulting in the band's demise and in John Brown's Body rising in a ganja haze from its ashes. The band re-creates the mood and sound of traditional reggae with remarkable precision, from the dub-influenced production, to the perfectly syncopated horn section, to Kinsella's Jamaican-intoned, riveting vocals. The instrumental "This is Drum and Bass" serves perhaps as an atavistic rebuttal to the contemporary techno craze, a reminder of the roots from which such music has sprung.

Many of the album's themes also reflect familiar reggae terrain-"Love is a Fire" preaches that both God's love and love among all peoples can bring about a new era, while "Singers and Players" describes musicians as the harbingers of the new day. Others reflect a more personal bent, such as "Orange and Gold," which describes Kinsella's fondness for his hometown of Ithaca.

The haunting "This is Not the End" stands out on the album, both musically and lyrically, representing what is perhaps the crisis of traditional Afro-Caribbean music in contemporary U. S. commercial culture. Although Bob Marley's popularity has become so pervasive that his face "line[s] the walls of the shopping malls," as the song goes, "black youths of the nation" are still not treated justly; although Jesus signs hang in truck stops, half the world still lives in poverty. For all the seeming futility expressed in these empty symbols, Kinsella urges that this is not the end, suggesting that it is only apathy which can allow the sorry state of the world to escalate to apocalyptic proportions. In this way, John Brown's Body carries on the legacy of its namesake. John Brown's Body plays Jay's this Tuesday, Aug. 17 at 10 p.m. Tickets $8 under 21, $5 21 and over.


Could there be a better example of a something-for-everybody event than the Western Montana Fair? There'll never be another fair like the one you went to when you were six, of course, but even as you develop a mature appreciation of fairtime revelry, there's plenty of growth-retarding fun to be had.

First and foremost, the rides. Which are certainly not for everybody. The Octopus. The Zipper. The Roundup. The Tilt-o-Whirl. Persons of ironclad constitution can theoretically ride these diversions well into their autumn years; some of us have to wonder at precisely what point our metabolisms disavowed such travesties of physics and decided to punish us for trying to recapture our carefree days of youth with bouts of traumatic nausea. Humans have got these little rocks called otoliths in our inner ears that maintain our equilibrium by responding to gravity. These days, mine don't much like getting clacked together like the silver balls in one of those transfer-of-momentum desk novelties.

File:The Western Montana Fair runs through Sunday, Aug. 15. Don't forget the Dramamine.

So there's always the food! Cotton candy. Fry bread and Indian tacos. Miniature pizzas. Breaded cheese curd. Tater pigs. There's also a wide range of cookoffs to drop in on. But you know as well as I do that it doesn't feel like fairtime until you buy a Viking from the Sons of Norway stand-one of those intriguing wads of spiced beef, dipped in batter and deep-fried to arteriosclerotic perfection, best downed in the shade with a half-hour waiting period before even mild physical activity; e.g. ambling up to get another one. Thank the Lord there's not enough Icelanders around to justify a booth selling Icelandic delicacies: putrefied shark's meat buried in volcanic sand for several months and compressed pickled sheep testicle loaf. No kidding. Two Vikings, please, and hold the lutefisk compote.

The agricultural and animal husbandry diversions: kids this year can play Farmer For A Day, trying their wee hands at picking apples, collecting hens' eggs and similar errands. Or you can turn the peanuts loose to enjoy the rabbit show, the llama barn, the terrariums in the Floriculture exhibit, the 4-H exhibit building, magic shows, horseshoeing and forging contests.

For grown-up kids: horse-racing, beer garden, and a wide array of musical acts featured on the Mountain FM 102.5 Stage, including the Cold Mountain Rhythm Band and the Mudsharks on Thursday, Teen Angels and Driftopia on Saturday, and Melisma and choral group Sanctuary on Sunday. This year's headliner is Nashville smoothie John Conlee, bringing the noise at 9 p.m. on Saturday.

And who can resist the games of chance and/or skill, the cranked-up carnies cajoling you into breaking bottles with baseballs, pitching darts at balloons, shooting a full-auto BB gun at a paper target to win one of those cheapo framed rock 'n' roll mirrors. I notice the mirrors aren't as cool as they used to be (maybe because Motley Crue and WASP have been replaced by Marilyn Manson and Backstreet Boys), but you can't stay fifteen forever, can you?

For seating information, ticket prices and the rest of the dope on the Western Montana Fair, call 721-FAIR.

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