Rawls is the lead singer for the 15-member reggae group Still Flyin', which I have written about in this space before and which I look forward to writing about again and again, because Still Flyin' is a sweet-ass band. Over the last two months, Rawls had been diligently making the preparations for the first annual Mind Zap Festival and sending out updates. Mind Zap, Rawls promised, would feature hot tubs and free beer and "spiritual" brownies; it would feature a Mystery Tent and Mind Tokens, whatever those were; there would be a homemade bar shaped like a giant, smoking joint; and there would be music: Erase Errata, Still Flyin', Okay, Je Suis France, Whysp, Weed Wolf, Lil' Flip Scoldjah, and Chicken on a Raft. Who were those bands? We weren't sure about most of them, but Rawls' e-mails made the whole thing hard to pass up:
"Remember the sixties? This is better. ... One outdoor, mind-obliterating show in a park (inter-band jamming welcomed/drum circles circled/ beer helmets flowing/ makeshift hot tubs bubbling/ corndogs frying). The Mind Zap Festival will be an event, a concert, and most importantly, a party -- wild and weird, yet comforting. Will you fly with us?"
"Yes," we answered, looking skyward at the gray nastiness as we parked the car and walked toward the hubbub. A friend who was planning to meet us called to say it was pouring in the Lower Haight.
The McLaren Park amphitheater seems like it could conceivably be the site of a mind zapping. The large stage looks out on row after row of brand-new wooden benches, which creep up a hill and give way to a sloping grassy field, atop which there's a tree, in which climbed hippies, next to which sat the Mystery Tent, a simple brown camping tent that you could stick your hand into for a pleasant or not-so-pleasant surprise (one friend got a handful of shaving cream, another received two Hershey's Kisses). When we arrived at 1 o'clock, half the spiritual brownies had been eaten and about 50 people were watching Chicken on a Raft, whose shtick consisted of the a cappella singing of verses between which the audience sang, "Chicken on a Raft." We were glad we'd arrived late. So far, no rain.
"We don't want you to harsh anyone's mellow," a Mind Zap program informed us, "but the ideal for today is everyone here blowing each other's minds with amazement." Rawls and friends had taken the first well-meaning steps: The hot tub consisted of a tiny kid's pool that someone had poured hot water into; the Mind Tokens, which could be exchanged for beer, were large foam discs covered in tinfoil; the joint-bar puffed with smoke from a smoke machine. It was all quite cute, and the complimentary red headbands reading "Mind Zap" that everyone was wearing, plus the whole "nestled in the woods" thing, gave the event a certain Neverland-ish quality -- and that is always a good thing.
The fairy tale continued when Lil' Flip Scoldjah took the stage. Scoldjah is a band made up of Rawls' friends from Athens, Ga., and it plays what it calls "fantasy rap." Slinking onstage wearing capes and cloaks and hoods, the four members gyrated and bounced as low-budget beats farted out of the speakers. When the lone MC and only musically contributing member of the group took the mike (said MC will heretofore be referred to as "74," for that was the number on the shirt he was wearing), one of his dancing cronies threw open his red cape and revealed that he was wearing nothing but black Jockey shorts.
"This next song is told from the viewpoint of a little elfish lad," 74 informed us as another crony pushed "play" on an iPod. The frontman then rapped with all the rhythm of an English sheepdog, his syllables dribbling out the way your dad's do when he tries to imitate hip hop. Keep in mind that he was flanked by three dancers dressed like they were off to a Dungeons & Dragons convention. A few minutes later we were treated to the tune "Ride Out, Gandalf, Ride Out."
It was, in other words, completely genius. If all of hip hop were like this, rappers would settle disputes not with guns and ammo but with 20-sided die and illustrated playing cards. Lil' Flip Scoldjah embodies that beautiful dream.
Next came Weed Wolf, yet another side project from Erase Errata's Jenny Hoyston, who (for this one) wears a stuffed-animal wolf on her head and sings through effects boxes -- much like her big, bad namesake -- as accordion and silly beats play in the background. It was pretty stupid (this from a guy who just called fantasy rap genius), and since we were informed that Mind Zap marked the final appearance of Weed Wolf, I will simply move on to ...
Whysp. What I can tell you about Whysp is that it includes a couple members of the fine, fine disco dork-rock band the Lowdown and that it's from Santa Cruz. Also, one of the guys in the group was wearing what looked like a hallway rug as he played the electric guitar. Furthermore, I did not like Whysp. This is because I do not like: a) hippies; b) hippies playing sitars; c) hippies who sing songs "about a baby tree"; or d) songs about baby trees that jangle with the noise of tambourines and acoustic guitars and bongos, build to a climax, then stop, giving everyone in the crowd the relieved feeling that the song is over, only to begin again in such a way as to make everyone feel that the baby tree song was designed to annoy.
"This next song is a new one," said the seated singer in the green Converse. "It's about vibes."
Whysp had harshed our mellow.
Je Suis France, on the other hand, did no such thing. Comprised of the members of Lil' Flip Scoldjah as well as Rawls himself, the band delivered what sounded like the brawny surf music of the Ventures as played by one of those hip punk-funk bands, such as !!! or Outhud. Mr. 74 is in this band, too, but seemingly just for show: Je Suis lets him beat a few drums in a corner the way Pavement let Bob Nostanovich act like a monkey onstage. "This next song's stupid," announced a band member before the group launched into it. Now that's more like it.
After Je Suis came Okay, the magical mystery-pop band of Marty Anderson that you should all have familiarized yourself with by now. Normally I wouldn't be writing about a band I'd already written a huge story about, but it turns out there have been some new developments with Okay: The former nine-piece is now hovering around five members, a core group that includes Jay and Ian Pelicci on drums and guitar, respectively, Anderson on keyboards and playing a little guitar, and Trevor Montgomery on bass. Of the nine original members, it's safe to say that these guys are the most talented musicians, which means that if they keep the membership down, Okay could evolve in a direction similar to Anderson and the Pelicci brothers' last band, Dilute, which was one of the most mind-numbingly awesome bands of all time. But I digress.
Still Flyin' came on next, having added three people to its already sizable lineup, making for an 18-member reggae act that had a good two dozen audience members dancing, including small children, which was cute though disconcerting, considering the joint-bar. As SF Weekly contributor Chris Baty pointed out not too long ago, fun is the new not-fun, and Still Flyin' exemplifies that ethos. Sure, it's weird and maybe even sacrilegious to indulge an all-white collective of former indie rockers playing reggae, but then again, the shit's just jubilant and crazy-good, and what's the matter with that?
Erase Errata closed the show, but I don't like that band and I'm not going to bother telling you about it. Besides, after Still Flyin' everyone was tired and not really interested in listening to skronky nervous rock. Or maybe that just describes me and my friends. Whatever. The final act didn't harsh our mellow because Mind Zap was a pretty rousing success overall.
It wasn't the '60s, though. Despite the spiritual brownies and the rug-wearing hippies, Mind Zap was a distinctly '00s affair. Why, you ask? Because of rampant insularity. This bunch was whiter than an audience at a Bruce Springsteen concert. In fact, the whole festival felt like a celebration of white awkwardness: white kids singing fantasy rap; white kids playing Middle Eastern sitar jams; white kids performing reggae. I'm sure it wasn't intentional or racist, but for those of us who noticed, it was kind of weird. It must not have bothered that God of Outdoor Music Festivals, though, because as it poured throughout most of San Francisco that day, not a single drop of rain hit a single person at Mind Zap -- it was sunny the whole time. Now that's kind of mind-blowing.