6/11 Idaho Magazine Features - "The Demons of Boulder Lake" (non-fiction)

Daniel Claar - Idaho's Premier Backcountry Writer

Winner - Idaho Magazine Publisher's Choice Award 2010
"The Proper Filter"

Winner - Idaho Magazine Judge's Choice Award 2011
"Where the River Leads"

"Hot Spring Break "

"Stampede! "

"Seeing Things"
Winner - Idaho Magazine Second Place 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rock the Mountain

          “Rooooock the Mountaaaaaaiiiiiiin!”

          The hoarse call knifes across the nomadic city of brightly colored tents, through the drone of a distant speed metal band, and the battle cry is immediately echoed by hundreds of nearby campers. The handful of us sitting in a smoker's huddle, submerged to our waists in Grimes Creek, raise our drinks for the countless time to toast the weekend mantra. Rock the mountain indeed. I’m not sure how I was talked into coming back to this annual festival, but the perseverance is just getting underway. Rock the Mountain isn’t so much a celebration of all things heavy metal as it is a gauntlet of sheer attrition. Three days of brutal July temperatures, hellish hangovers, and music played at ear-shattering decibels tests the mettle of even the strongest man and only the foolish come back for more.

          Mixing a blessing with a curse, pain is a fleeting memory. I once read that if women could accurately remember the sensations of childbirth, they'd never willingly get pregnant again. Rock the Mountain works in a similar sort of fashion. That's the only excuse I can think of for recognizing so many, of what to me our now, regulars. Some of them recall me as well. I see it in their eyes... and overtly hear it their voices, like when a security guard couldn't comprehend the fact I wasn't there to perform. Hoping to give me a confidence boost before taking the stage, I instead became a sort of leprous beggar after explaining that my heart just wasn't in the music anymore. For a moment I thought he might tear the neon wristband from my arm and send me packing. I guess some circles are harder to escape than others.

          An invite to this event is no doubt laced with promises of free flowing alcohol, cheap drugs, and rampant nudity, making it the ideal mecca for scores of disenchanted, testosterone dripping young males and the occasional lady they talk into three days of filth, heat exhaustion, vocals that were never intended to be in any sort of key, and hearing loss inducing amplifiers. Hell, my wife attended the festival exactly once and fled the debauchery before it was over, vowing never to return. I’ve said on more than one occasion that my wife is smarter than me. Every year, I come home dead tired, dehydrated, hung over, strung out, and suffering from a mild case of sun stroke. Almost impossible to comprehend is the fact I am back for the sixth time.

          The first five trips can be excused. As previously alluded, I was actually one of the performers during that half-decade reign. Through some cosmic chance and circumstance, I found myself fronting a pseudo-political four piece and occasionally playing some rhythm guitar. For a garage rock band operating in the anemic Boise music scene, Rock the Mountain is about as good a gig as one can expect. Granted, you don’t get paid, but you do at least get an audience that doesn't consist of your circle of friends being subjected to your act for the one-hundredth time. Outside of weekends, and in just a handful of venues, the same can rarely be said for even a money making show during the week. Idahoans aren't really known for their late night, free-spirited, club-hopping ways. Surly, pragmatic, and conservative are adjectives coming more readily to mind and our musicians don't fall far from the apple tree.

          The performers at Rock the Mountain tend to embrace an ideology of either violence or depression, although the more creative acts figure out a way to blend the two. In all fairness though, efforts have been made in recent years to somewhat diversify the acts. Still, for the majority of bands, there is very little in the way of vocal melody structure, tone rich acoustics, or lyrics pondering social concerns, politics, or god forbid, environmental concerns. This is Idaho after all.

          The occasional deciphered growl is more geared towards self-loathing, hating others, and telling the world to piss off, and they are usually delivered by some beer-bellied screamer trying to act tough. Like I said, I should know because I was one of them. Although, rest assured, my tough guy act was genuine. The powers governing the universe won’t let you front a band called GuerrillaWrench unless you can rock out the camouflage shorts with some sense of soldier like authority. And if I didn’t, piss off, let me go about believing that I did.

          After the drama-filled conclusion of GuerrillaWrench, a door through which all bands must pass, the bass player and drummer (also my little brother), forged ahead with a new band christened Boss Hawg and the Short Bus. As the name implies, the theory of political correctness doesn’t register on their radar. They are carving out their own crass niche in the Boise music scene with classics like “Ball Gags are Fun,” “The Ballad of the Chigronese,” and the You-Tube inspired, “Monkey Fuckin’ a Toad.” As you may have guessed, there are zero sacred cows in their paradigm. Just ask the one-legged lady who recently complained about their crudity only to wind up with a song written in her honor. Cruel? Yes. Sophomoric? Yes. Funny? I am going straight to Hell, but yes. That’s just how the Short Bus rolls…

          As it was with GuerrillaWrench’s first Rock the Mountain performance, Boss Hawg was handed a crappy time slot during the hottest part of the day. Like true rockers, they performed their sweaty hearts out to me, the guitar player’s new girlfriend, and a bunch of spectators hiding in the shade about fifty yards away. Despite the handicap, they gradually won over the distant crowd and even managed to slap a cherry on top with a spirited finale called “Hard-Core Puppet Porn.” A song that had even the true metal heads throwing up the devil horns. GuerrillaWrench managed a superior performance on each subsequent trip to Rock the Mountain and I suspect it will be the same for Boss Hawg and the Short Bus.

          Sitting in Grimes Creek after their performance, I offer my honest appraisal of their set, which I know my little brother appreciates. I mix in the good with the bad, but mostly, I am just happy to see my family and friends still doing what they love. What has replaced my affinity for band practice, landing gigs, and rocking out in a live setting, is really what makes this weekend such a unique festival - the mountains. We aren't deep in Idaho backcountry by any means, but we are out in the sticks and surrounded on all sides by densely pine covered hillsides. There isn't a city light or paved road as far the eye can see. I had to leave my backpack at home or the temptation to flee the hectic scene and vanish into the woods might have been overwhelming. Instead, I'll settle for drinking my nervous energy and naturally reclusive nature into submission.

          What I do appreciate about this outdoor musical festival is that it actually forces people to camp. There are no cabins or hotels around these parts. However, despite Idaho being a mecca for all things wilderness related, most of the aforementioned “regulars” are not exactly what I'd call experienced backwoodsmen. If campfires were allowed, there is no way I'd even attend. I have no desire to burn to death with a bunch of screaming dipshits who still haven't figured out the rudimentary basics of fire, something even our caveman ancestors had mastered.

          Our camp once saved the entire valley from burning when some jackasses kicked their flaming propane stove into a meadow of dry grass. Were it not for Boss Hawg's future guitar player having brought a fire extinguisher, the entire treasure valley would have been cleansed of its metal-head population. Something the cops would cheer, except that they'd lose a couple of their own in the hypothetical blaze; they do make their presence known at Rock the Mountain.

          A couple years back, my little brother, who as a child, I affectionately dubbed “Hawg”, fished one of these greenhorns out of Ol' Grimey. We had renamed the creek for its penchant of running disturbingly warm and the wasted savages always sitting upstream. In any case, the young kid had been tripping balls on acid, been separated from his friends, and had no idea where he was in the moonless night.  Little did he know, the kid was probably better off staying in the creek.

          Shivering cold he hunkered down in a chair while Hawg graciously hooked him up with a steaming mug of tea. Only problem, it was mushroom tea and before long the psychedelic madness took hold once more and off he went spiraling into the dark on his magical quest to find home. From our individual tents, we all vividly recount hearing his voice at the crack of dawn over by the wall of overflowing urinals screaming, “My name is John and I don't know where I am!” A desperate and panicked admission that left us all chuckling in our sleep deprived state.

          It may have been GuerrillaWrench's last gig at Rock the Mountain that resolved any lingering doubts I had about ending my career as a musician and it wasn't because we played a bad show. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our thirty minute set around dusk woke the crowd up for the first time all day and we upstaged several better known acts in the process. We also nearly literally destroyed the stage with our frenetic bouncing and foot stomping.

          My fondest memory was making eye contact with the bass player, and nodding towards the hole he was tearing in the stage floor, only for him to respond in all earnest with an “I don't give a fuck.” I remember turning to the audience with a shit-eating grin and announcing at the top of my lungs, “We're GuerrillaWrench and we don't give a fuck.” As the crowd cheered, and a front row wave of flashing breasts nearly tripped up the song, I realized our band was at the peak of its existence. It wasn't going to get any better than it was at that moment and I was at peace with moving on. Besides, beyond the sweaty masses, beyond the temporary town of tents, even above and beyond Ol' Grimey, I could already hear the mountains calling my name.

          I no longer belong amongst humanity, not for any length of time anyway. The thrill I once experienced from making music with a tight-knit bunch of genuine friends has been replaced with an overwhelming desire to seek out the most isolated and quiet stretches of wilderness left on our dying planet. Removing myself from the root cause of our mother's sickness is about the only way I can keep from dying myself, or even worse, being unable to resist the temptation to help her cleanse our environment of the worst offenders. Although a writer these days, if I get the music itch, I can still take my acoustic deep into woods and play a one man show for the bears and wolves. At this point, I suspect they're the only ones who'd understand any art of my creation.

Lyrical excerpt from “Trash Fiction” by GuerrillaWrench

The rigid heads
In today’s traffic jam

Accept the latest delay
Were I half the man
I claim to be
I would walk away
From you soulless machines

But as long as we sit here
Enduring the end
And this deliberate suffocation
The bad guys always win

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