Sitting at one of the many hand-decorated coffee tables in EVP Coffee on East Washington Avenue, Aaron Konkol, keyboardist and backing vocalist for the band Natty Nation, is visibly distraught. With his laptop open, he tells me that he's had some difficulty with Facebook and inviting groups of friends to the upcoming Black Friday show at the High Noon Saloon.
"It's annoying considering how much time we spend setting these things up," Konkol says. "We want to make sure everyone gets a proper invite, and then when you need it to work, things get all screwy."
Also upsetting is the picture of a bleeding dog that someone has posted on his page's wall. He turns the screen in my direction, disgusted. "What are people thinking?" he asks, although whether he is referring to the poster of the photo or the original photographer remains unclear. Probably both.
Such a reaction is unsurprising from the member of a band that for sixteen years has written socially conscious reggae music in Madison. Along with members Jah Boogie (lead vocals), Louka Patenaude (guitar) and Francisco Martinez (drums and backing vocals), the band has made a name for itself as one of the city's most endearing groups, both for the rich, earnest quality of its music as well as the dedication it has showed to fans.
Returning from a life-changing tour of the Middle East and Africa in 2008, the High Noon Saloon hosted a welcome home party for the band the day after Thanksgiving, an event they hoped would gather long-time friends and family of the group as an alternative to our country's celebration of consumer goods. Three years later, a Black Friday performance has since become an annual tradition for the band, both as a way to show fan appreciation as well as shed light on some of the more harrowing parts of holiday history that are silently ignored.
With singer JAH Boogie joining us at the table, half of Natty Nation began to discuss with The Daily Page the origins of the Black Friday show, why they won't be shopping on this day of consumer mayhem, and what they are thankful for this holiday season.
The Daily Page: It's become customary these last few years to have a Natty Nation show on Black Friday at the High Noon Saloon. Could you tell me about your history with the venue and how the tradition began?
Aaron Konkol: This upcoming show will be the fourth annual Black Friday show. It started out as our coming home party when we did a tour of the Middle East and Africa. We've always had a good relationship with Cathy [Dethmers] at the High Noon Saloon, and it's a venue we enjoy playing. Also, I think Black Friday is a hard day for venues to book shows since most bands have members that are away with their families for Thanksgiving, but since all of the musicians in the group live in or close to Madison, it's the perfect time and place for us to have a show for our families and long time Madison fans.
Do you guys go out on Black Friday and take advantage of the sales?
JAH Boogie: I think we do the opposite. We try and focus inwards and more on the real facts of Thanksgiving and what it's about. Last year we did a Black Friday show themed around the idea of "Thanks-Taking".
Konkol: It was a nice play on words that Boogie came up with, so we had Geronimo and Marcus Garvey on the poster. The idea was to shed light on the lesser known history of the holiday, and this country in general. It's a part of history that I think a lot of people don't think about, the taking of land from American Indians and Africans into slavery.
JAH Boogie: So I don't think we're gonna be flooding the malls. [Laughs]
It also seems strange that the day after a holiday meant to bring families together is followed immediately by a day of rampant, consumer mayhem where people spend most of their day standing in lines away from their families
JAH Boogie: With people getting crushed to death on their way into Walmart. It's like, come on, man!
Konkol: I was watching CNN this morning before I headed into work, and I saw that Toys"R"Us is even planning on opening up this year at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Other stores like Target will also be opening at midnight, meaning that those employees don't even get to enjoy the holiday before the craziness that they have to endure on Black Friday. Now all these stores are trying to push the opening time forward to get the jump on their competition, so where is it gonna stop? Soon there's gonna be "Black Wednesday", then "Black Tuesday".
JAH Boogie: So hopefully the Natty show is an alternative to some of the craziness of that day. It'll be a place where people can come together to listen to music. And actually you could say we take part in the sales, because we'll be having our own sale on Natty merch, and the tickets will be five bucks compared to the usual $10. And Natty CDs and hoodies make great holiday gifts!
Konkol: But the merch and admission sales have more to do with the fact that like we said before, this show brings out a lot of familiar faces, of people that have been supporting us for up to sixteen years now. So there's no real better time than this show to have a fan appreciation show.
Last year there was a story about a Wisconsin woman who cut in line at a Toys"R"Us on Black Friday and threatened to shoot anyone who had a problem with it. Being the socially conscious band that you guys are, I was wondering if you've ever thought about doing a pick-up show in front of a Best Buy or Barnes and Noble on Black Friday to maybe help facilitate the peace
JAH Boogie: That's a good idea. [Laughs]
Konkol: I mean, it's a good idea, but at the same time...
Or is that a war zone you just don't even want to get into?
JAH Boogie: Hey, man, we've been to real war zones. But a bunch of soccer moms? That could get pretty rough. [Laughs]
Konkol: We're all consumers, so we're not trying to say that taking advantage of sales is inherently wrong. I'd be lying if I said that I haven't stood in line before to get a cheap hard drive!
JAH Boogie: Hey, it helps boost the economy, right?
Konkol: If we played in front of a store in that kind of setting, it'd be pretty tough to hear the lyrics, which would make it hard for most people to differentiate whether we were supporting the rabid consumerism or not. So on the one hand, it seems like it might be a good idea, but on the other hand, it might be counterproductive for what we strive for as a band.
Can you tell me about the bands who will be accompanying you at the Black Friday show?
Konkol: T.U.G.G. is one of the bands. They're from La Crosse. They play really good reggae music that's infused with a kind of ska sound. Some bands get weird about comparing them to other bands, but I'd say if you were a fan of Sublime you'd like T.U.G.G. So don't get me wrong, I make the comparison as a compliment and in no way to take away from the band. They definitely do their own thing.
JAH Boogie: Basically they're a band we think people in Madison should come and see. You can decide for yourself how you'd describe their sound at the show.
And Tropical Riddims Sound System?
Konkol: They're a DJ collective who for 30 years or so have had a reggae show on WORT 89.9 FM that I've been listening to ever since I was a little kid. It's called Tropical Riddims, and it's on every Saturday from Noon to 2 p.m. It's hosted by DJ F.R.P., J.A.M., and Ras Ztlan.
JAH Boogie: Let's put it this way: I've seen them get gray. [Laughs]
Konkol: [Laughs] You're gonna call them out like that?
JAH Boogie: Hey, they'd say the same about me.
Konkol: F.R.P. and his crew have been a great ally to us all these years since the radio show is so popular. They'll be spinning right when the doors open at 8:30 until T.U.G.G. goes on, in between sets, and after we're done, so the dance party won't stop.
JAH Boogie: I think we need to point out too that they'll be spinning on actual vinyl, also.
Konkol: Definitely need to point that out. So if you're looking for deals on Friday, all this great music for five bucks isn't so bad.
As you said before, this is the time of year to give thanks. I was wondering if you could tell me a few of the things you are thankful for this year?
JAH Boogie:We are definitely thankful for a lot of the blessings in our lives. The chance to create new music, gain new fans, see new parts of the country that we'd never been to before.
Konkol: We did a tour recently of nine shows in nine days, so we got to meet a lot more fans who were really supportive and made us feel welcome. Places in Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio. So that was a blessing. I'm definitely thankful for all of the support from the community and from the fans across the country for giving us so much love and support. We really couldn't do it without all of them, and we never take that for granted. I'm also beyond thankful to be playing with such amazing musicians.
JAH Boogie: We're also thankful for friends and supporters like EVP Coffee here on East Washington Ave. who as you can see behind me sell our popular red gold and green Wisconsin Solidari-T-shirts.
Konkol: We also have some news that's kinda bittersweet: we'll be saying goodbye to one of our members, Francisco Martinez, who's moving to Austin. But we're being joined by two great musicians: Spiffy on guitar, who's an extremely accomplished gospel musician and session guitarist, and PJ, a 22 year old drummer who was featured on MTV's Making the Band with P.Diddy and even went on tour with them. So this show will be special because it's going to be a mixture of the recent past with Francisco and Louka Patenaude, and the future of Natty with Spiff & PJ. It's always sad to say goodbye to old members, but we're really excited and grateful to be writing new music with such a great group of guys.
JAH Boogie: It's also nice because we get to infuse some of the old songs with new blood. We had the new guys learn over 30 songs from our back catalog. [Laughs]
Konkol: It's been interesting seeing what they add to it, because we've never been a band that plays our songs the same every time we do it. We change along with the musicians we're playing with and we feed off the crowd's energy, too. So we're consciously revamping a lot of our old tunes recently, seeing what we can do with them, creating new transitions between songs, and bringing back some songs like "If I Could" that we haven't played in awhile.
JAH Boogie: It's a breath of fresh air, really.
With the new band members, do you have plans to release an album any time soon, or are you focusing more on playing live together?
Konkol: The plan is to have an album out in 2012. As soon as you put an exact date on when it'll drop, it creates a lot of unwanted pressure [Laughs], so I can't say exactly when it'll come out. We also plan to keep doing whatever we can to get Governor Scott Walker out of office, including having recall petitions at this show for everyone to sign.
JAH Boogie: We'll be having a lot of new music come out in 2012 regardless, whether it's in the form or an album or singles released through our Bandcamp website. We're always moving in new directions with the music, so that'll be something people can look forward to. There's going to be a lot of fresh stuff coming up. We're definitely going to be touring more and going to more places that we haven't been to. I won't get into exactly how we're going to approach the new year, but it's going to be exciting and full of stuff we haven't done before. I can say that much.
Natty Nation and friends play their Black Friday show at the High Noon Saloon. Ages 18 and up, $5 cover charge, with doors opening at 8 p.m. You can check out more on Natty Nation and the concert at the band's website.