by Leah Sottile and Mike Corrigan

So I didn't know what 'jah' meant. Upon hearing Marcus Garvey's name, I swore it was a guy I'd gone to high school with. And Burning Spear? That sounded to me like some sort of traditional Celtic and heavy metal fusion band. Shows what I know.

In fact, 'jah' is the word used by Rastafarians to refer to God, Marcus Garvey is the founder of said religious movement, and Burning Spear - well, you might call him one of the godfathers of reggae. Man, did I feel like an idiot.

My feelings of idiocy only sharpened after finding out that not only has Winston Rodney, aka Burning Spear, been in the reggae biz for over 35 years and is a Grammy-winning artist, but he came into his fame through none other than Mr. Bob Marley, himself. That was back in the mid-'60s, when Rodney ran into Marley, both native residents of St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, and spoke with him about his musical aspirations. Marley suggested that he take his talent to a Studio One executive. He was signed shortly thereafter, and saw his first smash hit ("Joe Frazier (He Prayed)") after only a few years of work.

From the get-go, making music was never about making money for Rodney - it was his way of expressing his appreciation for life, his religion and his culture. He officially started referring to himself and his band as "Burning Spear" early in his career. The name came from the one given to Jomo Kenyatta, a political activist who was jailed for advocating for a free and democratic Kenya. (Kenyatta later went on to become the first president of the African nation.)

From his tour bus somewhere along the Florida coast, Rodney (or "Spear," as his publicist calls him) says that, even today, his music has ceased to change.

"I have never changed my course - it's not possible," he explains.

When I ask him how he could be so sure that his course is right, he tersely insists that he is "on the right course," and that there's no reason for him to change it. Perhaps it's his unwavering persistency that has kept him going for this long.

That "right" musical course that Rodney speaks of is one that has been paved with his beliefs and his unfaltering pride in his Jamaican heritage - and it's been clear since his first album. The record was bluntly titled Marcus Garvey, paying homage to his spiritual idol. Later that year he released Garvey's Ghost, an album professed by many as the landmark beginning of "dub" - a spin-off of reggae music.

Rodney explains that he, his religious beliefs and his music are inseparable.

"I am a Rasta man and the Rasta man is in the music business," he says. "The message is in the music and the music is in the message."

I have no idea what he means, but I giggle when he says "Rasta Man" in his thick Jamaican accent.

Now with one Grammy, a number of nominations, and more than 30 records -- yes, you read that right -- Rodney has no intention of slowing down now. In fact, his press bio says to "get ready for the next 35 years." He's 59 now.

"I just try to keep myself in the best of health and take the best care of myself," he says of his strategy to stay in the business.

When he's gone, he says, he just wants people to be sure of who he was.

"I just need people to know who Spear was, and what Spear stood for. I want people to remember me as Mr. Music."

Sandpoint Comes Alive -- As you read this, the Festival at Sandpoint, that blissful and most tuneful escape from the mid-summer drudgery of job, burning pavement and lawn mowing, is in full swing. Now celebrating its 22nd season (wow, has it really been that long?), the Festival once again shines with a wildly diverse lineup of musical acts filling eight evenings with world-class entertainment. And that setting -- on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille at Memorial Park's outdoor amphitheater -- is gorgeous, simply gorgeous.

If you're picking this paper up on Thursday, you can probably still beat the city heat (and the traffic) and catch the incomparable Lou Rawls (he performs Aug. 5). If it's Friday, well, you've still got a chance to hear folk-pop legend Jim Messina (on Aug. 6). But the concert that typically attracts the most attention, the one that provides music lovers with the most musical bang for the buck, happens on Saturday -- "Super" Saturday, that is. While every night of the Festival has something worthy to offer, Super Saturday is considered to be the zenith, the show with all stops removed. And as in past seasons, the Festival organizers have weaved a theme into this year's Saturday night's show. True to its moniker, this year's Super Country Saturday concert will feature the indomitable double-headed force of country-blues-rocker Delbert McClinton as the headliner and Nashville-based upstart Dierks Bentley as the opener.

Bentley is a relative newbie to the country music industry (his 2003 self-titled debut on Capitol Records produced the runaway hit, "What Was I Thinkin'?"), with an aptitude and a healthy respect for the traditional. Like a great piece of maple stripped down to the grain, Bentley's modern, no-bull spin on roadhouse country, honky-tonk and bluegrass is attracting the attention of critics and fans from more than a few points on the popular music spectrum. His songs draw from real life -- not the caricatured "real" life of country music clich & eacute;s, but the experiences of a young man trying to maintain his integrity and career in a world (and recording industry) that seems hell-bent on corruption.

"I don't have a storybook tale to tell, as many entertainers do, about growing up in a musical family," says Bentley. "I wasn't singing harmonies in the church by age 5 and I wasn't fronting the family band by age 10. Everything I learned musically, I had to learn on my own. My country music education has consisted of listening to a lot records and spending a lot of time listening and playing in Nashville bars and clubs."

The Phoenix, Ariz., native headed out for Music City USA when he was just 19. Upon his arrival, Bentley and his trusty guitar immediately dove right into the Nashville music scene -- a scene, he says, that has little in common with the slick, radio-friendly sounds that endlessly flow from the city's many studios.

"Most people who don't live in Nashville probably associate the music scene here with what they hear on their radio, but there is so much more going on. There's a lot of great live music that doesn't get a whole lot of recognition outside of the city."

And it was in those dive bars with sticky floors, leaky ceilings and cigarette smoke so thick you could cut it with a pocketknife that Bentley found not only his inspiration, but also his calling.

"I once heard George Jones say in an interview that country music was like religion to him," he says. "I couldn't agree more. It's where I turn when times are tough and I need answers. It's also where I go when I want to cut loose and have fun. As a singer and songwriter, it's not only how I make a living but what gives me direction and purpose in life."

Ska 4 Free -- Free stuff is always good. And free music -- whenever you can get it -- is as good as a carton of ice cream sandwiches on a 90-degree day (almost). Case in point: the free live music jive this Saturday night, compliments of local ska-rockers 10 Minutes Down and the nice folks at the Liberty Lake Friends of Pavillion Park Summer Festival 2004. They're calling it a teen dance party. But you can call it good times.

For eight years running, the F.O.P.P. have been treating our fair community to free outdoor movies and live music events. With a blanket (or short beach-type chair) and a little something to snack on -- bring your own or score a bite from the Liberty Lake Kiwanis food concession booth -- you are pretty much set for summertime fun on the cheap.

Yet there's nothing cut-rate about the entertainment. Take 10 Minutes Down, for instance. Since forming in 1997, this high-energy, seven-member squad has been building a solid name for itself all over the Northwest the old-fashioned way -- by taking its skin-tight, highly danceable and outright explosive stage show directly to the people (locally and throughout the country). They've also got a couple of albums under their collective belts (Fluke being the latest) along with several Warped Tour appearances.

And don't forget to mark your calendars and PDAs for the Aug. 14 Pavillion Park concert featuring Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Yes, that Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the very same Big Bad Voodoo Daddy that found platinum success by helping to spearhead the late-'90s swing revival. BBVD also gained film notoriety for its contributions to the movie Swingers.

Publication date: 08/05/04

Rocky Votolato @ House Show (see website for details)

Tue., Oct. 4, 8 p.m.
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