WHARTON, Mass. The highlight of the morning session at Shady Acres Day Camp here is always the rhythm band, when pre-schoolers use sand blocks, cowbells and triangles to produce a cacophony of sounds that isn’t quite music, but is an upgrade from pure noise. “Music is an important part of our liturgy,” says Rev. Ian Fraser, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, which sponsors the camp. “Too many people fall asleep during the sermons, and there’s really no polite way to wake them up.”
“Ganja is the weed that our parents need, they use a cullender to remove the seeds–“
But today is the end of the first week of camp, and so the children are being treated to outside entertainment: Robbie Planno, a reggae musician who soared to the top of the Variety Kindergarten Charts with “Sandbox Reggae,” a collection of twelve kids songs set to the off-beat reggae rhythm that captivated dope-smoking college students in the seventies. “They say the beat is very infectious,” says Fraser, “but our campers are required to have shots so I don’t think they’ll come down with anything.”
The presence of the Jamaican musician on the bucolic campgrounds is part of an effort by the Presbyterian Church to reach beyond its traditional base of white Anglo-Saxon dorks in the name of “diversity.” “Our children will grow up in a very different world than we did,” says Ed Pfeiffer as he sits in his Audi waiting for his daughter Chloe. “For instance, I’ll be leaving behind a shit-load of trash that wasn’t there when I was a kid–she’s going to have to deal with that.”
Planno gets the kids going with his chart-topping single “Dreadlocks in the Sandbox,” a jaunty tune that has the kids giggling over the Rastafarian practice of smearing cow dung in their hair to achieve the matted look familiar to many from albums by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. “You take the doo-doo/that you find around you, slap it on your head/to make the locks of dread,” Planno sings in a lilting style that has won him the hearts of millions of former Wiggles fans. Toby Franchette, a four-year-old whose personal hygiene is the subject of frequent criticisms by girl campers already, pursues the novel tonsorial technique with vigor, causing an outbreak of laughter which Ellen Forman, a camp counselor, tries to shush out of a sense that the young boy may be scarred for life by the scorn of his peers.
“Toby, mon, your mama gonna scream when she sees your ‘do!”
Then it’s on to some euphoric experimentation as Plano hands out candy cigarettes and teaches the children proper technique to inhale a “spiff,” rasta-talk for a hand-rolled cigarette of marijuana, which is currently legal only for medicinal uses in this state. “Hey Mr. Cop,” Plano sings, closing his eyes as he emotes, “I got a note from my doc, you can’t arrest me now, so don’t have a cow.”
Frasier and Forman look on with approval, quietly proud of themselves and their openness to other cultures. “Wait until I tell the fellas at the All-Church Town Hall meeting this fall!” Frasier exclaims with a note of self-congratulation, but his face darkens as the pot song comes to an end and Planno launches into a worshipful hymn that salutes Haile Selassie, former emperor of Ethiopia, as a god.
Haile Selassie: “Turn down dat reggae music, mon!”
“Now just a cotton-picking minute,” Frasier says as he rushes to the makeshift stage. “Now you’ve gone too far!”
Planno takes the hint and closes his set with a kid-friendly version of Marley’s “Guava Jelly.” “Ooo-baby, here I am, come rub upon my belly with–peanut butter and jelly.”