Bozeman Split Pea Festival

The guys upstairs wanted me to do a review of the Bozeman Sweet Pea Festival, and since it looked like I'd be in town on Friday evening with little else going on, I promised to hook them up with a few words.

After some typical bureaucratic run-around, I was finally able to get in touch with the main offices of the Festival and the PR person. I explained how I was the reporter for the prestigious Expedition4am website and that I'd love to talk with her for 10 minutes or so and ask some questions for my report. I was certain she'd be impressed that a respected member of the internet journalism community, such as myself, would be interested in giving props to their festival. After all, I was offering free press and the Sweet Pea Festival is a charitable event...
I was in like Flynn.

Not the case. She went off on me like I was calling at dinner time to sell funeral plots. "Expeditions... festivals... you know, we really don't want to be on your website. Not at all... thank you." were her last words before hanging up on me.

Wow! Had rumors about the Expedition4am Crew reached Bozeman already? Did we have a reputation? I was both proud and worried at the same time.

Now, I could have taken this personally, but I'm a highly trained professional. Throw up a wall in front of me and I'll find a way over, under or around it. I am not easily daunted. Besides, I promised the boys upstairs I'd give them a review, and damnit if I wasn't going to deliver.

So Cody mounted his Unicycle and I my Mountain Bike and we took off that evening to witness the one event that seemed way out of place for a small Montana Town like Bozeman --
Break! The Urban Funk Spectacular.

Now first off, I think every rural community has a festival of this sort. In the town I came from it was called the Harvest Festival. The Sweet Pea Festival (or Split Pea Festival, as I find myself referring to it) is 1 part art festival and 3 parts county fair. It has all sorts of community events, from Main Street Parade to kids 1K run to theatre in the park. Artists put their works on display and the eateries showcase some of their notable food items, while local celebs, high school teachers, and council members are on hand to MC the events. Ever seen the movie Doc Hollywood? The local fervor seemed similar to the Squash Festival in that movie. And our car was broken down, so the similarities reached even deeper.

Cody and I showed up at the gate of the city park, paid our 10 bucks each, and were issued pins good for all three days. Inside, we walked past the row of over priced tent-food being served by PTA members-- 5 dollar hamburgers, 3 dollar hotdogs, 2 dollar Arnold Palmers. We found a bike rack, locked out trusty steeds, and made our way to the stage area.

Much to my surprise, people were congregating on by the hundreds. The entire hillside was filled with pasty-white Montanans, eagerly awaiting a taste of Hip-Hop culture-- families with their young children, old folks dressed in polyester, members of the local knitting club. Most sitting on blankets laid out on the grass. I thought, damn!-- Fo shizzle dis hizze gonna pop! WORD!!

Break! The Urban Funk Spectacular is a group formed many years ago to spread the gospel of Hip Hop Culture and dispel the negative image brought on by Gangsta Rap. The show starts off with a voice over, explaining the four artistic elements of Hip-Hop: Graffiti, DJ-ing, MC-ing, and Break Dancing. The show unfolds as an on-stage visual demonstration about Hip-Hop, simplified of course for pasty-white folk who associate rap music with all things evil about the big city.

Flash, the MC and one of the Dancers, told me that one of their missions is to bring the Hip Hop Culture to suburban areas. Their entire troop (read: Posse), which numbers 24 members and tours the country, plays a lot of Junior High and High School assemblies. When I asked Flash what he thought of Bozeman, Montana, he said, Im from the Bronx and have never seen so many mountains in my life."

Mountains? Yeah, there's a few of those up here. But looking out over the crowd, with my sunglasses to cut the glare, even I had never seen so many white people in one place in all my life! And here to get a Hip Hop lesson? Just a hunch, but the four members of Break! had increased the minority population by at least 50% the second they arrived for this gig. They definitely held a monopoly in the ethnicity department at this event.

Fortunately, much like myself, the members of Break! are not easily daunted. Flash and his Crew busted out some grooves and set forth to educate the masses. They performed individual routines mixed in with some choreographed material.

At one point, roughly 10 members of the audience were selected to come on stage. This group was then put through a crash course on The Wave. I don't mean a stadium wave... I'm talking a break dancing wave. They locked hands together in a human chain then made humorous attempts at passing rhythm down the line. Was it a genuine dance lesson or comic segment for the others sitting on the grass? Perhaps a little of both.

The simplistic message and essay-like execution aside, I must admit that Break! The Urban Funk Spectacular knows how to generate audience response. Their ability to infuse their message with entertainment and audience interaction made them a huge hit with a crowd starving for something new and interesting. I mean it when I say the crowd in Bozeman really got into it-- by the end of the show people were off their blankets and on their feet cheering clapping and grooving to the music.

In the end, I gots to give props to the Pea for inviting a group of inner-city guys to bust out lessons on "how to be hip" to people who think Fity Cent is the price of coffee. And a huge shout out to Break! The Urban Funk Spectacular, for braving the stereotypical community fair atmosphere (which I have blatantly used as a comic crutch in this report) in order to cross the cultural landscape of rural America and stir this great melting pot of ours just a little bit more.

As for the rest of the festival... sorry, I skipped it and went Mountain Biking.