The Hopmonk Tavern’s dance floor is packed in front of the DJ tables onstage. Reggae beats, dub tracks -- the guy scratching gleefully up there even throws in a funk/soul number for good measure. Irie people groove, and couples grind to the sounds, which mingle with the smoke in the air. At the other end of the venue, the Hopmonk's home brewed ales are poured and there’s an entrance to an expansive patio, where greenery of all stripes sets the scene. This is Monday Night Edutainment with DJ Jacques and DJ Guacamole. And this is Sebastopol?
Maybe I’m the only to be surprised by this- that a town with a population just under eight thousand that’s better known for its apple orchards and vineyards, has been having its Monday nights taken over by a reggae party for nine years straight. But Jacques and Guac's brainchild, Monday Night Edutainment, is not just a small town scene. The party pulls in its share of guest stars like Sister Carol, Norris Man, Mega Banton- even Pam the Funkstress has been known to pass through the joint on occasion. Jacques and Guac recently threw a get-down for International Women's Day featuring an all female lineup, and have an upcoming 4/20 eve blowout featuring British artists Mad Professor, Chukki Starr and Gappy Ranks (April 19).
But when the two DJs, who operate as the WBLK Dancehall Massive, first started scratching on Mondays, the music's ascendency in town wasn’t quite as evident. “Reggae shows would sometimes come through the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, or the Last Day Saloon in Santa Rosa, but there was never really a reggae presence in Sebastopol,” says DJ Jacques, whose gigs have taken him as far as High Times’ Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.
That began to change when the duo met each other, initially as jam band percussionists, at local drum circles and shows. Jacques was a transplant from Boston, Guacamole a native Californian- but their musical tastes were complimentary enough that the two started looking into collaborative efforts. “We have different lists of favorites. There's definitely crossover between us- but that makes it more fun,” explains Jacques.
Eventually, they started a weekly reggae/dancehall night, originally at Irish pub Jasper O'Farrell's, that would feature a type of performance they dubbed a ‘DJ set,’ where guest artists would sing over the ‘version,’ beats selected by the DJ. When unaccompanied by a vocalist, Guac and Jacques would play sets, occasionally trying to one-up each other to see who could throw down the nicest flow. “That makes for a dope session where we’re constantly trying new things,” says Jacques.
The sets garnered a reputation that started attracting heads from beyond Sebastopol’s farm fields and sleepily upscale boho downtown. “We have folks that come through every week from all over the Bay area,” says Jacques. “Many of our crowd are musicians or people who work in the service industry that have Monday nights off. The night of the party often attracts artists in the area for big name weekend shows. They drop into the Hopmonk, Jacques says, “to hang out and enjoy the vibes” as well as perform. Nowadays, Sebastopol reggae parties are increasing in popularity, perhaps an inevitable progression for an area heavy in ganja culture.
Even as they helped to expand the area's musical horizons, for the WBLK Dancehall Massive duo the mission continues- not only to play reggae’s best new jams, but to bring freshness to the Sebastopol music scene. “As the person who introduces music to the masses, we have a responsibility to seek new songs, artist and styles,” philosophizes Jacques. “In the immortal words of George Clinton, ‘free your mind and your ass will follow.’” All the way up to Sonoma County? As the prime minister of funk commands, so shall it be.
Monday Night Edutainment w/ Jacques & Guac
9 p.m. every Monday, $5
230 Petaluma, Sebastopol