The Birthday Party

We could hear the music as we threaded through the trees, down the twisting, rocky path. Fir trees, moss, ferns crowded the narrow trail. The cedar house to which we are going sits on the edge of a sharp fall off. It’s Allen Dobb’s ( fiftieth birthday. His wife, Vivienne, is holding a party for him and the birthday party has morphed into a concert. Allen has put a temporary frame over the upper deck, covered it in plastic to accommodate everyone who can’t fit inside.

When we arrive, Allen’s already on stage, the stage being the dining room that is raised a couple of feet above the living room. This room is really three rooms, raised dining area, living room, kitchen. We take a seat in the chairs on the deck. When the set is over, everyone gets up, heads for the wine and cheese and conversation.

Allen loves apple pie so I’ve baked him two. I’m also giving him a copy of my latest book, What The Bear Said. I get a quick hug from his wife, Vivienne, but then she’s gone. She’s a dynamo in action, checking on the chili and the Jamaican curry that’s cooking, making sure there’s wine and wine glasses, greeting everyone. There already are baskets of artisanal bread on the counter.

The house is quite amazing. The roof of this central room is held up by a massive post, a tree trunk that has had the bark stripped off. From this post, pie shaped sections of roof fan outward. The walls angle away from each other, forming a semicircle. There’s a wood stove to one side and I edge up to it because the weather has turned cold, colder than in Victoria and I’ve got chilled on the hike to the house. The stage holds sound equipment, guitars, a banjo, keyboard, accordion, drums. Here and there are lit candles set out in groups. On the walls, woven African baskets, a woven native hat.

At one time, Allen and his brother, Cameron, ( were part of a highly successful band called Dobb and Dumela. For six years, they played across North America and in Europe and produced two albums. Before that, Allen spent time in Lesotho, Africa doing rangeland and livestock development. When the second set starts, Cameron joins Allen on stage. He plays the accordion and keyboard. I’ve heard him play in Vancouver at the The Railway Club when he was releasing his CD, “The Ride”, and look forward to hearing him again. Allen tells the crowd a little about each song before they play it and shares some anecdotes about his time in Africa.

The band split up and this is the first time that Allen and Cameron have played together since 1996. It’s good to see them playing together again. Both have pursued musical careers singly, Cameron in Vancouver, Allen in Victoria. Both have their own followings. The evening is full of reminiscence. Allen tells a story about Dobb and Dumela playing before a large crowd, two thousand plus, when they were a lot younger, still single, and Allen says that the young women at the front of the stage kept trying to get onto the stage with Cameron, kept flashing him, trying to get his attention. Now, he has settled down, has a house, a wife, children but it’s easy to imagine him, tall, lanky, handsome, playing to the girls at the front of the stage and them screaming and yelling in excitement.

Vivienne’s Jamaican background infuses everything, the food, the music, the warm hospitality, Allen’s music. Her mother is visiting and has made the Jamaican curried chicken we will eat later, heaped over rice. Her mother and I crowd close to the fire and catch up on news.

Some people dance on the deck. A boy takes the drum from the edge of the stage and joins in. Allen says they need back up for a song and asks Vivienne to join them. You can feel the crowd starting to move with the rhythm. It’s a good moment.The crowd demands an encore and Cameron, Allen and Vivain do “No woman no cry”, a Bob Marley song. When it’s over, we eat and talk and meet new people.

To get to Allen and Vivienne’s, you first have to go to the Highlands outside of Victoria. Then you turn off onto a narrow, twisting road nearly engulfed by forest. There are large trees and steep drop-offs. If you meet a car, you slow nearly to a stop and edge past each other. Or, if there is a place where you can creep to the side, you do that so the other car can squeeze by.

There’s never enough parking space so we had to park at the very bottom of the road where it meets the turnoff to the house. The hike up was steep. Winter is coming and the air is cold. Vehicles have been parked anywhere that there is an opening in the bush. It’s daylight on the way up but when we leave, the moon is hidden behind clouds and the night is so dark, we can see nothing. We follow our flashlight beam down the driveway.

Years ago, when I was an avid folk dancer, I discovered one of Victoria’s secrets. The really good musical parties are always in private homes. The memorable evenings aren’t in arenas. Sometimes, like when we spent an amazing evening listening to the local Doukhobor choir, they’re in churches. Or in rose gardens or secluded beach fronts. But most of all, they’re tucked away somewhere, in a nook or cranny where friends can crowd in and share the moment.