PORT TOWNSEND — Suddenly, everybody’s grooving. The music makers are playing; the singer’s song is pouring out; the audience is tuned in all the way.
This, said Reggie Garrett, is when “something bigger takes over. And you’re all along for this ride.
“Dancing is one of the signs that that’s happening. I love it when people dance.”
Garrett, along with his blues-urban folk-rock band the SnakeOil Peddlers, looks forward to such a night this Saturday at the Palindrome, the dance hall near the edge of town.
The peddlers will have JAM — local musicians Jack Dwyer, Abakis and Micaela Kingslight — as their opening act for a show starting at 7 p.m., so doors will open at 6:30.
Admission is by donation with $5 to $25 suggested, with no one turned away for lack of funds, and all ages are welcome at the Palindrome, 1893 S. Jacob Miller Road.
The host, Eaglemount Wine and Cider, will have snacks, soft drinks, hard ciders, wines and meads available for purchase.
Garrett was living in Brooklyn, N.Y., when a friend first called him a snake oil peddler. He was a painter at the time, having earned a bachelor’s and a master’s in art. He and a group of artists lived up in a loft where the landlord turned the heat off on weekends.
“We’d have parties to dance and keep warm,” Garrett recalled. These attracted women, and the friend likened Garrett’s ability as a host to, yes, snake oil.
A lot of people would show up, he said, for that curative elixir of dancing. It was like the snake oil of yore, which they would sooner or later find out was “alcohol with a little bit of honey in it.”
Garrett’s original music sounds like that blend: Latin rhythms mixed with gospel, Celtic and folk ballads. In concert, he and the band stir in covers such as Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and Shorty Long’s “Function at the Junction.” His longtime fellow peddlers include drummer-percussionist Will Dowd and Richard Middleton, “a phenomenally great guitarist and even better pianist.”
Garrett, 66, prefers to work with these men because, he said, they’re “really fantastic musicians who are better than me.” That’s how you grow, he believes: spend your time with people whose skills exceed your own.
After an unremunerative time as a painter in New York City, Garrett took a job in systems engineering at IBM. He stopped making art and started, in his words, slowly going crazy.
Somewhere in the mid-1980s, he took his mother’s advice to try something new. He invested his his income tax refund on a guitar.
Garrett had grown up reveling in the music of Sam Cooke and James Brown. Now in his 30s, he began writing songs and singing them at open mics around New York. The crazy-making job receded in the rearview mirror.
Rock and soul, folk and gospel have been his art ever since; words and guitar have taken over from the palette and brush. Yet there are commonalities, Garrett said, in painting and music-making.
“When you write a song, it shifts and slides,” changing into something different from what you started out to do.