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With the seemingly endless runoff of Missoula bands and musicians hemorrhaging into Portland and Seattle, it's nice, for a change, to hear of a band coming back-even if it's only for a weekend.

The Golden Gardens Trio consists of Adam Pessl, who used to be with the popular Missoula groove outfit Uberrhythm, and Earl Schultz and Chris Jordan, who spent time in Delusions of Grandeur before fleeing the mountains for the rumored excitement of the Jet City.

Pessl, Schultz and Jordan play in Seattle with organist Andy Seaver under the name B-Town, but they're swinging through town this weekend under the moniker of the Golden Gardens Trio, trading Seaver for local drumming wunderkind Brian Oppel, who himself is soon to be a Seattle resident.

The band's sound isn't easy to fit into a thumbnail description, but it reminds me of the typical offerings on my favorite KUFM radio show, "The Sunday Swing Shift," only poured through a filter made out of shag carpeting and plush velvet pillows. You know-that "jazz-funk-groove" thing.

Pessl says that at one point or another the band members have all been enrolled in music school, and it shows. Their songs are beyond tight while simultaneously maintaining an improvisational air. They take the musician's life seriously, living together and playing out together, yet Pessl says they haven't gotten sick of it in the least.

"We are a musician's band. But it's not all we do," Pessl says. "We all have our day jobs."

The Golden Gardens Trio plays music rooted in jazz, but lately they've begun working on organic interpretations of hip-hop and drum 'n' bass, playing songs by Propellerheads and Kruder and Dorfmeister.

In fact, the band is feeling the vibe that seems to be affecting many people in their mid-20s-you know, people who grew up on old-school beats from artists like Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash. It's a vibe that has led to an immersion in hip-hop and today culminates in new translations of what has been heard the past, whether through drum machines and samplers, or in Golden Garden Trio's case, guitar, drums and bass.

"We are big hip-hop fans," Pessl explains. "We are heavily influenced by those grooves." Schultz adds that the Roots and De La Soul are currently on his personal heavy rotation list.

What is apparent from the band's demo CD is that these guys know how to play. The lush organ and guest trombone highlight the chill musical atmosphere, but don't let that stop you from shaking a leg. Pessl says that when they really get going, taking the tracks in previously unvisited directions, it often gets the crowd moving.

Those of you who packed Sean Kelly's for Robert Walter's 20th Congress won't be disappointed with the Golden Gardens Trio's similar sound.

The Golden Gardens Trio, which is B-Town without the organ, plays at Sean Kelly's on Saturday, Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. Admission is free.

Millennium-old customs meet modern-day fun at the Highland Games


A Stentorian yell reaves the air as the kilted strongman lets fly with a 200-pound log that arcs through the air and smacks back to earth with a meaty thud. A scene from the director's cut of Trainspotting? No, it's the caber toss-one of many traditional Scottish events in Missoula's annual Highland Games and Celtic Festival, now in its 24th year.

The Missoula Scottish Heritage Society has hosted the event since 1976, but the historical origins of the Highland Games antedate the local incarnation by at well over a millennium. In 844 AD, Scottish king Kenneth MacAlpine organized a three-day gaming festival to keep his army out of trouble before joining battle with the Picts for control of the land then known as Dalriada. MacAlpine won, and renamed it Scotland.

Like the first Olympic games, the Highland competitions recall a martial past shaped by rural tradition. The individual events grew out of the efforts of kings and chieftains to train soldiers and select men at arms by subjecting them to rigorous tests of strength and endurance that drew heavily on day-to-day life. The link between the caber toss and the growth of Scottish forestry is clear, as is the relationship between the Throwing of the Hammer and the blacksmith's forges that dotted the glens.

Other events are obviously agrarian in origin. The Sheaf Toss requires contestants to toss a 16-pound bundle of burlap-wrapped hay over a bar that is raised, as in the high jump, until only one contestant remains. The Farmer's Walk involves two 150-pound weights which the contestant must carry around the course like twin suitcases-and the longest carry wins.

Tests of strength aside, animal husbandry skills feature prominently in another staple of the Highland Games: the sheep dog demonstrations. Since the 17th century, southern Scotland's flourishing sheep industry has relied on its sharpest tool to manage the flocks: the black and white border collie. By whistling or barking commands like "Come by," "Go by," and "Steady on," Scottish shepherds use the dogs to gather, separate and pen their woolly charges. Barbara Hebrard of Kalispell will demonstrate this remarkable, seemingly telepathic bond between dog and master.

The games begin at 10 a.m. and run until approximately 5 p.m., at which time there will be a two-hour hiatus before dancing and merrymaking begin in earnest and run until midnight. Shaughnessy Hill are the featured act this year; Celtic tunes will provide the necessary backdrop to lore-steeped dances like the Highland Fling, the Sailor's Hornpipe, and the curiously-named Seann Triubhas, literally "old trousers," a highly symbolic dance commemorating the prohibition of the kilt and mandatory trouser-wearing after the Battle of Culloden Moor in 1746.

There will also be Celtic vendors and plenty of traditional food on hand. The Society went far afield to find the proper supplier of authentic Scottish meat pies this year, but vegetarians will find succor with rumpleteethumps, a casserole of cabbage, potatoes, onions and cheddar cheese that has earned rave reviews in the past. And Big Sky Brewing will be on hand with a specially-brewed batch of-what else? Stonethrower Ale.

Gates open at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 21 at the fairgrounds. $5 adults. $4 kids 10 and under, kids under four free.

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