Giant Pandas on the loose in Vail |

Giant Pandas on the loose in Vail

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

If a reggae band can flourish in upstate Rochester, New York, it can flourish anywhere. That’s Chris O’Brian’s take on things anyway. O’Brian is the drummer for the Rochester-based roots-reggae and experimental dub band, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, and he said he’s surprised at how well they are received by their hometown sometimes. Many bands have a hard time making it there, period, O’Brian said. He’s not at all surprised, however, by how well his band is received in a place like Colorado, where the band consistently draws large crowds.

“We came out to Colorado and there were 400 hundred people at our first Fort Collins’ show,” O’Brian said. “In Rochester, it’s very different than that. You need cold, hard proof with music, and there’s really no way to do that until you see us.”

We caught up with O’Brian ” just one of six member of the GPGDS ” before their show tonight at the Sandbar in Vail where they will open for progressive reggae band John Brown’s Body.

Chris O’Brian: We’re all really big fans of the novelist Tom Robbins and in his first book, “Another Roadside Attraction,” there is a band called the Giant Panda Gypsy Blues Band and they’re this crazy circus of hooligans and they travel all over and do whatever they want. We thought that was a great start but it needed a little twist so we gave it the Guerilla Dub Squab. The Guerilla factor being like the Gypsy Blues Band, we kind of just go wherever we felt like the music wants to be heard and make it happen.

CO: We got a live record being finished for hopefully the late fall, early winter … We’ve really taken our time and tried to take the best stuff at the best recording quality.

CO: (For) people that haven’t seen us live many times, there will definitely be new material on it.

CO: I feel like it’s the songwriting and the songs ” the content of the songs. We’re talking about real things that people can relate to. We don’t use fake Jamaican accents, because we’re not Jamaican, we’re from New York. We talk about what’s going on in our life, and we try to communicate with the people that are coming out to see us … we’re a really communicative band. We try to really get out there and know what’s going on with our fans.

CO: Mountain Jam I think takes the cake because it was kind of our hometown scene. That was right up in the Adirondacks, pretty much just a couple of hours from us. That was like a huge national festival that we got to take part in, so that was really cool.

CO: The audience can probably expect a little collaboration. That’s definitely happened, I think, the majority of the nights, whether it be some John Brown’s Body members coming on with us or vice versa. You can definitely expect a reggae driven night of two great bands giving you their product.

CO: That you have to be Jamaican to play reggae. It’s just not true … I think reggae is the fastest spreading music in the world. It’s only been around for going on 60 years now and you can Google Venezuela reggae bands, Mexico reggae bands, Osaka, Japan reggae bands. So (the stereotype) that you have to be black or that you have to be Jamaican, we don’t even give that the time of day because it’s just not true.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or

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