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By Tom Murphy
Boulder's Preacherman and the Congregation got its biggest break yet when it was chosen to open last month's Reggae on the Rocks concert. But shortly after leaving the Red Rocks stage to a positive reaction from thousands of fans at the beginning of the daylong bash, Preacherman (given name: Herman Winter) admitted that the exhilaration he felt was heightened by his anticipation of another important event. "My baby's about to be born," he revealed. "She's due today."
Evan Eisentrager, drummer for the Congregation, which also includes bassist Chris Wright, keyboardist Dave Edgar and guitarist Ash Kirby, was oblivious to Winter's split focus. "I was so nervous, I forgot all about Preacher having a baby," he confessed. Of course, Winter did not have this option. He had to be prepared for anything, and thanks to the cooperation of his girlfriend, Sharon Scott, he was. "The way I planned it is, if the baby started coming, then she would page me and put in a certain number. It was supposed to be all ones if it was a boy. And if it was a girl, she would put in 9-1-1." Had the arrival of the child coincided with the act's performance, he added, "I would have just had to continue and finish the song, and then stop right there for a minute and say to everybody what was in the process. I would have had a pretty big audience to share it with."
Fortunately for Winter, his baby, Jasmine Jahhana Winter, knew better than to interrupt the show: She arrived, healthy and happy, on August 28, five days after the Red Rocks show. As a result, the Congregation was able to play "Eyes of Faith," "Wake Up Calling" and other rootsy originals before a throng that likely exceeded the size of its previous crowds combined. In the midst of the performance, Winter concedes, "I was quite excited--timid at first. But I kept my poise, and I love every minute of it." The listeners did as well, which helps explain why the Congregation has replaced the now-defunct Roots Revolt as Boulder's best reggae band.
For Winter, a native of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, the Red Rocks turn was a far cry from his earliest efforts as a frontman. "The only singing I done before was with a disco system," he recalled. "We used to do a lot of that back in Jamaica at ghetto parties and house parties. Guys would get on the mike, go up and voice their song, and if you were hot, they keep calling you back. That's what I started when I got to Colorado in '87, at a place on Welton Street called Sadie's."
In the years since then, Winter gravitated toward DJ gigs, a vocation that eventually led to the Congregation's birth. "I was in Boulder spinning records at 'Round Midnight, when my longtime friend Robbie Oyugi came to check me out," he remembered. Oyugi, a local distributor of the reggae 'zine Dub Missive, liked what he heard and told Winter that he should start a band of his own. He subsequently introduced Winter to Wright, who suggested a jam session with several of his pals. At first Winter was reluctant. "I didn't want to get in no reggae band, especially with no white boys," he allowed. "I figure that they can't play the rhythms the way they're supposed to be--the way I like them. But they said, 'Give it a chance, and if you don't like it, we can go other ways.' And you know what? They were pretty good."
"After two songs, he told us that we sounded Jamaican," added Eisentrager, once the drummer for the 'Vengers, a popular area ska outfit that broke up earlier this year. "I guess that was a compliment."
Winter's impression of these pigmentally challenged musicians was reinforced by a handful of rehearsal sessions. Before long, they made the decision to go public; according to Eisentrager, "We met in October and were playing out by November." A host of local dates with encouraging attendance followed, and as their popularity continued to grow, the members of the Congregation were forced to get more serious about the combo. They had originally planned to cut a CD, then go their separate ways. But after completing the disc, which is slated for a Halloween release, and sharing the Red Rocks stage with reggae giants like Toots and the Maytals, they reconsidered. "It seems to me now that we are sticking together a little bit closer," Winter divulged. "Since we do so much work, have so much dedication and put so much effort into it, I think we should at least get something beneficial before anybody go anywhere. We have a good thing going with this group."
Touring, however, will remain on the back burner, at least for a while. At the Rocks, Winter confirmed that the Congregation is looking to branch out to Denver and various nearby ski towns but noted, "I want to be around my child as long as I can at the early stage. I don't want to go too far from here--at least until she can sit up and crawl around.