By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Shortly after 10:30 p.m. this past Friday night, when thousands are crammed into a soggy Cotton Bowl to hear the Rolling Stones, Charles Kennedy and 11 others--some wrapped in blankets, some in shorts or bathing suits, a couple completely naked--climb into a sweat lodge and wait for the ceremony to begin.
Rocks have been heating in a fire for a couple of hours; they glow like fiery crystals. And when 12 are placed inside the utter darkness of the sweat lodge--with more to follow every 45 minutes or so, continuing for about three hours--and water is thrown on them, they radiate an often unbearable heat.
Charles Kennedy has attended many sweats in his lifetime, either as a member or as the leader, but tonight's sweat holds an extra significance. Tonight, he and this small gathering of friends and acquaintances--all of whom he considers family, brothers and sisters within the crushing and humid darkness of the sweat lodge--are here to pray for and remember Jaydene Blount, a woman who often joined them in this Native American ritual until she was murdered two months ago. She is someone many of tonight's participants thought of as a leader or, more accurately, as a mother. They are here to pray for the slain woman's daughter, four-year-old Jahliese, and they are here to ask for assistance and guidance in raising her.
As the half-Cherokee, half-Choctaw Kennedy reminded earlier that day, "It takes a village to raise a child," and in tonight's sweat--held in the cool, thick country air underneath layers of blankets that drape over a frame of willow branches--Kennedy and his brothers and sisters hope to learn, perhaps, just how that might be done.
Kennedy has taken the first step, though: he is among the principle organizers for two benefits to be held Sunday and Monday nights at Trees, both featuring the New Bohemians, reunited for the first time since their farewell show at the Bronco Bowl in April 1991. The money raised will go into a trust fund for Jahliese, and after the weekend's shows, with tickets selling for $25 or $100, it's likely to be a fairly enormous sum.
"No one is making a penny except for Jahliese," Kennedy says. "So everyone is doing their giveaway here--that is, we're giving a part of ourselves without asking anything back. This child is my child and your child, and so we're all giving away...Because Jahdene lived that way, it has compelled us to turn around and give back now."
Blount was murdered on September 25. Someone broke into her home and stabbed her in the throat, taking only some money from a cashed paycheck. She was discovered the following morning when neighbors noticed Jahliese walking in and out of the house, complaining that she could not wake up her mother, who she said was asleep on the floor, dirty. Jahliese now lives with her grandparents, Jo and James Blount, who say Jahliese "knows her mother's gone," but is doing "great."
Jahliese's routine has remained the same--she continues to go to school and is surrounded by people she has known her entire life; she is, however, working with a counselor at the East Dallas Community School.
And Jahdene's enormous extended family has assumed a responsibility for the child: before this weekend's benefits, there was also one previous concert at Poor David's Pub, a prayer circle at someone's home, and a drum circle and dance at White Rock Lake, Blount's favorite place to hang out with friends.
Tonight's sweat, though, is the exhilarating and exhausting dash to the finish, one last chance to pray and heal and ache. In fact, after the first four rounds of sweating conclude at 2 a.m. Saturday, New Bos drummer Brandon Aly and bassist Brad Houser arrive to take their turns in the lodge. Half an hour later, guitarist Kenny Withrow calls to say he's coming out, as well. Rehearsals for the concerts, which began a week ago, ran long--the band members say they are having too much fun to stop--or else they would have come earlier.
Some here tonight knew Jahdene extremely well; others, only as someone who was always around, leading an event or simply watching it from the background. Yet no matter how well they knew her--as an intimate or an acquaintance--they all speak of her in the same loving, reverential tone. "She was like John Lennon," one friend says, "she had the same kind of...love."
Jahdene Blount often attended these sweats, though she also went to Quaker prayer meetings and was a devout Rastafarian, having changed her name from Jaydene to Jahdene, "jah" being Rasta for God. (Her parents call her Jaydene; her friends, Jahdene.) At 38, Blount was a few years shy of the hippie movement--she graduated from W.W. Samuell in 1974--but she lived a countercultural life.
Shortly after high school, she moved to her aunt and uncle's in McKinney, then returned to hold down a variety of odd jobs, including everything from sculpting bronze to treating leather to working at Whole Foods. When she was killed, she had her first real full-time job at a stage scenery shop.
As her friends (or, more accurately, her extended family) describe it, Blount subscribed to an idea of communal living: she once rented out a house on Matilda and Prospect and allowed others to come and live there if they would pay a small rent, help with the chores and cooking, and attend the house meetings. Blount had the smallest room in the place--"a closet of a bedroom," Kennedy says. She just loved a gathering--not as its leader, but just as a member--and she eventually became a part of what's known as the Rainbow Family, a large assemblage of ex-hippies and would-bes who haven't given up on the old ideas, who still believe the world can be healed and protected and united.