Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Know any real estate agents who moonlight as guitarists for a world-famous reggae band?

Didn’t think so.

At the June 8 Tinner Hill Music Festival, I did a double-take when I gazed upon the odd-man-out white guitarist on stage with Julian Junior Marvin’s Wailers.

Yes, that was Dean Yeonas, my childhood neighbor from a longstanding Arlington real estate family. He was executing those tricky reggae strums that Bob Marley and followers called “inside-out rock and roll.”

The principal at Yeonas & Shafran Real Estate afterward joined his suburban troops in the audience to confirm that I wasn’t experiencing a flashback hallucination from ganja. He later explained how he landed the gig with Marvin’s ongoing “Message of Love” tour.

Dean Yeonas, 61 and a bit younger than I, fell for reggae like I did, hearing Jimmy Cliff’s catchy tunes in the 1972 film “The Harder They Come.” During my college years, I didn’t really understand that reggae had already penetrated the U.S. record markets with Millie Small’s bouncy “My Boy Lollipop” in 1964, Desmond Dekker and the Aces’ mysterious “The Israelites” in 1969, and the 1972 Johnny Nash hit “I Can See Clearly Now.”
Dean and I both graduated to Marley, Peter Tosh and Toots and the Maytals. Yeonas recalls “tracing it all back” to the style called mento, then ska and seeing Jerry Garcia play ‘The Harder They Come.”

“I always loved the infectious rhythm and feel — love it more now that I am so intimate with learning the nuances and detail of it from a patient and gracious master.”

It was five years ago that Yeonas’s friend Tom Meyer took him to a jam session and introduced him to Marvin, one of Marley’s guitar players who debuted with the “Exodus” album in 1977.

Junior Marvin, decades before he wowed the Falls Church crowd this month, appeared in the Beatles movie “Help” and the London production of “Hair.” He played blues and rock with T-Bone Walker, Billy Preston and Ike and Tina Turner before turning down an invite to join Stevie Wonder’s band to instead back Bob Marley.

“We became pals,” Yeonas recalled, “and he invited me to sit in on some D.C. shows.” The famous Wailer also got to know and perform with Yeonas’ twin sons, also musicians. “Last year he said he was ‘Putting the band together and I want you in,’” Dean said. Following a slew of rehearsals, the latest incarnation has performed 20 shows this year, with another 30 on the tour schedule.

That tricky strum on the second and fourth beat, Dean confided to me, “is an odd meter if you’re used to the one and three beats and takes some getting used to. But once you get in the groove, that’s when the magic happens.”

As owner of his business, Yeonas is able to keep the real estate sales going remotely while touring between hotels and stages with the combo that consists of Jamaicans and two from the island of Dominica.

“Every time I play this music with this band it’s a celebration of bonding, what we all have in common — our human community,” Yeonas said. “The music is so well known, epic and profound that it transcends things that pull people apart. I will do this for as long as I am able!”

I was astonished one rush-hour this spring to drive over Chain Bridge and spot a makeshift parking lot. About eight cars were packed on that tiny spit of land on the side closest to McLean that, back in the 1930s through the ‘60s, hosted a gas station and bait-and-tackle shop.

I asked Arlington county staff whether they had given a permit to some enterprising freelance business. They knew nothing.

My suspicion: It was temporary valet parking for some private party at one of those mansions overlooking the Potomac.