Kim Rippy-Thomas sits at a picnic table on the deck of her house. Cobb Mountain rises through the massive Ponderosa Pine trees, filling the horizon. The day feels warm, but the mountain breeze eases the heat, moving the branches above our heads. Reggae music plays in the background, rhythmically swaying with the trees. My wife Trudy and I sit across from her, chatting.
“Ten years ago my husband John and I were in Illinois,” she begins, her large, blue eyes shining. “It was time for a change, and we had always wanted to live in California. So we sold everything, packed up, and moved straight to Lake County.” She pauses. “We saw it as a jumping-off point to Maui, but loved it so much, we ended up staying.”
She sips from her water bottle. “You know, I think there’s no place on earth without a music scene. You could go somewhere with hardly anyone around, and there’d be music.” Her mandala earrings swing beneath her blonde hair. “For a while after we moved to Cobb, I wondered. But I finally found it.”
Since then, Kim has become a fixture in Lake County’s music scene. If you’ve ever been to one of the Funky Dozen, CAM, or the Higher Logic Project’s concerts, you’ve probably seen her, but may never have noticed. Kim’s a unique musician. There she sits, in a corner or off to the side of the stage, her hands bouncing across the two keyboards in front of her, pushing energy into the music.
You see, she’s a musical chameleon. She pops up all over the county, playing all kinds of genres. “I’m constantly in competition with myself. I want to do better than I did a minute ago.” She pauses. “If I played for just one band, I think I’d get bored. That’s why when I get a call to play for a project or a gig, nine times out of ten, I say yes.”
Kim looks across at Cobb Mountain for a moment. “That’s because every set list I learn, and every show I perform adds to my repertoire. If I learn something, then I have it with me, and it’s one more thing under my belt.”
A new reggae song picks up on the speakers. Kim bobs her head to the beat, feeling the music. “Reggae has always been on my bucket list, but it couldn’t be just any band. That’s why I’m so excited to play with the Higher Logic Project.
“Reggae is not hard music to play. But to make it live and breathe and come alive,” her hands sway and move with the rhythm of the song. “That’s a completely different thing.”
Kim’s excitement grows, and her gestures grow with it. “People say reggae keyboard is boring. You just play on the ‘and.’ But it’s actually really difficult to do it right, to make it live. And the message, the message is always powerful. It’s got an upward momentum,” she sweeps her hands skywards, releasing the beauty of the music. “I’m looking forward to where reggae is going to take me.”
“So,” Trudy leans forward. “Here’s a tough question: If you were stranded on a desert island, what kind of music would you bring with you?”
Kim looks stunned. “Just one? That’s really hard.”
“Okay,” Trudy relents. “How about two?”
Kim takes another sip from her water. “If I was trapped on a desert island,” she pauses to consider. “I think I’d bring reggae with me. Definitely reggae.” She thinks a bit more. “But the second? That’s tougher.”
The sun shines across the deck, highlighting the potted plants sitting along its edge. “For the second, I think I’d pick some kind of hardcore bebop jazz that I don’t understand.” She smiles a big smile. “That would challenge me for years.”