Poised between two guitarists, Patti Gast is more a folk singer in modern times with her smooth voice, skirt below the knee, snazzy black pointed shoes, dark hair and a jungle of perfect bangs framing her sparkling eyes. The trio could be somewhat reminiscent of Peter, Paul and Mary if that traditional ’60s group had played Tom Petty and Pink Floyd. Despite her talent, singing is not Patti’s passion.
Patti was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich. the youngest of six kids. Her dad was a chemical engineer by degree but ran the family business of commercial maintenance consultation. Her mom stayed home seeing after the gaggle of kids. “I love being from a big family,” Patti says of her clutch. “We lived in a four bedroom house with one and a half baths… and dad got the half bath,” she laughs, noting the lack of privacy through forced sharing. “We grew up with one of us in the shower, three at the sink and one on the toilet, all at the same time. It was true multifunctional,” she recalls fondly, adding, “We made it work.”
As a young girl growing up in Michigan, Patti rode horses for a while but had to choose one extra-curricular activity to focus on. “So I gave up horses for the swim team,” she says. To this day, aquatics remains one of her passions.
Coming through teen culture with the sounds of Motown, the Young Rascals and Blood, Sweat and Tears she recalls, “It was an idyllic lifestyle, great friendship and great music during that era. The first female singers I ever liked were Tammi Terrell and Martha and the Vandellas.”
In high school, she confesses, “I was bad. Being the youngest of six, all the good roles, the positive roles, had been taken. Therefore, counterculture dominated,” she grins slyly. “I thought I knew it all at 16. I was a social rebel, anti-authority at a Catholic school for 14 years.”
She graduated from the confines of indoctrination in 1975 and although it would seem that her normal path might be to bolt from that regimented lifestyle, Patti decided to try college.
“That’s the thing—I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. In those times, as a woman, you were either a nurse or a teacher,” she says, noting that even though there was the push of women’s lib, “You basically went to college to have a career to fall back on in case your husband died or something, or, as I like to say, I was in the last generation raised to be kept… It just didn’t work out that way,” she laughs.
One of her sisters suggested that she study medical technology and Patti thought, “Yeah. Sure. Why not?” She enrolled at Marquette University, a Jesuit College in Milwaukee. “I was an honorary alumni,” she jokes. “I paid tuition but didn’t attend classes much, which I’m not proud of because my dad slaved to put us through school. The other reason was, being the radical know-it-all that I was, I did not understand that the Jesuits want you to question, they want you to challenge beliefs. They’re intellectuals. They don’t want you to accept dogma. So when they were talking about existentialism in class, all those kids coming out of Catholic high schools, where you were taught not to question anything, were saying ‘But we have a purpose…to get married and have babies.’ I was there with my hand raised saying, ‘Oh! I get that!’” It wasn’t until Patti dropped out of college that she discovered that her profs would have given her a passing grade by just attending class—“Just to be that lone dissenting voice in the crowd,” she recalls.
Patti ended up marrying a man of questionable reputation for almost eight years, through which she had various jobs and fell into a noxious way of life exploring Milwaukee’s finest. “A series of bad choices led me into an unhealthy lifestyle and an unhappy marriage. One day he came home and said, ‘We’re moving to Florida.’ I decided I liked Florida but I didn’t like him. It was the first divorce in my Catholic family. Yet another rogue move,” she discloses with a hint of pride.
But Patti was well suited for Florida—living her life in the sun and surf, she came to her senses. “While I was in Florida I realized that I had more options in life than getting married and having kids. I had an opportunity to reinvent myself. So, I got healthy, started exercising, quit smoking and cleaned up my act, and then a great career fell into my lap. I got a job in outside sales. I sold industrial hardware …nuts and bolts and drill bits and electrical connectors, to name a few,” she recounts that auspicious year of 1984. “I loved it. I got to meet people and made a good income with benefits. And I got to learn how things work, mechanical things, which served me well when I bought my first house in Jensen Beach, Florida,” which is 30 miles north of the opulently ritzy Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast.
And that’s where she found her passion. “I bought a used windsurfer out of someone’s garage. For the first few months I just rode around with it on top of my car, looking cool,” and that was motivation enough for her to enter her first regatta five months later in Port Charlotte, Florida.
She was a natural and apparently quite impressive, because as she tells it, “I came home with the prize… a young guy who I shared the next 12 years with. He was a pro wind surfer and on the testing team for Windrider Magazine. I was in my 20s and 30s and living the dream.” And so she was.
Those years for Patti were all about the beach. “I was either windsurfing or inline skating,” she says; eventually she raced on the skates, too. “I was a much better sprinter but I did 50k just to be able to skate for miles in a protected environment,” modestly noting that by Crested Butte standards it’s probably nothing to brag about. “But it was fun,” says the skater girl.
A seemingly innocuous rear-end car collision catapulted Patti into a downward spiral that she says she could not have foreseen. “I had damage to vertebrae in my neck and as a result had chronic pain for seven years. In that time, my sales career went down the tubes because I felt so bad all the time. And I was not the person that the surfer guy fell in love with because I was in constant pain,” so the pain ultimately led to the end of their relationship.
“My biggest frustration with the chronic pain was that doctors couldn’t explain what was wrong so they tried to pigeon hole me as either a hypochondriac or a drug seeker, of which I was neither. I ended up seeking alternative treatments and therapies, which led me on the path toward massage and energetic healing.”
Patti sought out massage schools after a ski vacation in Aspen turned her around. “Within 12 hours of landing in Denver, I said, ‘I’m supposed to be here.’ It was very clear to me.”
In Aspen she met a guy from Crested Butte who told her about the Mountain Heart School of Massage in town, and a Reiki teacher, Judi Theis. “The guy, thinking he was importing a girlfriend, sent me a bunch of literature and brochures. I saw a picture of a meadow covered in wildflowers and I got a rush from head to toe. I knew that’s where I was supposed to move.” And much to her mother’s chagrin, Patti quit her job, rented out her house, packed up the car and headed to Colorado as the millennium rolled in.
Patti’s massage school experience was transformative. Afterwards she decided to stay and snowboard for the winter. She began to study Reiki with Judi Theis, and says, “I became very aware that things don’t happen the way we envision. Every time I thought I wanted to go back Florida, doors didn’t open, job-wise or anything… nothing moved.”
One evening she was invited up to sing with her friend, the guy who introduced her to Crested Butte, and his duo partner. “I told him I couldn’t sing,” but she found her courage and her voice. Still, she admits, “I truly thought the other musician was merely tolerating me because I was his partner’s friend, and then one night when I was leaving he said, ‘I want you to hear a song I wrote.’
“Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather because it was a love song.” Bill Dowell had written that song just for her, and her friend, Steve Farley, had opened more than one door for her. Bill and Patti have been together 11 years and were married in 2009. The trio still plays gigs together.
She still catches those waves and wind whenever she can via a trip every spring to a beach somewhere, but Patti’s true passion and goal is helping people deal with their pain through Reiki, body work and Ortho-bionomy. “It’s so nice to be middle-aged and so jazzed about what I’m doing. For the first time I have the tools to help people. The Ortho-bionomy has given me this passion that I never had before and a thirst for learning, and there’s so much more to learn.”
As for the beach-girl’s home in a landlocked mountain town, Patti says, “I love the community. It’s authentic. People aren’t trying to be something they’re not here.” She laughs about even entertaining a thought to return to Florida, “I just finally got used to winter. I like the rhythm of winter. My energy wanes as the sun sets and there’s a peacefulness to winter. The year we got married there was a hard freeze the night before our wedding. That year we got 400 inches of snow…”
With their wedding anniversary Thursday, August 15, an encore performance of a silvery frost followed by a winter of substantial dumpage would be a great tribute.