Somewhere along the line Saturday, I had this thought (it happens now and again). I was standing at the Ka’Tiki Stage at the 6th annual Orange Blossom Jamboree, held at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville. It probably first occurred to me when we were in the process of taking the family portrait, with David Lee or John Phillips up on the ladder (I don’t even remember) and Brian Hensley zinging that drone around above us.
Maybe I grabbed Darryl Quesenberry, much better known as the Rev. Funky D. “Do a 360,” I requested. As we turned around, looking at all of the loving, friendly faces, I asked, “Who has a better family than this?” Later, I got to ask Kenny Blair, whose Great Outdoors Jam is Fourth of July weekend, and then Cody Bean, the man responsible for Hometeam New Year’s Rally. I spun a couple other people around as well. And, to a man and woman, everybody had the same heart-felt remark:
Nobody has a family like this, a family you can count on absolutely and without question. Also, the weekend’s mantra emerged, clearly, again as if in a single voice, because everyone said it:
WE ARE BLESSED.
There are wonderful music festivals large and small all over the country and beyond its borders, and numerous tremendous fests here in the state of Florida, but none is closer to the heart than OBJ. “OH BEE JAAAAAAAY!”
This year’s meeting of the family was also blessed weather-wise. Except for a brief squall Friday afternoon (which actually kept the dust down and lowered the humidity significantly), Mother Nature cooperated, although it got a bit toasty by Sunday out in the sun at the Ka’Tiki. Those still there Sunday were a bit toasty themselves.
I was able to catch all but two of the bands Thursday; I arrived too late for Root of All. I was intent on seeing Row Jomah’s early set and was, as always, delighted. And let’s get this out of the way: everybody I saw over the weekend is stepping it up, sounding better than ever, benefitting from the collaboration and cooperation among bands and musicians. I was still in my shirt and tie and I made my way to the Ka’Tiki stage; several people opined that I looked out of place. I assure you I was in exactly the right place!
Row Jomah had an enthusiastic audience, given that many festies don’t roll in until Friday. And great credit to the boys in the band, who hung out all weekend, supporting their friends on stage. That’s the mark of true respect.
It’s also never too early to honor the festival’s sponsors. The world-famous Ka’Tiki in Sunset Beach sponsored one stage. The Dunedin Brewery sponsored the main stage and had a beer truck on site serving adult sodas from Florida’s oldest microbrewery. And four of the St. Petersburg venues that constantly support our music scene and rarely if ever charge admission were on board as well (yet another reason to move to St. Pete): the Ringside Café, The Amsterdam, the Ale and the Witch and the Blueberry Patch. Most Tampa Bay area folks have been to these fine places multiple times. The best way you can express your gratitude for these sponsors and places like them in your hometown is to GO HEAR LIVE MUSIC! And buy a beverage or three.
Back to music. I knew nothing about Public Sounds Collective and was totally blown away. This quintet from West Palm (but I swear I counted six). I love math, and this is the band’s own equation: (Jazz+Funk) x Soul = Public Sounds Collective. Now that’s hip! This was a solid jazz outing. There was one vocal tune called “Haters,” and a Morning Fatty guitarist joined the band for “Walk in the Park.” And they knocked out a great version of Zep’s “The Ocean.” Very cool.
Currentz had a great set at Ka’Tiki, sounding better than ever with their mix of jazz, funk and reggae. Speaking of sound, it’s not too early to begin shouting the praises of the sound crews at each stage either. Once again, the sound was stunningly superb. It matters. The Rev. Funky D and Sean Hartley had this staged locked down tight.
Ancient Sun was throwing down a tremendous set on the Citrus stage, where Andy Lytle, one of OBJ’s pillars, was keeping the sound pristine along with Tim Foran. In the midst of some great original music, they busted out “Feelin’ Alright > Flashlight.” I never imagined those two together, which is probably why it was so much fun. Artist-at-large Tommy Shugart from The Groove Orient came out and blistered some sick guitar. And Tom Shea blew a world of tenor sax.
I zipped back to Ka’Tiki to see Post Pluto for my second time. They had been so impressive with an early slot at Gov-Fest. Once again, Pat and I were not disappointed. This is a rocking band, and Mike Garcia is such an enjoyable frontman to hear and watch. Looking forward to number three!
Morning Fatty was back on the big Dunedin Brewery Stage, having a great time entertaining the troops. They threw in a fun “Pink Panther Theme” that Mancini would have enjoyed, and Markis Hernandez of Public Sounds Collective returned the favor by sitting in, joined by Clay Watson of the Legendary JCs.
I ended up missing the Funky Nuggets (again) hobnobbing with my fellow non-wizards before The Groove Orient took the stage. I had seen them with a strong opener for Monophonics a couple weeks earlier, but this set was even stronger. Chuck Magid and crew had a truly entertaining set before yielding to headliners Green Sunshine on the main stage.
I’ve said early and often that I’m not a big hip-hop fan, but, damn, this band can plain throw down! This was my favorite of the sets I’ve seen from them, funk and rock and the aforementioned hip-hop so well delivered and so intelligent that I was grinning ear to ear. Somewhere in the middle of the set, somebody made a remark that shook me to the core – in the very best way possible. He said, WELCOME HOME. Because we WERE home.
The Bath Salt Zombies deserve some sort of award for their incredible creativeness. (I know, they won “Best Electric Campsite.” Well deserved, not enough.) I would get to see them perform three times over the course of the weekend; I never intend to miss a BSZ show if I can help it. I’d seen Dennis Stadelman of CopE wear a Bath Salt Zombies shirt for more than a year before I discovered why.
This first night the band performed on the Ka’Tiki stage from midnight to 1 AM. The prospect of driving back to Tampa for my seniors’ last day in class did not deter me from my BSZ rounds first. Their songs are about the bizarre and macabre and downright amusing stories of life, told in their acoustic sort-of bluegrass style. Like any comedy music, the comedy falls flat unless the music is perfect. Theirs is.
The highlight (you should pardon the pun) of the set came about 20 minutes in. This will be easier to explain if you are a fan of – or at least familiar with – the 1988 John Carpenter classic They Live starring Rowdy Roddy Piper. That’s the movie where he finds the special sunglasses that allow him to see that the planet is being overtaken by aliens with skeleton-looking faces.
The Bath Salt Zombies have recruited some remarkable artists to work with them, on their sets and especially with black-light paint. Up until the 20-minute mark, the stage was bathed in normal stage lights, with five men playing on stage. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, they switched to all black lights, and suddenly there were five skeletons of varying colors playing on stage. IT. WAS. AWESOME. They did lots of black-light playing after that and for the next two nights, but nothing eclipsed that first jolting moment. I’ll never forget it! (You can find some good YouTube videos of them performing black-lit.)
Back to Tampa and school, early the next morning.
And back Friday afternoon, fortunately just in time to get my tent set up (thanks, Jon Tucker!) before the squall came through. I was trapped in the tent, able to discover the myriad leaks I need to fix. Every gray cloud…
Sadly, I had missed six sets, including the opening set by the Parker Urban Band that was the talk of the rest of the weekend. Their fan base is growing exponentially (sorry, more math). I also missed Laura Shepherd, The Happy Campers (with Legacy and sound guru Andy Lytle), shoeless soul, Endless Flow and Herd of Watts. I’ve never had the chance to see Shepherd, but all of the others are favorites of mine. Fortunately, I will be able to see them in the near future.
The rain was abating, and I could hear music from the main stage. Rats! It was the Savi Feranandez Band. I grabbed my umbrella (the very one I left on Sunday) and made it there in time to catch most of his great set. Primarily, he stuck to tunes from his excellent new album, From My Heart, a true gem. Tommy Shugart was with the band on Hammond B3, as he was on the CD, and he also ripped off a great guitar solo. Savi is just so irrepressibly joyous, you can’t help but smile when he plays. Christian Ryan’s alto sax added greatly, as usual.
The skies had cleared, thankfully, as we proceeded to the back stage for a very special event. A couple of weeks earlier, Legacy (a.k.a. Sean Maloney) told me about his plan. He is a looper but often stockpiles musicians for his Orchestra Collective. The plan involved two things: hiring Serotonic to be the main back-up band, and selecting an unheard-of setlist of singalong songs you would never expect to hear at such a festival. Legacy has been high on Serotonic for a while (that doesn’t sound right!) and has wanted to play with them for months. Members of Green Sunshine and Holey Miss Moley would be involved in this mob action.
It was ON from the opening notes of Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” through the final chords of his great original “Ridiculous Elephant.” Afterward, some of the Serotonic members feared there had not been enough rehearsal time, etc., to which we all said, “We had a blast!” It was so much fun. We had just heard the news that morning that B.B. King had left the building, and they played a rousing “Thrill is Gone,” with Jordan Garno perfect on guitar. The Jamiroquoi tune was great, and I’m a sucker for “Groove is in the Heart.”
More hobnobbing caused me to miss most of Wester Joseph’s Stereo Vudu. That is a fine band. I was primed and ready for the Lee Boys. I have written about them often, because they move me in a way no other band – except the Parker Urban Band – does. (I had the almost overwhelming experience of seeing them together in December.)
The brothers Lee – Alvin, Derrick and Keith – have created an unstoppable machine to perform their majestic sacred steel music. Regardless of who joins them on bass, drums and the all-important pedal steel guitar, the music comes out wonderful. It certainly did this night. Chris Johnson has been doing a great job in the Dr.’s chair. And I will say again – and every time – that I have never met a man more filled with the spirit than Keith Lee. The instant they plowed into “Goin’ to Glory” I was on the rail, tears of joy once again running down my face. It is so special when music moves you in that way.
During the course of the set, they invited Tommy Shugart on stage, and he lit it up on guitar, and then Trae Pierce came up and did his bass thing. Awe-inspiring.
The times I have seen Between Bluffs recently, they had a superb violin player with them. When I saw he was not there this night, I was disappointed – at first. But this was a WOW set, really excellent. And then Kyle and Shannon Biss from Applebutter Express came on stage. Maybe you’ve heard “Shakedown Street” too many times (not me!), but this was positively electric. If I remember at all (which is questionable), Shannon was the lead singer, and it was dynamic.
And it was time to run (OK, walk as fast as possible under the conditions, you know) back to the Citrus stage for the Legendary JCs. I am serious when I say that I’ll see your Charles Bradley or Sharon Dapp and see you a Eugene Snowden. Superb band, brilliant guitar player (Roland Simmons, a true unsung hero, although not if I can help it), and a comedian for lead singer.
This was supposed to be an all-Florida festival, but somehow the roadblock at the border failed to keep two Georgia gentlemen from making it to OBJ. One was Kurt. He is a fixture at festivals such as those at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. He records everything that he can and archives it all on LiveMusicAthensGa.com. He is a true and very important friend to the jam scene, and I was glad he slipped past the guards.
The other was Critter Critenden, the superb guitar player for Atlanta’s Copious Jones, who had a great week or so in the Sunshine State surrounding Gov-Fest in February. It was great to see him helping the sound folks and getting dragged – kicking and screaming – on stage a bunch.
CopE was headlining the Friday festivities, and it was hard to tell who was more pumped up about it – the fans or the band. Some sort of alien abduction had taken place, however. This wasn’t CopE from Tampa. This was CopE from, like, Mars or something. Possibly farther out. It was stunning.
Once again, Kenny Stadelman and Brad Elliot came up huge on bass and drums. I had heard them in a different context backing Tony and Dani from Come Back Alice recently, and I now have an even greater appreciation, even 30+ shows later in Kenny’s case, for what these two gentlemen bring to the stage. It was an incredible night.
An amazing jam eventually led into “Awake.” As I was trying to pick my jaw up off the ground, Brian famously quoted: “Never miss an OBJ CopE show.” He reminded me of their stellar set last year as well. Critter came up and just killed it. Then an absurdly sick jam developed out of “When It All Comes Down.” Dre Mack, who plays guitar with the Juanjamon Band, and man-about-OBJ Isaac Corbitt on harp jumped on stage for a deep, deep “Outer Space.” Mars wasn’t far enough, I guess.
I’ll have to paraphrase here. Dennis Stadelman then said, “Been here before? Newbies, welcome home.” There is was again, the weekend’s other theme. HOME. HOMETEAM. It’s not an idle concept. It is a powerful unifying mantra.
The Applebutter Express had the pleasure of the (first) late-night set on Ka’Tiki. They were their gloriously wonderful selves. If you’ve never seen them, that might sound silly. If you have seen them, then you know. The set included such gems as “Gone Gone Gone” and “Smile Smile Smile” (worth repeating) and the crowd favorite “Shit Ain’t Illegal If You Don’t Get Caught.” Everything this weekend was designed to put a smile on your face – and keep it there.
Now it was time to move to the Bath Salt Zombies installation, where they had a full set-up and stage for Zombies of the Deep. This project deserves national attention; it is that innovative and wonderful. Kudos to all who coordinate to make it happen, from artists, set designers, worker bees, supportive families and all. This is not a part-time emotional investment. You have to be all in.
They played “Whoa Betsy,” about a cow. Then Graham Woodard asked, “Mind if we do another song about farm animals? Andy children around?” OK, it WAS 1:30 AM. So they played “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. Trey Miller brought his harp up to wail on “I Put a Spell on You,” and they closed with their truly great version of “St. James Infirmary.”
Done? Not by a long shot. The Silent Disco was just cranking up. Normally, there are two DJs spinning, and you can switch from channel to channel. The first of three hours was different, as the Bath Salt Zombies insisted we go check out their buds, Telekinetic Walrus.
These “people” claim to be from Miami, but I have nearly incontrovertible proof that they are either from Jupiter or Saturn. Maybe both. I have learned to handle BSZ, Marchfourth Marching Band, Moon Hooch, Hoots and Hellmouth, Shim and a bunch of other delightful weirdness, but this nearly through me for a loop. Here is their self-description: Experimental Psychedelic Hip Hop, Funky Electronic Bass & Weirdness. They have no question who they are.
You know I’m not the hip-hop king, but this was a riot, and extremely well delivered at that. It was mind-blowing visually as well, best I could see between the wee wee hours of 2 and 3 AM. I didn’t make it beyond TW to the “normal” DJs.
Up to this point, I didn’t have an official schedule, so I was surprised while out for a long walk that music started at 11 AM. Some young folks (not the Grumpy Ole Trolls) were enthusiastically working through a set of cover songs. This wasn’t spectacular, but the Green Bench Society did a nice job, and every opportunity to play a festival makes it easier for the next one and adds to your resume.
I was excited to see Squeedlepuss again. This is a Jacksonville quintet I had seen last year and was suitably impressed. They kicked it off with a funky jazzy “Chicken and Waffles,” followed that up with a ballad, then a Calypso-style tune, and another called “Spiders.” They also jammed a delightful cover of “Controversy.”
John Wayne Phillips, one of our four MusicFestNews photographers, was high as a kite talking about the Parker Urban Band from the day before. He was working on arranging an interview. We were able to sit down with five members of the band Saturday afternoon for a wonderful discussion that will emerge as an On the Rise article in June.
As a result, I heard only strains from the far stage of the Grumpy Ole Trolls, the band of young children in the School of Rock, and only a bit of I-Resolution, also delivering a nice set of reggae on the Citrus stage.
When we finished, they asked what was next. I said, “I’m heading to the main stage to see Serotonic.” I explained I have been so impressed with them I hired them to perform at my daughter’s wedding (it was deluxe).
Serotonic had been the backbone of the Legacy Orchestra Collective the previous day and were excited to have the big stage and a big audience. They blew it out. Cleverly, they started with their fine cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” then played a batch of their excellent original tunes. This is a very funky jazz quintet, or vice versa. This writer got a very warm and wonderful shout-out before playing my favorite of their tunes, “Rhinobelly.” Jordan Garno and Robert Sanger were unstoppable. And saxophone-playing Jon Tucker is a perpetual-motion machine. This was the best set I’ve seen from them, and that’s 20+.
And then they did something totally unexpected. Apparently, they have been discussing this concept for a while of stretching their envelope in another direction. You want another direction? How about a monster version of “No Quarter” by Zep? With alto sax. And Garno hammering it on guitar.
When they were done, one of my colleagues stood and said, “That was amazing. Best set I’ve seen all weekend!” The guy next to me was a tad less reserved. “YOU GUYS ARE GOOD AS F&#K!” No argument from me.
Time was colliding now, and I only made it out to hear a brief portion of Troy Youngblood and the Soulfish set. Talk about something completely different! These guys play very convincing, warm and honest American roots music, and Youngblood has a voice like few, if any, on the scene, deep, warm and rich. I really enjoy this group, a bit out of my usual wheelhouse.
Then it was back to the Citrus stage to catch the fine Gulfport quartet Ajeva. These boys deliver funk, reggae and rock and some jazz as well, Reed Skahill has a great voice that matches well with Legacy’s, and their sets are always fun. And then I split – again – to go back out for Leisure Chief. I needed a pedometer for real.
I’ve seen Leisure Chief several times recently and wrote an On the Rise article about them. Even since then the band has made great strides. They opened a couple weeks ago for TAUK in Orlando, and they just killed it. The crowd at the Social was going wild; it was gratifying to see that kind of response for an opening band.
This set went beyond, again. They mix instrumentals and vocals in a nice balance, and vocals are shared as well. Derek Engstrom had a particularly great set on drums and vocals. I look forward to their performances every time.
We needed light rail or a taxi or something to get from the Ka’Tiki to the other stages, although I’ll admit the exercise was probably a good idea to work off the great food and adult sodas. The Resolvers were on the main stage. This was beautiful, soulful reggae, and perhaps the first time I recall hearing a female vocalist. I really liked this song lyric: “Ganja is proof that Jah exists.” So there you have it.
And back out to see the growing collective known as Holey Miss Moley. Up until about a year ago, they were strictly instrumental and sounding great. They opted to add singer Danny Clemmons, who is flat out a great front man and singer. And this marked, by my count, Robyn Alleman’s third gig as female vocalist with the band (and I’ve seen all three!).
After starting with a fine original called “Naugatuck,” they invited rapper B-True to the stage, and that worked out great. Then they played a Stevie Wonder song from way back in the day, “To Know You Is to Love You.” Dani Jaye of Come Back Alice graced the stage with her violin, and Robyn sounded great. Tony Tyler came on as well for the Galactic masterpiece “There’s Something Wrong with This Picture” that Clemmons delivers so well.
And somebody – onstage or off (my notes are inconclusive) – said it again:
WE ARE SO BLESSED!
Suénalo was kicking a great set back at the Citrus stage, bringing beautiful Latin rhythms to OBJ. The timing was perfect; it was Saturday night – time to get loose. (To be fair, most folks were already a tad ‘loose.’)
I was really excited to see S.P.O.R.E. again. This Jacksonville quintet plays “live instrumentated electrofunk jam” music, and this set was stunning, with a capital S. The jam just continued to build and build and build. They are deservedly on the bill for Trey Hebron’s inaugural Reunion: Campout Concert at SoSMP in August. Toward the end, they dragged Chris Sgammato of Displace on stage with his alto sax (he might have gone willingly), and they just blew it out. I’m already anticipating seeing them again.
Back at the ranch, The Heavy Pets were ripping up the main stage. These guys can do absolutely anything and have like a dozen side projects so they can do more. Jeff Lloyd and Mike Garulli are nearly lethal together on guitars, and Tony D’Amato’s driving bass was pushing and shoving and bouncing along. Newbies were suitably impressed.
The surprise of the night was to come during the next set. People have told me all about it, and I’ve seen spectacular photos. There is a possibility I slept through the end part with the surprise, darn it. Come Back Alice was once again demonstrating why they need to be a national act. They got evil with “Just Along for the Ride” and bounced through “Coraline.” Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris and Big Bad John Werner got solo space, and there was a “Fast Train.” And then, fade to black. For me, apparently.
But wonderful photographic evidence will show that Tony Tyler surprised Dani Jaye completely by going on one knee, ring box in hand, to propose! And she said YES! It was glorious (so I’m told).
The late-night Ka’Tiki set was by Sosos. Whatever I thought this would be, I was way off base. They play acoustic roots Americana, and they play it very well. It was nice to bring the tempo down for a bit and relax. I really enjoyed their set.
OMG! More Bath Salt Zombies? Well, of course! This was another blacklight delight, as the fellas kept us laughing and singing (“Love Potion Number 9!”) and having a great time. They invited those Telekinetic Walrus folks up to play for a bit as well, more galactic craziness.
I did make it to the silent disco for some DJ spins, but I’m a fan of the electro-deep house-disco stuff, and this was not my favorite stuff. I switched channels for 40 minutes or so, then packed it in.
Sunday was set up as tribute day to Bob Dylan, the Dead, Little Feat and Widespread Panic. Boxcar Hollow had the 11 AM tribute to Dylan, theoretically, at least. Turns out it was more of a suggestion. Kurt had hurried to set up his recorded to catch the Dylan tunes for a friend.
Two things happened. They only played two of Bobby Z’s songs (“Don’t Think Twice” and “Maggie’s Farm”), but… the set was brilliant. I had only seen Boxcar Hollow once, as a duet with guitar and bass. Very enjoyable. But this quartet KICKED ASS. Start to finish. Weis is a great singer and guitar player, and Jeff Baker was perfect on drums. The special sauce for this set, however, was Greg Holt on violin. Just WOW.
Bands that play bluegrass – or some variation – often have a blast playing songs you would never expect. Hayseed Dixie is one such group. Boxcar Hollow had just played a great original tune, and now the song seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t… quite… place it. Oh, I see! “Get Down Tonight!” What a kick. Another original was followed by Panic’s “Porch Song (Fast).” Meesta Juanjamon came up to close out the set with “Dead Flowers” and his tenor sax.
So, so many things were wonderful about OBJ 6, but one aspect was inviting Robin to hang his Beautiful Streamers at the Citrus and Ka’Tiki stages. Robin is a wonderful, caring man whose aerial streamers are always a welcoming sight.
By the time I made it to the back stage, Tangled Mangos was in the midst of a tangled set. Dan Ryan and Kyle Shell were supposed to be doing a Little Feat tribute. Perhaps those tunes were earlier. What I heard was certainly fun, with Rev. Funky D sounding great on keyboards, including a very odd version of “Another One Bites the Dust” that just seemed to emerge from the ground.
On the Citrus stage, Funkin’ Grateful was having a magical performance. I had not realized that this was yet another group featuring some Heavy Pets. James Wuest on keyboards and Jamie Newett are so incredibly perfect for this band. This was very funky Grateful Dead. “They Love Each Other” was really uptempo, leading to “Franklin’s Tower,” then into “Fire on the Mountain,” with MJ’s “Don’t Stop (‘Til You Get Enough)” sandwiched in the middle. Meesta Juanjamon joined for a really bouncy “Althea.” The highlight of the set was a kick-ass (there’s that word again) “New Speedway Boogie” with a heavy “That’s It for the Other One” intro and outro. AWESOME!
It was hot out in the sun out back for High Cotton, but the Spreadheads and others had gathered for some Panic. This was my second time hearing them, and they were pumped up, and so were the people in the crowd, some inching into the shade, others dancing with abandon out in the sun. They began with “Ain’t Life Grand” (and yes it is, thank you). The Tom Waits song “Going Out West” was wickedly slow, “All Time Low” was killer, and “Who Do You Belong To?” was a funking delight.
I could not stay to hear Unlimited Devotion close down the fest; they got high praise from everyone there.
There are festivals of all sorts, big, small, humongous, tiny, you name it. Each is special for a different weekend. Many of us had just left a magical experience at the Purple Hatter’s Ball.
OBJ is a family affair. Everyone is your best friend and neighbor; everyone cares; everyone gets it. Like Purple Hatter’s, OBJ is a small fest with an enormous heart. Doing back-to-back fests is rough, I discovered, but I would never ever miss either one of these.
Thanks first and foremost to Russ Redbird Bowers and Toby Bowers and their massive crew for the countless hours required to put this festival together – and then take it apart at the end. The dude with the tank top that had AWAY TEAM scrawled across the back. Marty and Pete and the sound crews and the light crews. Capturing the music courtesy of www.HaveYouHerdRadio.com and www.LiveMusicAthensGA.com. The people who set up Kid Row. DJ PK. Liza and Hal and their installation. All of the volunteers who worked tirelessly. Our festival gurus: Kenny Blair (Great Outdoors Jam coming up July 4th weekend), Cody Bean (Hometeam New Year’s Rally), and Trey Miller (Little Econ Love Fest). The sponsors and the vendors and the artists and the musicians and…
We are family. We are blessed. Nobody has a better family than we do!
OH BEE JAAAAAAY!