Backwoods Fam Jam a Magical Experience at Lone Palm Ranch

The Backwoods Fam Jam is now in the books. For those interested in the Readers’ Digest version, here is what we learned:

* The music was spectacular.
* The sound crews were brilliant.
* The festival organization was superb.
* The hosts were so incredibly friendly and helpful.
* The owners have already begun working on necessary upgrades.
* The horses were wonderful.
* The event added, not detracted, from the Florida festival scene.

That’s the short version. Let’s examine that last point first. There was some consternation, properly expressed, about whether a festival two weeks before Orange Blossom Jamboree was appropriate or would cloud the festival season. I truly appreciate the thoughts that led to those concerns; fortunately, I believe I can address them.

Lone Palm Ranch is in Hastings, less than 20 miles from St. Augustine. The majority of the jam community near Jacksonville would clearly support this location, and not many would travel to Maddox Ranch in Lakeland or Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville for shows. The same could be said about the people in the Tampa Bay environs who attend “local” shows, but many would not travel to Hastings.

Of course, there are crazies — like Charles — who would gladly travel to both. And attend both. This does not seem to diminish OBJ; in fact, all weekend long there were visual and audible reminders to attend OBJ and Great Outdoors Jam. This to me is clearly a case of cooperation and not competition. Jenelle and Cody Bean, proprietors of Hometeam New Year’s Rally, attended — and had a great time. Cody said he wanted to check it out and was very glad he did. I am, too.

Charlie Bilsker, Duane Nichols, Shaun Nichols, “Big Mike” McCullough and others did a brilliant job hosting a first-time event. There is no question that our community will be back to Lone Palm Ranch — in force.

And we knew this was going to be special when we were checked in by a great lady — Debbie — and by Bells and Robes! — Dean Spaniol and Luke Sipka. Seriously.

FRIDAY

Valdosta’s Custard Pie had the honor of playing first — at their very first festival appearance. They can go a lot of directions, but their forte clearly is psychedelic jamming, and they had a tremendous set. Isaac Corbitt, who ended up sitting in on a baker’s dozen sets in addition to his own, meshed well with them later in the set. And the boys shut it down with a dynamite cover of “War Pigs.” Bravo, Valdosta!

Next up was a set so stunning, so unexpected, that you will excuse the hyperbole, except that it isn’t. Black Diamond was on tour from Chicago, and their set sent me into orbit. And I was not the only one. After their set, Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris of Come Back Alice saw me and said, “That’s my new favorite band!” Sound man Dillon Reeder concurred.

The best analogy I can provide is that the quartet reminded me of Ornette Coleman’s band, although this band featured two tenor saxophones — Hunter Diamond and Artie Black — rather than alto sax and pocket trumpet. I cannot overstate the magnificence of the hour of music they provided. Neil Hemphill’s time on kit was perfection, but it was Matt Ulery who set the weekend bar really high with his incredible work on double bass. They played songs from their upcoming August release Mandala and others as well. You can count on hearing more about Mandala when it is released.

Heather Gillis, just two weeks from her incredible performance with The Freight Train Band at Wanee, put on an excellent set with a new quartet. The set began with five fine originals, opening with “Iced Tea” and a brand-new song titled “Be Alright.” Corbitt collaborated on “Gonna Be a Storm.”

After “Souls on Fire,” she stomped on “Fire” (Hendrix). After a bit, the band vamped as she reminded us that “their are two spirits in the sky tonight,” referring to Butch Trucks and Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.), both of whom were responsible for giving Gillis the opportunity to demonstrate her great skills on a much larger stage. With that, the song morphed into “Space is the Place,” the Sun Ra tune that the Col. adopted (usurped?). Gillis then invited Tony Tyler and Dani Jaye of Come Back Alice onstage, and the jam moved into “Mountain Jam,” with everybody taking a solo and Gillis playing her guitar over her head. What would Gillis do the next day?

She was graduated from Florida State University! Mazel Tov!

The two side-by-side stages made it easy to see and hear all the music you wanted as we watched Tyler and Jaye sprint over to the main stage for their own Come Back Alice set. This quintet from St. Petersburg belongs on the national stage, and this performance clearly demonstrated that again. After powerful opener “Ugly Rumors,” the band blew up their great new tune “Love is the Answer,” with excellent solos from Jaye on violin and Tyler on guitar. They followed up with a surprise cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows” that sounded great.

Fan favorite “Coraline” appeared mid-set, and they jammed “Space is the Place” in the middle of “Live It Up” for the Col. The closing tune was a joyous romp on “Jessica,” one of many Allman Brothers tunes Come Back Alice plays beautifully. Encouraged by PK, occasional MC, they returned for a short encore of “Eleanor Rigby.”

Ben Strok and The Full Electric were up next. This band evolved from Herd of Watts, and in a short period the band played at Fool’s Paradise and just played A Wonderful Evening of Stevie Wonder’s music with an 11-member band. This time the quartet was augmented with trumpet and tenor sax. The jammed-out set featured two originals and three great covers, starting with TAB’s “Cayman Preview.” After “Juice Box,” they invited artist-at-large Hunter Diamond up to blow some tenor on “Constellation.” This led to a great series of solos from Jonathan Ward (trumpet), Matthew Strok (synths), Diamond, and Ben.

The band’s version of “Bird Song” was “a Grateful dead cover a la Nassau Coliseum 1990 with Branford Marsalis, featuring Diamond on sax again,” Ben explained. Before they played it, Ben told us it was written for Janis Joplin (that’s cool!) and dedicated it to Col. Bruce. They closed the set with a fine cover of moe.’s “Opium,” featuring Corbitt.

Roosevelt Collier had the great responsibility of closing the first night of this brand-spanking-new festival with a Super Jam, and super it was. Come Back Alice remained on stage with Collier, and they were joined by The Full Electric’s horns and the ubiquitous Corbitt. If you’ve attended a Roosevelt Jam before, then you know that most of the tunes are called Jam1, Jam2 and so on.

Jam1 was totally sick, and they had only just begun. There were many great solos during the 15 or so minutes, but Dani Jaye owned this one on violin. The second jam was even sicker, and I made a discovery. We’ll talk more about the outstanding sound all weekend, because they had everyone dialed in perfectly. But no one stood out more than bassist Kenny Stadelman. This is a man I’ve seen and heard more than 40 times, and I have always loved his playing, but this time he ripped my head clear off. The bass sent this entire set totally over the top.

Next the collective was joined by vocalist Lacy Lou (Stereo Vudu) for “Kiss,” with Artie Black making it a four-man horn section. Once again, Stadelman was the man. After that, there was a rhythm section swap-out as Stephen Pigman and Eric Bailey from The Full Electric joined in. Pigman continued with the superb bass playing. Corbitt was all over this one, which headed into a solid country shuffle. John Parkerurban, who had just played with Grass is Dead earlier in the evening in Jacksonville, jumped up for a pair of tunes, including the closing “Cissy Strut.” That’s what my notes say.

And with that, “Big Mike” bid us a good evening as many headed for the bonfire. It was a magical night, and we had two more days to go!

SATURDAY

The early afternoon music began with Andrew Fagin on vocals and acoustic guitar accompanied by Monica Iskander on vocals. They had a pleasant set to start the day. There was a cancellation, and Custard Pie astutely stepped into the void with their second festival set, another great one. They again hit that trippy stuff hard (it’s so much fun). Corbitt was there most of the time, having a blast, and there was another guitar player adding to the fun.

Speaking of fun, Wax Wings (Gainesville) was a blast. Picture a sextet with guitar and drums. And violin, double bass, Sousaphone and female vocalist who plays trumpet! This was a diverse and entertaining set, very solid musically. Sousaphone and double bass!

More entertainment came our way courtesy of Universal Green (Jacksonville). MC Darryl Green and crew would have you believe their genre is hip hop, but that description isn’t nearly wide enough. They hit reggae, rock, funk, and just plain old fun during their smoking set that had people dancing up a storm. And who was that man behind the drums? Jason Hunnicutt! The set included a righteous reading of “Exodus.”

And the afternoon just continued to get better and better. Next up were Hail Cassius Neptune, a quintet from Asheville who proclaim themselves as “art rock,” an entirely fitting description. They certainly had the attention of the fans. “No Blood” was good, “the Governess” better, and by “Never Gonna Die” they were on fire. Kylie Jo Stern was mesmerizing on vocals, with Wilson Stern leading the band on bass.

They called Corbitt to the stage and proceeded to do magnificent justice to Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone,” with guitarist Ethan Heller saving some of his best for this workout. Kylie Jo was stunning. They closed with the charmingly titled “Puke On Stacy,” which began as a ballad before shifting into a rocker during the break.

Locochino, a “progadelic jamfunk outfit from Gainesville,” delivered exactly that. They came out smoking immediately with “Mr. Pink” and “Cold Coffee.” Blake Briand’s synths were everywhere, aiding and abetting the trance-dance vibe. Somewhere during “Odyssey” and “Mystery,” the last two tunes, they hit an awesome Santana-like “Jingo” groove that really had people moving.

The Delta Troubadours knocked out a solid set of rock and roll to the delight of the crowd. Their cover of “Johnny B. Good” was fun, and their originals mined the same territory.

We have all been waiting for the return of the Parker Urban Band, sidelined briefly by Mateo, the alert ten-month-old born to Juanita and John Parkerurban. The wait was worth it. They opened as a quintet (minus the ladies) for a slammin’ jazz opening of “Juke > Windjammer” that was totally over the top. Then the ladies appeared, Juanita stage right and Myrna Stallworth stage left. Juanita sang lead on “Tears of Love” before they slowed the pace down for some magnificent harmonies on “No Shoes.” Juanita and Myrna also intertwined on Bill Withers’ “For My Friend.”

The group then shoved it into overdrive with a funk rave-up on “Trust Someone.” John Parkerurban had several great solos, and what followed was even better, a tremendous version of Wes Montgomery’s “4 on 6,” with John abusing his wah-wah pedal. The jam covered a range from straight-up to “Willie the Pimp”-like Zappa overtones. D’Angelo’s “Betray My Heart” segued into beautiful Latin jazz with “Spanish Jam.”

When John introduced the opening chords to “Franklin’s Tower,” I was admittedly skeptical. My mistake. Corbitt joined in, and he and John started trading choruses. Chris Poland jumped into the fray on alto sax. Then Corbitt and John really started to battle, and the band blew the titanic jam sky-high.

That left it to Ajeva, the St. Petersburg sextet, to close it down for the night (except for silent disco!). Simply put, this was a world-class performance. It reminded me once again that there are many bands who could or should be headlining major festivals — if only for the opportunity or breaks. It is clearly not for lack of talent or lack of hard work.

Reed Skahill jumped straight into the vocals on “Off the Mountain (Better Off),” with Mark Mayea’s synths helping the song Evolve. Next was a new tune, “Try Not To,” from the band’s upcoming album. Corbitt rushed the stage for “Space Ducks,” followed by “Metaphysics.” One thing was crystal-clear during that the latter: the work Mayea and Taylor Gilchirst are doing with the brilliant fusion collective Joose has absolutely upped Ajeva’s game as well. “Funky Green Men” was a blast, followed by “No Holding Back.” Lead guitarist Skyler Golden (is he even legal yet?) was stunning the entire set, properly propelled by Travis ‘Too Tall’ Young on drums.

“Do Not Command” is such a tremendous song, Skahill’s vocals again perfection. Finally, they got to “Funky Situation,” another song he delivers so well. This one gave every member of the band a chance to stretch out. For an encore, they chose “Another One,” with Mayea huge again on the keyboards and Gilchrist on walking bass.

Bells and Robes were setting up for the silent disco, but my brain and body were setting up for sleep. Resistance was futile.

SUNDAY

A quiet singer-songwriter might not sound like the best way to start the day, but with Mountain Holler it certainly was. Mountain Holler is just one of the vehicles Mark Etherington uses to get his music out there in addition to his band, Redfeather, and Set and and Setting, where he plays drums. Etherington and his phalanx of guitars provided an outstanding ethereal first set. This was an introspective set which concluded with a great trio of tunes from Live in the Wireman Chapel: “Into the Winds > Canyons of Your Soul > Open New Faiths.”

Pure madness was up next with Fire Water Tent Revival, which went about the way you’d expect, what with banjo, washboard, acoustic guitar, double bass, alto sax and violin. Early in the set they played delightful covers of tunes from Dark Side of the Moon, followed immediately by “Mama Don’t Allow,” which turned into a swinging romp. Leader Dave Smith then offered parenting advice before launching into “Stupid People Shouldn’t Breed.” Corbitt put his stamp on that one, too.

The set then careened from a straightforward reading of Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” to “I’ll See You in Hell,” then a wah-wah violin workout on “I Know You Rider,” and they finished with “Want to Feel Blood Rushing in My Veins.”

Atlanta invaded next in the form of Voodoo Visionary, the great rocking quintet which just released their second album, Off the Ground. They began with a strong version of “Hero on the Horizon,” a fascinating tune based on a child’s story. Scott MacDonald’s voice is the perfect funk vehicle for this band. Dennis Dowd’s clavinet immediately jumped to the fore. They followed with several more tunes from Off the Ground, including “Roscoe,” “Take a Sip of the Sunshine” and “Hold Tight.” This set belonged to bassist Jimmy Lynch. All weekend long, it was all about that bass…

They dipped into the Meters’ trick bag for “Hey Pocky A-Way,” which turned into a long jam, Mike Wilson crushing another guitar solo. “Testify” was powerful funk and another long jam, powered by Mac Schmidt’s drums. From Backwoods, Voodoo Visionary just embarked on a national tour.

No matter what ails you, it’s likely that The Applebutter Express has the cure. This quartet had another delightful performance, opening with “Hey My Brotha.” Harmony vocals don’t get much better than Shannon and Kyle Biss. They whipped out a great cover of “Whippin’ Post” and reminded us once again of that age-old truism: “Shit Ain’t Illegal If You Don’t Get Caught.” Corbitt sat in on “Home is Whenever I’m With You” (what a wonderful sentiment). The Biss vocals and Kyle’s ukulele playing catch your attention first, but Joe Trivette (fiddle) and Zach Rogers (bass) are superb players, and both really stood out on this song.

Corbitt hung out for a bit as Applebutter went through “Ragin’ On a Weekday,” “Atlantic City” and “Wanee Trippin’.” There are few treats as enjoyable as hearing them sing “Hot Pussy,” and they followed that up with “The World Ain’t All That Bad.” Every Applebutter Express set makes you “Smile!”

Jacksonville rockers Bonnie Blue played a killer set, coming out with heavy funk on “Trippin’.” They offered a great version of “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.” Corbitt’s sit-in was pure gold; he meshes with Bonnie Blue so well. Bradley Churchman and Willis Gore were out front on guitar and vocals as they attacked “Memphis Belle,” “King Harvest” and more. There was a great cover of “Jessica” before they shut it down with Corbitt on “Lotta Love.” Did we mention Adam Kenneway had a dynamite set — on bass?!?

The Groove Orient had just raged two nights in Orlando at Will’s Pub with several other bands and were primed and ready for the Fam Jam. They wasted no time, slamming immediately into “Hot Bandit Woman.” Chuck Magid was on fire on vocals and guitar, with Harry Ong similarly blazing on vocals and bass. Omg handled the vocals on “Bananas,” which featured solos by Magid and Tommy Shugart (Hammond B3). Next, they announced a “David C. Walker jam” that eventually segued into “The Golden Hour.”

“I Don’t Need Your Love” was highlighted by Shugart’s electric piano and Ong on bass. Next, they turned David Vanegas (percussion) and Bucky Buckingham (drums) loose. There was plenty of time for everyone to showcase his skills, including David Vanegas on bass while Ong sang a ballad. For closing “Ghost Train,” Shugart grabbed his guitar so that he and Magid could play some of that magical twin guitar lead.

The penultimate Fam Jam set was Isaac Corbitt’s new collective Harp Smoke. Most of the vocals were handled by x, playing acoustic guitar. A blues jam was first, followed by some kicks rock and roll. Next was a riotous cover of Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” dedicated to Col. Bruce. The set included a strong “Rock Me Baby,” a soulful “Into the Mystic,” and a loving “Soulshine” that featured the Bonnie Blue boys.

The Heavy Pets. Photograph by Jen McKinnon / Florida Music Blog

And then it was Heavy Pets time. Was it ever! By late Sunday, the crowd had really thinned out. The Pets responded by delivering the best set I’ve ever heard from them, simply mind-blowing. They were in full stride by the time they got to “Help Me Help You” with soaring vocals from guitarists Jeff Lloyd and Mike Garulli and keyboard wiz Jim Wuest. Tony D’Amato was a monster on bass the entire two-hour set. (See, it was…).

They got everyone’s attention with a fine cover of “I Am the Walrus,” one of the many tunes the band has played in their Beatles tributes. There were some huge jams with D’Amato and the guitarists blazing away. “Rain” featured a great solo from Wuest.

“Higher (Since I Met You)” was a brand new tune, fine reggae/ska, morphing into “Everything You Can” with the same lilt. Wuest was incredible. Finally, they hit the opening notes to their magnum opus, “So Thank You Music.” For 25 minutes we were transported all over the music realm as The Heavy Pets went through change after change after change, Jamie Newitt directing traffic from the drum kit.

Magnificent. The perfect coda to a perfect weekend.

About those sound guys. Jared Rhodes and his company, Infinite Waves Productions, ran front of house on the main stage. Dillon Reeder and Hieu Nguyen worked with him. They CRUSHED. (Pretty sure Reeder completed a marathon running back and forth!) Brilliant sound, with every instrument clearly audible. And I didn’t even think about wearing earplugs. BRAVO!

Delighted to hear that Rhodes and Reeder are running sound on the side stage this week at OBJ!

Nichols and Nichols are hoping to hold at least half a dozen more events at the location in the upcoming year. Everybody who was in attendance will tell you this place has great potential and wants to go back.

MusicFestNews is looking forward to the next one!

Photograph of the Heavy Pets courtesy of Jen McKinnon of Florida Music Blog – floridamusicblog.com

[Ed. note: Obviously, we did not have a photographer on location. We will add more photos if they become available. The music was too important not to publish.]