Photographs by Mandi Nulph, Bryan Edward, and Matt Hillman
For New Year’s Eve 2017, there were once again tens of thousands of musical options available across the country. Many of the biggest names rang in the new year in great arenas in New York, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco and… you name it. In Florida, there were thousands of places to hear music.
Those who attended the four-day love fest subtitled Hometeam New Year’s Rally won’t tell you that you’re doing it wrong, but they will for darn sure tell you that they’re doin’ it right. Once again, Maddox Ranch in Lakeland hosted 36 sets of music, and from this decidedly non-objective reviewer’s standpoint, every one was at least great if not superb, bordering on best-ever.
This party exists because Jenelle and Cody Bean had a vision of what was — and is — possible. They and their incredible assemblage of workers and volunteers just pulled off their sixth Rally. On the back of the program, a great introduction begins this way:
HOMETEAM is not just a festival… It’s a Family.
It’s an ever-growing community of individuals whose shared love for music, arts and good intention has become a launching pad for making dreams come true.
And that harkens back to a phrase you may have seen before (including on my bumper, thanks Pat!):
My other family is a bunch of magical hippies.
That is what Hometeam is all about. Rising Light programs of yoga, lectures and more, The Greenes’ Little League children’s activities almost non-stop, great vendors with wares of all sorts. And hugs. LOTS OF HUGS. Because you can never have too many hugs.
Oh, and music.
One other great aspect to this year’s edition was going to 90-minute sets for most bands and two-hour sets for headliners. Joe Roma of Row Jomah said that worked much better. “You take 30 to 40 minutes to get warmed up, and then you’re saying, ‘We’ve only got a couple more.’ with an hour set.”
You’re familiar with the mantra “Never miss a Sunday show,” which can also be adapted to “Never miss a festival Sunday.” I will always add this one: “NEVER miss a festival pre-party.” If you can swing it with your work schedule, you will be handsomely rewarded. That was never, ever more true than when the first band, Stereo Maven, hit the stage at 5 PM. Stereo who? Fair question. Heather Gillis, Ari McManus, and Dani Jaye is the answer. Along with Este Loves. And Sarah Phillips.
Backed by Gillis’s rhythm section, the ladies immediately threw down a superb set. Ari McManus (Ari and the Alibis) was magnificent on vocals, Gillis wicked on guitar, and Jaye (Come Back Alice) superb on violin and guitar. They invited “Mama Bone” Phillips to decorate “Tell Mama.”
Then Ari let Este Loves take over the vocals, with Critter (one of the great artists at large) adding his guitar to the mix. She first offered up her wonderful “I Want You to Come Inside My Mind,” following that up with an equally great new composition, “Here to Stay.” Gillis, Jaye and the rhythm section did a great Allman Brothers jam, followed by superb Gillis composition “Be All Right.” Gillis and Jaye were absolutely off the chain, or hook, or whatever the current vernacular is.
And how about that new eight-panel video display behind the main stage? WOW! They were provided by Eric and Jessica Biron, who also provided the bus behind the main stage that acted as the green room for Dumpstaphunk.
Another great Gillis tune, “Soul’s On Fire,” ended the set. Encore? You bet. McManus was back for a brilliant rendition of “I Put a Spell on You,” with Ari? also on guitar.
Here is the audio link to the set recorded by Volke Mon.
And a brief time-out to state, categorically, once again, that it IS all about that bass. The bass players all weekend were just astounding, and it all began with Evan Sarver, who was accompanying the ladies. They were wonderful; so was Sarver. He set the tone for the weekend on the very first set.
So naturally Caleb Bone, bassist for manic-funk band The Reality, followed suit. The group’s funk is rooted in his bass and radiates outward. He is also a tremendous singer and never sounded better than this outing. The quartet torched through numerous tunes from recent album Car Trouble and their debut release as well. They also threw in an excellent cover of “Just Kissed My Baby” that scooched on over into, well, “Scooch on Over!”
Then artist-at-large Jon Ditty, rapper deluxe, offered up some great rhymes (the first of a dozen sit-ins as an artist at large). Another AAL, Clay Watson, came up to wrangle trombones with Dan Jones. Then the band absolutely smoked “Sweet Tooth,” just chock-full of that great James Brown guitar from Dan and Josh Haley. Mama Bone also sat in, and keyboard player Austin Kelly played some more really sweet trumpet. They shut the set down with a remarkable cover of RHCP’s “Don’t Stop.”
Dunedin’s Between Bluffs stunned at Great Outdoors Jam with a superb set, ending a lengthy hiatus. They topped that at the other Hometeam pre-party at Skipper’s Smokehouse December 9th, and this set topped that one. This band is on fire. And we were only three sets into a magical weekend — and a day which simply wouldn’t quit.
Naturally, Justin Davis on upright electric bass kept the string alive with another dynamite outing. Much of the set was from their new space opus, including songs such as “Storm of Jupiter” and “Flying into the Sun.” Singer and guitarist Jerrod Simpson had another great day, weaving his vision before us. They strolled through pop-punk and prog rock and many stops in between, Joseph Russek III keeping the beat on time.
“Out of My Mind” rocked, and there was more great space-y stuff such as “Multiverse” and “Lunar-C,” Davis on space bass and Mel Walsh shredding with abandon all set long. At some point Simpson grabbed a small megaphone, Critter guested, Davis continued to be superb, arco bass as well. There was a song you can ponder: “Hooker with a Penis.” The finale, including the ubiquitous Jon Ditty, surged from “Psycho Killer” into “The Florida Song.”
Here is the audio link to the set recorded by Volke Mon.
Then it was Taylor Gilchrist’s turn on bass, leading JOOSE into another jaw-dropping performance. It began with a Herbie Hancock-like composition, “We’ve Got a Lot of Work to Do,” Mark Mayea on clavinet and Christian Ryan using his effects pedals on alto sax. After “Genesis” accelerated with Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris pushing the pace, they backed off a bit for some great funk fusion with “Peacock Strut,” Mayea dancing on the synthesizers.
Jon Ditty was up again, thanking the band for learning his composition “Natural Selection,” with great solos from Justino Lee Walker on guitar and Mayea on electric piano between Ditty’s raps. Then it was on to Act IV of their magnum opus about life. This section, “Adulthood,” included “State of Shock,” “Why Me?” and “Dear Mother.” It was spacey and fun, with Mayea on synths, Ryan on flute, and Gilchrist holding down the bottom. The tune went in what seemed like a dozen directions, Middle Eastern at times, Latin, prog rock. Walker was shredding, Mayea on piano.
“Flight of the Kiwi” found Ryan on tenor, then Mayea on an incredibly jazzy piano solo which somehow twisted itself into prog, Walker unleashed. Morris and Jimmy Rector (percussion) were punctuating and accenting all set long. Finally, there was “The Long and Difficult Conflict of Kronos and Bones.”
And a word about Jon Ditty. His delivery is so rapid-fire that sometimes I wish I could slow him down from 45 to 33, but not really, because much of his charm is his well-enunciated if quick-paced presentation.
Time for the headlining set with Holey Miss Moley, two and a quarter hours of delicious funk fun with this ten-piece machine plus five artists at large and three other guests. B-True Brian and Jon Ditty helped introduce the set after MC PK welcomed us to the show. Critter then joined for “Shake It with Me,” then Mama Bone on a sonic “Serpentine Fire” and another artist at large, Isaac Corbitt, on “Big Bad Wolf.” Jacob Cox really tortured his wah-wah pedal on this one, Ryan on alto sax.
B-True helped out on “Bermuda Triangle; keyboard star Mikey Guzman really shone here, especially on synths. And the man of the set was — well, of course — Kenny Harvey, because he plays bass. He was simply superb. Sean ‘Legacy’ Maloney offered up three originals with the band, most prominently his newest, “After Thought,” a truly brilliant trance-y instrumental.
Jon Ditty and B-True were back for some fine hip hop. Lead vocalists Miss Robyn Alleman and Danny Clemmons presented a new band original titled “Put It In the Wind,” after which Alleman took another Orgōne tune as her own: “Say Goodbye.” Loe Sanz and Ellie McCaw added greatly to these tunes with their backing vocals. Holey Miss Moley then shut down the set with a massive “Naugatuck” into the band’s signature “Devil Funk.” Harvey was again huge, and Watson (trombone) and Richie Jones (yet another AAL, percussion) helped blow it up.
Almost instantly, HMM cleared the stage, and things got green — very green. Rumors — and a bit of online drama — were rampant that the announced surprise set would be the return of Green Sunshine. Confirmed! The great funky hip hop band made a glorious half-hour return, starting with “Simon Says > Lost Ones > The Get Up > Fresh > Can’t Phase Me,” Optimus Rhyme and MC Reason rapping in unison and Motown Tea singing and dancing. After “Passion,” they really hit stride with “Summertime > We Won’t Stop > Underground > Funk’s Not Dead.”
Harvey was guesting on bass, pairing with Dillon Reeder on drums for some delicious grooves. Jon Ditty reappeared to pitch in on “Apache > Let Me Clear My Throat,” and Green Sunshine, Mama Bone in fine form, celebrated their return with the rollicking “Not Going to Work > Got Your Money > NGTW > Need a Dollar > Funk Break > NGTW.” (Their Back from Space party is this Saturday, January 13th, at the Ringside with Legacy & Friends.)
The de Bine Stage got its baptism with Harmonica Man & the Sawgrass Band. Trey Miller and friends were holding court, the friends including Arielle D’Ornellas, Colin Christopher, Jesse James, and a cast of… well, a lot. The set was titled “Pickin’ on Hometeam,” which lead to great acoustic covers of The Groove Orient’s “Hot Bandit Woman,” Holey Miss Moley’s “Bermuda Triangle,” and Ajeva’s “Floating Molecules,” among others. Christopher also delivered a very nice “Restless Wind” (SCI).
FRIDAY New Year’s Eve Eve Eve
shoeless soul got the festival proper off to a great start with a bouncing good-time set, opening with “Counting to 11” and “It’s All Good.” Rene Schlegel was in great voice throughout with excellent backing vocals from Dave Gerulat, especially on “Modern-Day Pioneers.” Mike Ratza put his tenor saxophone through the paces during this fine set. The quartet’s signature “Obviously Oblivious” was fabulous, Sladjan Vidic on bass and Gerulat on drums so tight and solid. They left us with two other fan favorites: “Happiness” and “Smile.”
It was then blues time with heaping sides of funk and fun courtesy of the Damon Fowler Band. Fowler, pride of Brandon, and his band punched out a great dancing set for the early afternoon. Fowler is a badass guitarist, but somebody (Colin Christopher, perhaps?) pointed out that one of the best guitarists at the festival was playing bass; that would be Matt Walker. He and drummer Justin Headley were excellent backing Fowler’s guitar and lap steel.
Isaac Corbitt joined in on an under-appreciated Muddy Waters tune, “Goin’ Walkin’ After Dark,” a great blues shuffle. Then Clay Watson jumped in for “No Future for Me” and “Fruit Stand Lady.” As Fowler reminded us that Dicky Betts was touring again this year by way of introducing “Southbound” (?), he discovered that this wasn’t an hour set and he had 30 more minutes. “Thirty more minutes??” he asked. That led to some inspired playing including “Tightrope” by Leon Russell and “Machine Gun Kelly” before the best — and longest — tune of the set, “Sounds of Home.” Fowler gave us a sweet reprise with “Sugar Shack.”
We had first encountered Asheville’s Hail Cassius Neptune at Backwoods Fam Jam in May and were duly impressed. This set was even better, despite getting off to a slow start with a long, rambling rap. Immediately, it got much better, beautiful, ethereal. Kylie Jo Stern is a fine vocalist with great stage presence. After a nice instrumental with Wilson Stern on bass, they offered up a lovely “Livin’ My Life Like It’s Golden.”
Richie Jones added percussion to “Jezebel” with a fine solo on djembe, and Wilson had that great jazz bass thing going a la Stanley Clarke and Kai Eckhardt. And I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t praying they would again cover Erykah Badu’s “Call Tyrone.” WISH GRANTED! They had everyone’s attention for this brilliant cover, Kylie Jo simply magnificent. One of the best moment’s of the Rally. Artist at large Chris Sgammato added a great alto sax solo, and he and the bass player traded back and forth.
Uncle John’s Band had two hours to remind us why they are one of the longest running and most respected Grateful Dead tribute acts in the Southeast. They recently played their 978th Thursday show at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa and showed no signs of slowing down when they took the stage. The group was relaxed and ready to jam, and they did, from their opening with “Shakedown Street” and “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” through classics such as “Brown-Eyed Women” and “Ramblin’ Rose.” After “Iko Iko,” MusicFestNews’ Matt Hillman blew harp on Little Junior Parker’s “Next Time You See Me.”
The “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider” pairing was dynamite, followed by the great country flavors of “Cumberland Blues.” “Truckin’” featured the best jam of the set, closing with “One More Saturday Night.” Nobody argued that it was Friday!
It would be safe to assume that no one was adequately prepared for the true awesomeness of Savannah’s Funk You, led by frontman Gavin Hamilton. By the time they moved into “She’s So High,” “Supernatural” and “Space Monkey,” the band was on fire. Sgammato sat in on “Black Dynamite.” Things then became very jamtronic-trancey in an incredible way during “What’s on Your Mind > Important to You > Funk You.” Evan Miller on guitar and Will Foster’s keyboards led the charge. These guys KILLED! And of course Rob Thompson was big on bass!
It was time for Come Back Alice. When you combine the dynamic duo of Tony Tyler and Dani Jaye with the brilliant backing quartet lifted directly from JOOSE, anything can and does happen (Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris has been with CBA longer than JOOSE, for the record, as has percussionist Jimmy Rector). Mark Mayea and Taylor Gilchrist (both with Ajeva as well) have added greatly to this band deserving of national attention (we have quite a few of those, actually).
After “Along for the Ride,” they settled into a new funk tune with Isaac Corbitt guesting and Dani Jaye switching from violin to guitar. Mayea sounded great, and Tyler played slide. A new ballad followed that titled “Echo in the Breeze.” There was a great Led Zep tune (they’ve covered much of that catalog before) and a massive “Ugly Rumors.” The set closed with a tremendous Latin rocker featuring Morris and Rector in a percussion showdown. CBA encored with a quick and dirty “Love in an Elevator.”
On to Ajeva, who had burst out of inactivity with an incredible set at the Skipper’s pre-party. A long intro of “Greasy” and “Tag Sumthin’” led into “Little Green Men from Mars,” Reed Skahill’s vocals perfect. Skyler Golden again channelled Carlos Santana on “7:45.” Critter and Corbitt helped out on “Waves,” followed by the next great Jon Ditty rap on a new tune, with Skahill also rapping; Nick Brio sat in on sax. Mayea showed us his guitar skills on “Holding,” and then Brio, Watson and Sgammato bum-rushed “Floating Molecules.” Richie Jones was in the mix for the end of the set as well. Gilchrist? Yet another monster bass set.
South Florida jam masters The Heavy Pets had the prime headlining slot, and the quintet just tore it up. Fronted by two tremendous guitarists and a keyboard wizard, with a killer rhythm section (and, yes, Tony D’Amato was evil on bass, as usual), they jumped right into “Shahryar’s Rage” and then “Movie Star.” “Real News” was total kickass funk, and then Jon Ditty (remember him?) guested on “Rainy Days.” “Invisible Coyotes” was surf-punk madness, Jeff Lloyd and Mike Garulli on guitars.
I will never, ever tire of hearing “So Thank You Music” with its various changes, trance-y synths and overall goodness. Juanjamon played tenor on “Holy Holy,” a huge trance-y jam, and, after “Higher,” I got my “Dewpoint!” Keyboard wizard Jim Wuest makes this song so much fun. They encored with a lovely “Castles Made of Sand.”
Flow artists of all sorts were lighting up the nights with their various apparati:
Sleep was taking over my brain, but we enjoyed a bit of the late-night fun with Mikhail Peterson and the Genetically Modified Orchestra. He was playing acoustic guitar, accompanied by a lady on violin, another guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. Sounded great as my brain faded to black.
SATURDAY New Year’s Eve Eve
The JOOSE boys were back under the parachute at 10:30 AM for another of their “coffee sessions.” This was lighter fare than their titanic Thursday set but no less compelling. They began with a beautiful Kenny Garrett ballad, “She Waits for the New Sun.” Ryan was on alto, Justino on acoustic guitar (very nice), and Mayea on synths. Next they torched “Black Superhero Theme Song” by Erimaj, very Headhunters-like, Ryan on tenor, Mayea electric piano. For the Snarky Puppy tune “Binky,” Jen Peacock, Ryan’s fiancée and also a member of Holey Miss Moley, added some lovely trumpet.
Jon Ditty joined them for “You Can’t Cure Stupid” and then reprised his song “Natural Selection” with the band, including a badass kazoo solo. Justino sang the Childish Gambino tune “Redbone,” and they closed with “Nakamara” by Hiatus Kaiyote. Rector and Morris were superb in their understatement for this set, and Gilchrist made his fourth Hometeam outing memorable.
Next up were an acoustic duo from Atlanta, Gareth Asher and Nicki Thrailkill, performing as Ink & Ash. If you were there, you couldn’t miss him, bedecked in a Cossack outfit. They played a pleasant set to begin the day on the Zonk Family stage, mixing originals with covers such as “Against the Wind.” Their voices were beautiful, and Asher was an accomplished guitarist. Richie Jones helped his fellow ATLiens on their last tune.
We were surprised when we turned to the main stage to discover brand new Viking Guy banners covering the speakers on either side of the stage! These were a gift from production manager Pete Stitz and the crew! They were awesome!
Jacksonville represent next with the Cat McWilliams Band, a solid rock and blues group. She was a good guitarist and fine vocalist, much reminiscent of Heather Gillis’s singing. She, lead guitarist Toby McWilliams and tenor sax player all soloed on the first tune. Next they offered a really nice interpretation of “Inner City Blues.” Cat belted a superb “Little by Little” before Clay Watson helped out on “Cissy Strut > The Chicken.”
West Brook, lap steel player with the Melody Trucks Band, sat in with Corbitt on “Shaky Ground.” Next was a great arrangement of “The Weight,” followed by a really strong outing on “Whipping Post,” and they closed with “Love is a Good Thing.”
Row Jomah, fresh off their very successful Holiday Toy Drive with The Heavy Pets at Dunedin Brewery, played another solid set of great originals led by Joe Roma, his distinctive vocals and his acoustic guitar. This band continues to deliver uplifting music, even if some of Roma’s tunes appear less than optimistic at times! “Windowpanes,” from the recently released Gods, Guns & Gold, sounded great. Mama Bone is an oft-time guest and sat in for a tune; guitarist Mel Walsh crushing solo after solo.
One of the band’s best covers, “Sledgehammer,” was sandwiched between “Stay” and “Fire & Ice,” Melbourne outstanding. Also outstanding was Austin Llewellyn on keyboards, all set long. The group has adopted a great country intro to their staple “Tell Me,” and Sgammato sat in on “Shudder,” really excellent. The closing “Cat People!” often contains a quick break-out into “Cantina Band,” but this time they inserted, appropriately, “Auld Lang Syne.”
Our Mandi Nulph gathered the forces, slightly better than herding cats, for the Hometeam Family Photo:
And then there was one of the Hometeam Gingers:
This was Ralph Roddenbery’s first time at Hometeam, and he and crew made the most of it. I had spotted Donna Hopkins, a regular collaborator with Roddenbery, earlier and was delighted to discover that she was playing, too. Richie Jones was right at home with his fellows from Atlanta. After “It’s Only Tea,” Critter, yet another Georgian, took Hopkins’ place for “Soul to Keep.” Hopkins returned for “Love is Alive and Well.” Everything seemed to be working, and the crowd was engaged and happy. “That’s Gonna Leave a Mark” brought many wry smiles, and the excellent set closed with “I Ain’t Scared to Fall in Love.”
It was time for more funk, After Funk, in fact, escaping Toronto for warmer — if not warm — climes. This excellent funk/fusion quartet centers around keyboardist and vocalist Yanick Allwood. They were in full stride several tunes in and never let up. “She Was Real Live” blasted through blues, soul and more, Allwood on Hammond B3, Phil Tessis tearing it up on guitar. And Jon Ditty meshed with them perfectly for a rap.
The next tune was simply over the top, funk a la Grant Green and Herbie Hancock. Critter joined for “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” which featured a wicked jam. Allwood’s chameleon vocals waltzed through “Billy Jean > ? > Let’s Dance > Ghostbusters” and into some really spacey funk before Corbitt sat in on their last number, “Kashmir.”
Nashville’s Dynamo was also new to Florida crowds, but you can be sure they will return. The septet also brought the funk, beginning with an interesting arrangement of “I Wish.” The set included ballads and really uptempo funk, with “Pride,” “Closer,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” and “Carried Away. A fabulous instrumental featured two fine tenor solos by Kevin Gatzke and a great guitar outing from Hank Born. They closed the set with “Dream.”
The live painting taking place in various locations was, as always, a great addition to the scene:
At this point, things got ridiculous, frankly. The Juanjamon Band had the slot before Dumpstaphunk. It was time to show, and, boy, did they ever show! It started calmly enough with “One Love,” but before long they were sliding into “Hey, Chester,” and it was GAME ON! “Hey, Chester” bumped into “Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples” and then into the Brecker Brothers’ “Some Skunk Funk!” Juanjamon sounded amazing on tenor sax and vocals, Matt Giancola’s keyboards dancing everywhere and Dre Mack simply enormous on guitar. You can also thank Michael ‘Thunderfoot’ Garrie.
Derrick McDonald helped out on old Grin tune “Mushroom Summa.” Then there was a rap parade, first with MC Nook, then B-True, Jon Ditty, and finally Juanjamon spitting rhymes. I was sure my head would explode during “Booty” when female singer Kindal Farver gave us a wonderful “Finally,” the Ce Ce Penniston tune. Called back for an encore, they whipped out the band’s brilliant cover of “Rosie.” And that bass? Trevor McDannel CRUSHED.
To this juncture, I’d got every song I wanted to hear from various bands. Would that continue with NOLA’s funk machine Dumpstaphunk? Damn Skippy! “I Wish You Would” right out of the gate! I have never seen a better show from this quintet, plus horns! It’s that vocal combination of Tony Hall, Nick Daniels and Ivan Neville that is just killer. Hall moved back and forth from bass to guitar; no chance I could decipher which was which, as if that mattered.
Alex on trombone and Mo Fleming on trumpet were a great addition for this show. There was a total funk throwdown after “Hold On to What You Got,” and then a great instrumental highlighted Ivan Neville’s mastery on clavinet and synths. They offered a great rendition of “You Can Make It If You Try” and then a monster “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.” Ian Neville’s guitar was funky and chunky all night. After their feature tune “Justice,” they encored with a powerful “Up for the Downstroke” and then “Dancin’ to the Truth.”
That’s how you “put it in the Dumpsta!” And bass? Double your pleasure, double your fun with Daniels and Hall. After all, their motto is IN FUNK WE TRUST.
Critter was the curator of the late-night set featuring his Dot Line Projekt. It sounded great, but I was running on fumes. What were heard from the tent was great.
SUNDAY New Year’s Eve
Blue Skye Pipes and Drums, an all-female crew from Sarasota (OK, they let the one guy in), again graced Maddox Ranch (they played last year and at this year’s Great Outdoors Jam). I had listened but did not go see them either of those times. My mistake. I was glad I got up early to check them out, pipers and drummers and a Celtic harpist. Led by pipe major Cassandra Calo, this group was delightful, marching in and then performing on the de Bine stage. I certainly won’t miss them again. Neither should you!
The next two sets were the only short sets of the weekend — just too much music to squeeze in this great day. Custard Pie has been on a rapid trajectory since their first festival appearance in May at Backwoods Fam Jam, followed by a killer set at Great Outdoors and a knock-out at Hulaween. Did I get my favorite song? Yes! They sound-checked Moonshine Still’s “Barely Alive.”
This was another smokin’ set, demonstrating the band’s maturation in a very short time period. The Valdosta trio opened with originals “Declaration Of Love” and “Stone Cold Fool” before inviting West Brook up for “Moondark (A Song For Kevin).” Brook stayed up and was joined by Corbitt and Critter on “Where You Been?” Then Jimmy Rector made it seven, sitting in on Keller Williams’ “Hey Ho Jorge.” They drew the brief but tight set to a close with “Crosseyed & Painless,” the Talking Heads tune. Rory Joseph was solid as usual on vocals and guitar, great backbeat from Brandon Howell, and there was plenty of bass from Aaron Webb.
Then things turned south, as in Jacksonville south, as Bonnie Blue was up. Like Custard Pie, they had only an hour to bring the heat, and they did exactly that. Bradley Churchman and Willis Gore cranked it up on guitars with John Wilson on keyboards in hot pursuit. Gore, who also plays with the Melody Trucks Band, tore it up on a deep vamp during “Pull the Trigger.” In the midst of more great originals, they played a truly monster version of “Eminence Front.” Adam Kenneway on bass? Damn right!
It was Sunday and time for church with Este Loves and the Hometeam Choir. I kept trying to count, but I know there were at least 14 members of the choir in addition to Este, her sister and the band. They eased into the set before a wonderful version of “Hallelujah,” wonderful because at least four or five members of the choir came forward with solo stanzas. MC Nook rapped during “Get Me High,” which was followed by the heaviest tune of the set, “This Too Shall Pass,” with a great guitar solo and Dillon Reeder killing it at drum kit.
“To Have Some Fun with You” and “Skinnydippin’” were both great, and then the collective offered up a fine version of The Nth Power’s “Only Love.” An enormously positive vibe courses through the crowd when Este leads the band through “A Little Life Under the Moonlight,” and the set ended with a glorious choral reading of “I Believe in Everything.” That is a great outlook on life.
Two other amazing things happened New Year’s Eve afternoon. The first one was scheduled. We knew that MusicFestNews photographer David Lee and his beloved, Sarah Liberty Lee, were getting married over by the magnificently decorated tipped-over tree, and it was as glorious as we expected, Lee duded out in top hat and slick outfit, Sarah simply stunning.
Meanwhile, a little earlier, what we didn’t know was that Sean ‘Legacy’ Maloney was planning to propose to Loe Sanz. You want to know what Hometeam really means? Those two pairings should give you a pretty good indication.
THE set of the entire Rally, for me, was Boxcar Hollow. Let’s just say I’m a fan. There was no better set at last year’s Rally or at Great Outdoors Jam in September. Once again, Matt Weis and Company were brilliant. And I won’t hesitate to declare Chris Barbosa on viola as the festival MVP. Come at me, bro!
They hit like a freight train with “Devil’s Lie” and continued to build. The Rev. Funky D had a magic night on keyboards, and Weis is a most engaging frontman. Barbosa had a huge solo during the massive jam. “Wine and Smile” got a bouncy treatment with help from Juanjamon’s tenor sax. Then, turning on a dime, they threw down some of the sweetest swing jazz you’ve ever heard during “Sabotage” which perfectly if illogically segued into hip hop. And now, for something completely different, a great country swing song from the band’s first album called “Teen Age Blues.”
At this point in the review, I have abused superlatives almost to death, but this set was — for me — the acme. Corbitt helped play Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” old-school country style. And then! And then! And then! Incredible Latin jazz reminiscent of the “Elizabeth Reed” vamp titled “Camaron Rayado Morado.” Suddenly, Weis was singing the Sesame Street “Pinball Song” (“One, two, three, FOUR, FIVE, six, seven, eight, NINE, TEN… ELEVEN TWELVE”). Which somehow morphed into the good-time bounce of “Get Down Tonight” (yes, that one).
And the incredible set closed with this remarkable Weis composition titled “I Need More Love Every Day of My Life.” Jeff Baker was in the driver’s set all set, and Barbosa was… Barbosa. Seriously. Don’t think for a minute I’m forgetting Jack Pieroth on bass. He CRUSHED.
On to the highly anticipated set from The Melody Trucks Band, more Jacksonville love. Their very first performance was at Great Outdoors, and this was a triumphant return. This band is so powerful, and we’ll point right in the direction of Shane Platten on bass; he is a beast. After an Allman Brothers intro (“Statesboro Blues?”), Trucks gave us another dynamite version of “Little by Little,” the Junior Wells gem. And West Brook, lap steel player, sang “Put It on Me.”
The set offered great variety, including “Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad” and the Bobby “Blue” Bland masterpiece “Yield Not to Temptation” that our beloved Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret., loved to play. Platten owned “Spanish Moon” both on bass and vocals, and they covered JJ Grey’s “Ho Cakes” and the ubiquitous “Use Me.” Guitarists Brady Clampitt and Will Gore both had really strong outings. Oh, and that Corbitt guy seems to be an actual member now rather than a “frequent guest.” Good move!
Speaking of Corbitt, Isaac and brother Newsome were up next and kept the ball rolling with “Mr. Charlie,” “What I Got” and “Ophelia.” I’ve mentioned Corbitt’s numerous sit-ins as artist at large but have failed to state just how great each one was. This man is a master of the harmonica. Critter helped out on “Lord Have Mercy” before Dani Jaye guested on “Love One Another,” which had a bouncy reggae lilt. They took “Folsom Prison Blues” at double-time with Tony Tyler — on drums! And when they launched into “Fire on the Mountain,” there were so many people on stage you could barely see Newsome and Isaac. And what’s up with the fiddle chick with that wig?
The Applebutter Express, in a family way, played a deliriously fun set for the faithful and newcomers alike. They went “Wanee Trippin’” first with Dennis Stadelman on banjo. Shannon and Kyle Biss are expecting in the spring, growing the Hometeam family! So many favorites came tumbling out: “Ragin’ on the Weekend,” “Handguns and Hammocks,” “Smile,” “Hey, My Brotha” and more. They also play delightful covers of songs you wouldn’t normally expect in a bluegrass setting, like “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Butt-Chug.” Joe Trivette is a fabulous fiddler, and Zach Rogers on the double bass is pure dynamite.
Meanwhile, off to the left of the main stage, aerialists were performing, with great lighting adding to the dream-like images they produced:
One of Orlando’s greatest exports is The Groove Orient, and this quintet made the most of this New Year’s Eve slot. They opened with a rocker we can probably all relate to: “I Don’t Want to Get Dressed for Work.” Tommy Shugart put his Hammond B3 through its paces on a really funky tune with bassist Harry Ong singing (and, yes, he too was all about that bass). Ong and Chuck Magid had a great unison vocal intro to “Devil’s On Your Mind,” Shugart on guitar for this one.
A new Shugart composition I’m calling “Tastes So Good” featured him on vocals, followed by a massive “Hot Bandit Woman.” Their cover of Steely Dan’s “Peg” was spot-on, and “Stingray Shuffle” was an excellent instrumental, Bucky Buckingham (drums) and David Vanegas (percussion) sounding great. “Ghost Train” was in the set, but they ended with a masterful version of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” WOW.
It was time. Time to tell 2017 to GTFO. Time to welcome The Dr., Florida’s own Roosevelt Collier and Friends. Which brings up an interesting discussion. A number of people asked why Dumpstaphunk wasn’t playing New Year’s Eve. So here are three answers. Pick any one you like (or all three). Dumpsta was already booked for Chicago NYE (yes, they played Hometeam and then flew to Chi-town). And band prices for NYE are expensive.
But just focus on this one: Roosevelt Collier IS Hometeam. He is one of ours (and thanks for articulating that so clearly, Dan Farkas). The stage for the set was crowded with many of Florida’s finest, the pride of Hometeam.
That’s the answer, right there.
Collier, king of the pedal steel guitar and a man with an enormous heart and love for all of us, was joined by Tommy Shugart on Hammond B3 and other keyboards, Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris, Richie Jones on percussion, and the amazing Matt Lapham (Shak Nasti, Con Leche, Brownote) on bass. The set began, as Collier’s normally do, with some jams. By the second “song,” there was huge funk pouring off the stage, washing over the packed crowd of revelers.
Dave Mann of FunkUs slipped in for a great guitar solo, followed by Lapham, then Mark Mayea on synths. Then “If You Want Me to Say” emerged with Reed Skahill on vocal. Lapham, Collier, Corbitt, and Shugart all soloed. Donna Hopkins was up next for that Laid Back version of “Midnight Rider.”
Finally, 2017 was gone, with much hugging, kissing, dancing, smiling, loving and celebrating.
Melody Trucks hit the appropriate theme during “The Weight” with:
“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me”
Family taking care of family. That’s how we roll at Hometeam!
There was so much awesome talent on stage, including Skyler Golden and Critter on guitars. And the usual reminder: Lapham is my favorite bass player anywhere, any time.
And the night was still young. Time for a Future Vintage party on the de Bine late-night stage. It didn’t hurt that this was the warmest of the four evenings with temperatures dropping only to 60 degrees. It almost felt balmy.
Future Vintage lit out with a hot set. The intro jam was smokin’ as people drifted over from the main stage, “Supernova” on fire, and “Do it” totally lit. Matt Giancola was having a blast with all of his keyboard toys. Skahill, Ella Jet and 3 came up for several songs, beginning with a new tune, maybe “We’ll Spend the Night Together.” Then Skahill jumped on “PYT,” which led to an amazing jam, Eric Layana laying down the beats. They followed that with “Little L;” Skahill is even better at Jamiroquai.
Then the trio was back to their electro-funk-nasty ways, Trevor McDannel with another superb set on bass. Jon Ditty took his last shot at some point in there. “Doin’ It Right” sounded so fine, as did Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Everybody,” and originals “Ole” and “Save the Drama.” We were in fact doin’ it right. The right band to shut the Rally down. Yes indeed.
MC PK was once again rounding up musicians to fill the stage and play past daybreak. I heard some of it. I think.
The outpouring of thanks will continue throughout the year, as Hometeam both caps the previous year and welcomes the new one. Jenelle and Cody Bean, Jillian Melucci, Jimmy Rector and the countless others who teamed together to make this event even more special in its sixth year are our heroes. So too are Rising Light, Little League (The Greenes), and the Lost in Time crew who decorated our favorite tree for everyone’s pleasure and for the wedding of David and Sarah.
Mobile Stage-It rocks that, well, mobile stage, and the pristine sound was brought to you by Receptor Sound and Lighting. Sibannacal Life and Zonk Family sponsored the side stage as de Bine Brewing did with the late-night stage. Dunedin Brewery and 7venth Son donated the majority of the beer that allowed the artist hospitality room to be truly hospitable.
Thanks also to Volke Mon, the crazy man responsible for getting audio recordings of many of the sets and some great video as well!
Mostly, however, thanks to the Hometeam family, which grew by leaps and bounds this year. We cannot wait to see what number seven will look and sound like!