Groovefest 5 | Skipper’s Smokehouse 08.16.14

lee 140816 4Fifteen seconds. Fifteen seconds! That’s how long it took for the Lee Boys to get tears running down my face. Tears of joy. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” With the Lee Boys, that is an understatement.

The Lee Boys, who hail from Perrine, a small community south of Miami, are leading proponents of sacred steel, gospel music that started in the church and tore the roof off the… well, you know. Often, they tour as a quintet, with brothers Alvin Lee on guitar and Derrick Lee on vocals, joined by cousins Alvin “Little Al” Cordy on bass, Earl “Big Easy” Walker on drums, and the Doctor, Roosevelt Collier, on pedal steel a guitar (and the lap steel as well).

I would always tell you two things. [1] Roosevelt is the baddest pedal steel player on the planet, with apologies to Robert Randolph and Chuck Campbell. [2] Derrick Lee is one of the best front men in the music business.

lee 140816 2But Roosevelt had another obligation, and Derrick took a back seat much of the evening last Saturday at Groovefest 5, the annual throw-down hosted at Skipper’s Smokehouse by Thor and Wayne, hosts of In the Groove, the jamband radio show on WMNF (88.5 Tampa and on the web).

So you would think that this wasn’t up to the Lee Boys’ usual standards when I mention that.

How, then, to explain that this was the best Lee Boys performance I’ve ever seen and heard?

[1] Al and Derrick Lee apparently have this treasure trove of pedal steel players who can step in at any time and take you higher than you can imagine. Sometimes, A.J. Ghent has filled Roosevelt’s slot very nicely. A.J. is on tour now with his own band after recently recording and touring with Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.). This night, it was young Chris Johnson running the steel bar over the strings. Johnson had appeared at Skipper’s with the Lee Boys in 2012, and I had seen him at Bear Creek as well. I thought he was very good then. He is on another astral plane now.

After the show, Derrick started to mention the fact that ‘Velt wasn’t there; I said it just didn’t matter, given how mind-blowing the entire performance was. That was reason one.

lee 140816 1[2] Keith Lee. Keith Lee. Keith Lee. He is the brother of Al and Derrick. I’ve seen Keith at perhaps six of the 16 Lee Boys shows I’ve attended. He was so over-the-top spectacular this show that I had this thought, but darned if Derrick isn’t a mind-reader, because after the show he made the exact same comment to me I was about to say to him: KEITH IS THE SPECIAL SAUCE. There’s no other way to describe it. I doubt I’ve ever seen anyone possessed of the spirit of joy the way Keith was. The audience was completely under his captivating spell. Derrick smartly let Keith unleash his gospel joy to the world.

My mantra is that a band rises or falls based on its rhythm section, and Little Al and Big Easy are as good as it gets. As good as it gets. What a spectacular close to another great festival. Oh, that opening song? “Goin’ to Glory!”

There were eleven bands on the bill put together by Thor and Wayne. Unfortunately, I missed all but the last four, but even that was worth twice the price of admission.

I was really hoping to get there in time to see High Cotton, the Widespread Panic cover band from Tampa, whom I have never seen (shame on me). Sadly, we arrived to hear the closing notes of a rousing “Love Tractor.”

We were, however, in time to catch a very talented duo called Tangled Mangos. They describe themselves as island-influenced funk reggae, but I heard much more than that in their delightful half-hour set. Kyle Shell sang over his guitar loops, while Dan Ryan sounded superb on the keys. Details are blurry, but there was a Dead tune or tune in the mix, and the crowd was very responsive to their lively performance. Clearly, I need a second helping of Mangos!

hmm 140816 1The action switched back to the main stage, where groove monsters Holey Miss Moley ripped into “Doo Rag,” a tune from Galactic’s debut disk Coolin’ Off. This was the ninth time I have seen them in less than a year, and every time they manage to find another gear into a higher groove. Three recent additions have fleshed the group out into a septet, and their locomotive funk knocks you right over. Previously, most of HMM’s tunes were instrumental, although guitarist Jacob Cox handles some vocals. Now, however, they have integrated singer Danny Clemmons into the mix with great results. For instance, “Naugatuck,” one of the band’s excellent originals (and destined, I would guess, for their upcoming CD release in the fall), now also features Clemmons’ vocal stylings.

The tune that did it for me was another from that intro Galactic disk: “There’s Something Wrong with This Picture.” Clemmons was perfect in the Houseman role. Christian Ryan, the sax player who never sleeps, was all over that tune, “Devil Funk” (check that one out on YouTube), and everything else. The rhythm section of Kenneth Harvey and Tony Morales had their best night ever – for me, anyway.hmm 140816 2

They closed their spirited set with the Meters’ “Ain’t No Use,” as great a cover of this song as I have seen anyone do. Rev. Funky De, also a recent addition on keyboards, tore it up, as did Cox on the guitar and that delicious wah-wah pedal. And don’t overlook the contributions of new percussionist Vernon Suber. They got to play a quick encore with “Sho’ Nuff.” Holey Miss Moley is the complete package.

Time for a breather as we all worked our way back to the acoustic stage for yet another band I’d never seen (but will certainly see again): Boxcar Hollow. They claim to be folk Americana new grass. I’d say that’s a start, but they brushed on so many great things in their brief half-hour set that I’d hate to sell them short. This set too was a blast, and people were dancing everyplace.

Details were fuzzy once again, but Matt Weis, Jack Pieroth, Jeff Baker and Greg Holt have a great sound and bouncing harmonies. And then it was Lee Boys time.

Kudos, of course, to the bands, the WMNF volunteers, festival organizers Thor and Wayne of In the Groove, and the Skipper’s staff. A special shout-out must go to the best sound man in the Tampa area: Josh. When he is at the board, the sound is perfect… or as close as it can get.

Great to see Ted Kaufer, Stone, Deborah, Sulana, Paul, Sharon, Ed and Ms. Ed! Sorry my phone photos are blurry. I must remember to take my camera. My phone ain’t getting’ it!

groovefest 5[Lee Boys’ setlist: Goin’ to Glory, On My Way, Dance with Me > I Know a Place, Feel the Music, Superstition > We Want the Funk > Superstition, Testify, Shaky Ground, Don’t Let the Devil Ride, Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Turn On Your Lovelight, E: Everything Gonna Be OK]

[Holey Miss Moley setlist: Doo Rag^, Can You Do Without*, Scallywag, Bermuda Triangle, Devil Funk, There’s Something Wrong with This Picture^, Naugatuck, Ain’t No Use* > Jam, Sho’ Nuff]


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