There are boatloads of motivational speakers shouting all sort of platitudes and encouragement and advice on how to make something of yourself. It wasn’t always that way, though. There were a few (think Norman Vincent Peale), but not many. On the other hand, there were plenty of curmudgeons around.
There was a young lad of twelve who was accosted by just such a crank, who admonished him thusly: KNOW YOUR PLACE, BOY. Apparently, the lad didn’t listen very well, lucky for us, because instead he became a successful businessman, then earned the title of Gov’nah of Waneetopia by acclimation, and finally decided to throw his own music festival.
Gov-Fest 2015 was born. Despite the fact that Adam Pierce had many dedicated workers and excellent advice from others who run festivals, it must have been a scary proposition trying to pull off such an event.
The long summary is about to unfold, but here is the short version, in Olympic gymnastic vocabulary:
HE STUCK THE LANDING!
Maddox Ranch in Lakeland, Florida, is a small festival site just perfect for smaller intimate festivals such as the Great Outdoors Jam, Little Econ Love-Fest, Home Team New Year’s Rally and more. One great decision Pierce made was to put the two stages side by side, at a slight angle. The stages have always been close, but this made things even easier for festival-goers.
Thursday’s schedule only used the Love Fest stage, which worked out well. Prison Wine and Row Jomah finished their sets before I arrived. I am looking forward to seeing both these bands in the near future.
The remainder of the day’s sets were from bands with very solid Tampa Bay roots or exposure, and I had seen every one of them at least a couple of times. This promised to be a great evening. That turned out to be an enormous understatement.
Currentz is a Dunedin quintet who describe themselves as reggae/roots/dub. I always find such labels limiting, because this is a fine band who covers a lot more territory than that. I had first seen them at Hometeam New Year’s Rally, which was great. Then, I saw them play in a concrete dungeon with a metalhead sound engineer, so I really didn’t hear much of anything. Thus it was great to hear Currentz deliver an excellent set that was all over the map (and that’s a good thing). There were great transitions from ska tunes to rock songs and more pop-ish music, and it included a Bob Marley birthday shout-out with “Stir It Up.”
Holey Miss Moley has been working relentlessly of late, despite the fact that drummer Tony Morales has been out with an injured wrist. Morales did play timbales, while Yral Morris of Come Back Alice was, in fact, ‘datdudeondrums.’ They flew immediately into the “Bermuda Triangle” and “Scallywag,” two originals. A couple of the Ajeva boys invaded the stage during “Shake It With Me,” opening the sit-in floodgates. The dancing had started in earnest in the sand. Danny Clemmons was styling as front man, and Jacob Cox on guitar and Christian Ryan on alto (and baritone!) were knocking out great solos, with Rev. D jazzing it all up on keyboards.
Sometimes, you look at a band schedule for a festival, and you think, “HUH? How is that going to work?” How do you go from a jazzy funk band to… outlaw bluegrass? Double-bass, guitar and banjo? What?
Survey says: it was perfect. Grandpa’s Cough Medicine are sick, sick puppies, right up my alley. I was happy to get their new CD release, 180 Proof, which is actually a pretty good description of their music. If all GCM ever did was pick, you would say they are superb. I’m not a huge bluegrass nut, but it is hard to imagine the music gets much better than that.
The music, however, is only half the deal. Their incredible song lyrics are the other half. They look like regular guys, but once they get to singin’, you’d best back up. You might get lulled with drinking songs (the title track and “Liquid Courage”). Then they drop a tune called “Crooked Cop,” followed by “Brand New .22,” a recommendation to trade in your .44 for a .22, with the refrain “A man is only as old as the woman he feels.”
They also delighted the crowd with “Jailbird Blues,” “Denim Prison” and “Blood and Justice,” a song about hunting for pedophiles: “They sentenced you to death the day they set you free.” Alrighty, then! After hearing Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, you truly understand the meaning of the phrase: PICKIN’ AND GRINNIN’.
As quickly as we slipped into bluegrass land, we slid back out, into Displace. This Tampa quartet has been simply been over the top in the past few months, including their Hometeam set and a big show last week at the Ringside. None of that prepared me for the massiveness of this set.
Let me cut to the chase. If you attempt to answer the question, what was your favorite concert, there are so many factors involved. So consider my relatively simple benchmark. I search for music that is, in the moment, as good as it gets. You will think I’m crazy (and you’d probably be right), but I hit that benchmark at least a dozen times over the course of Gov-Fest. It WAS that good.
But the Displace set was a thing apart. For me, this was Vinny Swoboda night. His bass-playing was simply amazing. It started immediately, as the quartet opened with an interesting choice, “Eyes of the World,” and it worked. From there, they launched into my favorite Displace original, “Geonosis Shuffle.” The Hometeam version was monstrous. The Ringside YouTube recording is huge. This version was beyond imagination, with Sam Dobkin just killing on guitar and Chris Sgammato alternating between guitar and alto sax. “On Responsible Consumerism” was a blast. It was a stunning set, and they made many new believers that night.
How on earth was Ajeva going to follow that set? Turns out, these boys had an awesome answer. I first encountered Ajeva on the last day of Hometeam, closing the fest down, following Currentz. They claim to play funk, reggae, and rock, but you know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Good fortune found me two days after that interviewing them as they played live in the studio on In the Groove, the WMNF jamband show. They were great, playing a number of tunes from their new CD, Let’s Do It… Try It.
However, the pre-fest buzz was about their Michael Jackson tribute set. Sometimes, a band can try to mimic the artist in question; that didn’t seem to fit here.
Instead, Ajeva played MJ songs any which way they wanted. Occasionally, it took a while to figure out what song they were playing. That is hardly a criticism. “Man in the Mirror” was ska-infused. Horns materialized on stage for “Black or White.” They even dipped back for a relatively straight-forward J5 “I Want You Back.” The prevailing sentiment was “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” They did it proper!
At this point, either I lost my pen, or my brain turned to mush, or something, because my notebook is blank. Rev. D and the New Diggz had the honor of closing down Thursday night (OK, the Bath Salt Zombies had something to say about that, later). Rev. D and his crew had a blistering set at Hometeam, and I was anxious for lots more.
This seems like the first good opportunity to heap mounds of praise upon the four kings of the soundboards: Rev. D, Andy Lytle, Russ Bowers and Sean Hartley. Their Herculean efforts resulted in superb sound the entire festival. I am firmly on record as disliking music so loud it makes your ears bleed; good music doesn’t need to be at Nigel Tufnel levels. I heard many other happy campers praising the quality of the sound every day.
But back to Rev. D on stage. In addition to his truly funky keyboard skills, he is a magnet, attracting great players from a wide range of groups and projects ready to sit in with him at a moment’s notice. In fact, that’s the way the guitar slot was filled. Jordan Garno, Serotonic’s six-stringer, is recovering from a skateboard fall (dummy), so D’s sound companion Hartley jumped in and had a great set, with Kenny Harvey of Holey Miss Moley on bass, joined in the rhythm section by Yral Morris (Come Back Alice). And the great vocals were courtesy of Robyn Alleman.
Solid originals were interspersed around covers such as “Green-Eyed Lady,” a fine “Shine On You Crazy Diamond > Have a Cigar” pairing, and a reggae-fied “Come As You Are.” It was the perfect way to end the evening, or early morning, depending on your perspective.
I was done. Get the fork. I meandered back to the tent. I could hear the Bath Salt Zombies, who had done a wonderful job setting up a small stage at their campsite, aka Electric Zombieland. But once I got horizontal, there was no getting up until after sunrise. Long after sunrise. Fortunately, BSZ repeated their late-night shenanigans Friday and Saturday.
To be continued…