AURA Music & Arts Festival Friday | Spirit of Suwannee Music Park 03.06.15

The warm air of Thursday gave way to much cooler air Friday at AURA, but that did not slow down the intensity of the music or the enthusiasm of the festies, who were arriving in droves for the first regular day of the festival, featuring 15 music sets, six silent disco DJs, two more in the Lotus Lounge, plus lots of other activities in the Vibe tent and the Yoga tent.

Additionally, there were dozens of artists painting around the venue, and hoopers, twirlers, and all manner of visual displays. It is debatable whether I am qualified to talk about the music, but the rest of it is distinctly out of my area of expertise. I CAN tell you that I loved all of it.

Music did not start until two, giving everyone a chance to recharge the batteries, talk to friends, make new friends, perhaps attend a yoga session or check out the many vendors. Once it started, however, it didn’t quit for the next 15 hours.

Fusik had the honor of the first Friday set at the amphitheatre, and the South Florida quintet, which bills itself as “Florida’s Funk Band,” stepped right up and kicked things off proper-like. Four tunes in, somebody said, “That was first gear.” They proceeded to prove it, playing “Doin’ It to Death.” That will get the blood flowing!

They touched on Dr. John-style New Orleans funk, played a song where a great organ solo reminded me of “Light My Fire,” growled “Them Changes” and closed with a two-tenor sax bounce through “Smooth Jazz Cruise.”

My festival mantra is to be sure to check out bands I had never seen before. There were 11 of those on the schedule (Fusik was the first). Perhaps the best compliment I can give about the bands and the schedule and its organizers is this: there was not one band I saw I wouldn’t want to see again. Not one!

Number two on that list was next up on the Porch Stage: the Mantras. Spoiler alert: many people at AURA thought the Mantras stole the show. And here is where it gets difficult. There were 40 musical performances over the four days. I saw all or part of 30 of them (yes, this is not normal behavior). At least 20 of those were, to me, A or A+ performances. Accuse me of grading on a curve if you like, but this was massive. A number of bands, including headliners, played the best shows I’ve ever heard from them. You see? It’s all so subjective.

The Mantras were awesome. As the set progressed, I realized they could turn in any direction at any time. They refer to themselves as “go-for-broke,” and I’m buying what they’re selling. They got everyone’s attention with a superb mash-up of “Burning Down the House” and “Fire on the Mountain.” They also featured a new tune, “Scratch,” from the CD they are working on at present.

About that time, talking with photographers Brian Hensley and Roly Jimenez from MusicFestNews, Hensley turned to me and asked, “How do you describe this in a few words?” I said, “You can’t.” Later on, however, I think I did found the right words: indescribably delicious.

Next came the first of many decisions to be made concerning overlapping sets. Whom do you see? Whom do you miss? If you split your time between stages, who’s on first? I made the first of many treks to the Music Hall stage to check out Brother Bean (the third of five new bands in a row to me!). The temperature was already dropping outside, and it was nice to get inside for a bit.

The Melbourne trio combines rock, funk and psychedelia in their mix, and they can flat-out jam as well. The third tune was “From Whence They Came,” followed by a riotous cover of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ “Scooby Snacks,” with those immortal lyrics: “Runnin’ around robbin’ banks all whacked on the Scooby Snacks.” The end of their set featured a very hip jam with lots of teases, including a rocking “Shakedown Street.”

Then I scurried back to the amphitheatre to see Jimkata mid-set. They were in a nice groove which really picked up pace as the set worked toward its conclusion. I will need to check this quintet out again.

Miami’s “post-blues” band, Juke, was revving up the Vibe Tent. The quartet laid down some solid boogie and were joined by Roosevelt Collier, in his first of many sit-ins as artist-at-large. It was a great combination. From there, I hustled over to the Porch for the Heavy Pets. This South Florida quitet has been on a rampage of late, and this was a tremendous set, highlighted — for me — by Collier joining them on my favorite Pets tune, “Dewpoint.” that led to an amazing funky bluesy jam with Collier trading off with guitar slingers Jeff Lloyd and Mike Garulli.

All of the permutations and combinations of the Heavy Pets were also featured throughout the weekend, and Tony D’Amato and Jamie Newett were nothing short of stellar in each appearance on bass and drums.

And then it was time for the much-anticipated two sets from moe., who blow it out every time they have played at the music park (and I think I’ve seen all of them). They kicked off with a nasty tune with Chuck Garvey in the lead. “Same Old Story,” from recent release No Guts No Glory, featured Jim Loughlin’s great vibes. It was a fabulous first set.

I am reasonably wordy and verbose, but I have few words to describe the astounding second set. It went funky and jazzy and jammy and everything. During one amazing sequence, Loughlin seemed to clone himself as two vibes/marimba players. The white hair was a give-away: it was Mike Dillon lending to the insanity. The “Akimbo” encore was a cool-down; nothing was going to top that incredible set.

During the break, I ran back to the Vibe tent to check out a band, but there was a change in schedule. Instead, the first Heavy Pets subset was on stage, Lather Up! This superb trio features the rhythm section plus keyboard wizard Jim Wuest. Think the New Deal or Pnuma Trio. This configuration sends me into orbit. And Wuest displays every note with his facial features, which a number of people said they enjoyed. Just too much!

Dopapod had their second set, and I was primed and ready. “Trapper Keeper!” Hell, yes! What a great way to start the set. The rhythm section nailed it — again — and they were jazzy and bluesy. Jamtronic? On occasion. Roosevelt came out and did battle with guitarist Rob Compa. They cracked everybody up when they announced a new tune, then promptly lit into “I’m Just a Girl.” Best two sets I’ve ever heard from these boys.

Time to confess: I have never given Papadosio my full attention, and barely this time either. I owe them an honest listen next time. This set was very good with true flashes of brilliance. I promise: next time.

Many folks flocked into the Music Hall to see Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. This Baltimore quartet was one of the five bands I said you should try to see at AURA. They made believers out of a lot of first-timers with a superb set of funk, starting with Greg Ormont singing “BAY-BEE!” “I Think I’m Losing My Mind” led to a massive “Live It Up.”

Suddenly, they played the intro to what could only be “Kung Fu Fighting,” and the room exploded in delight. Jeremy Schon blistered his guitar solo. His effects pedals (or Ormont’s) make the guitar sound like a keyboard. Awesome! The master funk tune “F.U.” worked its way through a bunch of changes, finally getting to “Ghostbusters.” They return to Florida in July for the Great Outdoors Jam.

I trekked back to the Vibe Tent, now set up for the silent disco, with two DJs spinning and everybody wearing headphones capable of switching channels to listen to either or both DJs (except for the girls with headphones off talking louder than the headphones). After an hour or so, I made it back to Short-Cut Camp, my home at these festivals. It was really cold, and that fire felt really, really good.


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