The 8th annual Purple Hatter’s Ball was winding down to its Sunday conclusion at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. Fae Nageon de Lestang and Grant McLeod, members of Flat Land, were about to head back home to Gainesville. They had performed second at Thursday’s pre-party and again on Friday at the River Stage. Here was the question:
How do you judge success at a festival such as this? Internet traffic? Likes?
McLeod, the group’s founder and drummer, observed: “This is a huge opportunity for us to meet other bands and new fans we might not have the opportunity to interact with otherwise. Every show we play is an opportunity to play the next gig and expand our reach.”
Fae added: “As far as metrics, it’s difficult to judge that. And it’s probably not the most accurate way to measure the impact. It’s about the people we meet and how we can collaborate.”
Flat Land refers to their music as “cosmifunkpop.” That barely begins to cover the breadth and depth of their repertoire. They range from beautiful ballads such as “Black Rain” and “Turn” to powerful songs such as “Rufio’s Last Stand.” “Everything You Wanted” is wonderfully Latin-tinged, and then the band can romp through Led Zeppelin; their set-closer Thursday was “Ramble On > Black Dog.”
Fae’s vocal style is extraordinary. Her phrasing is often likened to Billie Holiday and Florence Welch, and there are similarities, but Fae’s voice is simply mesmerizing. She punctuates her songs with starts and stops; the only singer I know with a similar style is Alley, the vocalist for Wise Monkey Orchestra.
She would make a superb front woman for the band even if she were not also a wizard on violin. That extra dimension makes her unique indeed. Add to that incredible outfits and face decorations, and you might almost miss the fact that a superb band is playing with her.
Chris Storey is an excellent guitarist who can play ballads tenderly – and then shred like mad. His guitar and Fae’s violin mesh perfectly as they roll and tumble through the almost-metal parts of the band’s setlists. There is an incredible punch to the music.
But the real punch starts in the back, because, as everybody knows, it IS all about that bass… and drums. McLeod is a great rock drummer who can also match the dynamics and beauty of the ballads. His spot-on time provides the band’s engine.
There are two bass players working with the band currently, and fortunately for everyone, they both lay the perfect foundation for this music. In fact, Ashley “Dumptruck” Wilkinson played the set Thursday at Purple Hatter’s, and Nate Garland performed at the afternoon River Stage set.
Ian McLeod, Grant’s brother and partner in percussion, sits in with the band when he can. Fae says, “He adds auxillary percussion, stabilizing the groove-heavy riffs and adding extra flair to our music.” Ian plays with his own excellent band, Ism, as well.
Flat Land’s star has been on the rise for some time, but their noon set at Gov-Fest in February really seemed to send things into overdrive. As good fortune would have it, the sparse crowd (look, festie folks aren’t often even UP at noon!) was full of other concert promoters, photographers, writers and fans who were more than willing to spread the word about this Gainesville quartet standing the fest on its ear. They were magnificent, was the consensus.
Also of significance was their collaboration at Gov-Fest with Come Back Alice , the incredible Southern gypsy funk quartet from Sarasota . They first met at Woodstarke last July, when they were on the bill together. By my count, Dani Jaye, who plays violin in CBA, and Fae played together at least three times at Gov-Fest. This looks like the perfect musical marriage, their talents intertwining. They have since played together on multiple occasions, the results truly remarkable.
So the trick now lies in expanding the band’s brand, territory, and fan base. Every festival such as Purple Hatter’s helps lead to the next festival and the next set of dates farther from home, pushing that geographical envelope. They have played more than a dozen festivals and tons of dates in addition.
Upcoming performances include:
May 30 @ The High Dive, Gainesville, w/ Parker Urban Band & ISM
June 5 @ Red Lion Pub, Orlando, w/ Ancient Sun & The Happy Campers
June 6 @ Ashley Street Station, Valdosta
June 12 @ Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, w/ Damon Fowler
June 20 @ Summer Solstice Music and Arts Celebration, Deland
June 27 @ The Ale and the Witch, St. Petersburg
July 3 @ The Atlantic, Gainesville, w/ Little Tybee & Hail! Cassius Neptune
July 4 @ Great Outdoors Jam, Maddox Ranch, Lakeland