Kenny Blair had almost everything properly planned for the Great Outdoors Jam at the Maddox Ranch in Lakeland FL over the Independence Day weekend. There was this one thing he forgot to do. See, he had written two memos to send out to some of the bands. The first one was for bands playing the pre-party on Thursday, and the other was for the opening bands on each of the next three days.
The Thursday memo read: Remember this is just a pre-party, a warm-up. So take it easy. We’ve got to make it to Sunday.
The one for the afternoon sets read: We’ve got 12 or 13 hours of music ahead, so just ease everybody into the day.
Alas, Kenny forgot to send the memos. And look what happened as a result. Musicfestnews photographer Bryan Edward said it best:
“This festival should be called The Epic Outdoors Jam next year!”
Every post-festival comment has raved, raved, raved about the absolutely brilliant job done by Blair and his amazing crew. It was stunning from start to finish. The sound and lighting folks did an excellent job (more about all of them later), and every band — to my mind — played an epic if not best-ever set. How is that even possible?
It is true in part because of the deep love and affection that everyone has for Blair and his compatriots who host festivals at the Maddox Ranch and at Sertoma Ranch: Cody Bean (Home Team New Year’s Rally), Trey Miller (Lil Econ Love Fest), and Russ Bowers (Orange Blossom Jamboree). And, as everybody knows, behind every successful man there is a wonderful woman (women, including moms!) Much love to Jenelle Muir, Toby Bowers, Nancy Blair, Eileen Tortorelli and families. YOU MAKE THIS HAPPEN. And it was wonderful meeting the proud moms!
Let’s talk about the memo that didn’t get sent to the Thursday bands.
Maybe Kenny was thinking these groups should, you know, just lay down a bunt or something. For certain, Row Jomah never got the memo. They came out swinging for the fences like it was home run derby time. This was a monster set. Everybody was on fire, but nobody more so than Dylan Chee A Tow on drums. During the third song, Bryan Edward walked by and verbalized what I was thinking (I’m going to make him write!): “This is one of the best drummers on our scene!”
A nasty jam ensued with Melbourne Walsh blistering on guitar, and it worked its way into “Stay with Me.” At the end of “Cat People,” another dude ran up to the stage and yelled (about Dylan, cleaned up for prime time): “That motherF’er is a motherF’er!” There was no disagreement anywhere. They closed the set with “Funk,” and Blair’s plan was down the port-a-potty.
At the Orange Blossom Jamboree, there were relatively few sit-ins. That’s not a criticism, just a fact. The bands got to display their wares according to setlist. The Great Outdoors Jam went the other direction, deliciously so. By Row Jomah’s third song, Sarah “Mama Bone” Phillips (Green Sunshine) was on stage, and Christian Ryan (Leisure Chief, Holey Miss Moley, everybody) played on “Cat People.” The floodgates were open. In an epic, epic way.
The Happy Campers jumped off with a country rock-type tune that was bouncy and fun, the perfect set opener. Andy Lyle and Joey Colella were in lockstep on bass and drums all set long. When Mama Bone and Christian invaded the stage, things took a ridiculously funky turn. Then Dani Jaye of Come Back Alice and the aforementioned Trey Miller (Dem Lil Econ Boyz) came up for a romp through the DMB tune “What Would You Say” on violin and harp, respectively. Colin Getts was having a great afternoon on guitar, and Sean Maloney a.k.a. Legacy was all smiles.
After “Feet,” they called up our ambassador from Georgia, Critter Critendin (Copious Jones). Critter had been a mainstay on sound at OBJ as well as having the most sit-ins. He was again working sound with an incredible crew on the ‘side’ stage, but of course he grabbed his guitar and jumped on the funk train with the boys. They closed with a song about their favorite food: “Pizza.”
What was scheduled next was Rev. D and the New Diggz. Most Florida folks know that D had been hospitalized, and we lamented that he was MIA. That meant two things had to happen. One: a band needed to materialize on several days’ notice, and Two: somebody had to run the sound and stage set-up where D usually holds down the fort.
What evolved on the sound front was beyond beautiful. All of the Come Back Alice band — Tony Tyler, Dani Jaye, John Werner and Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris — were involved, and Kenny Harvey and Danny Clemmons of Holey Miss Moley also did yeoman’s work along with Critter. Sean Maloney, Matt Egan and Joel Hernke and others pitched in as well to bring the sound quality up to D’s standards.
Jimmy Rector assembled Jimmy Jams’ Benefit for Funky D. I’m positive nobody could have imagined how glorious this set would turn out. Christian, Mama Bone, Austin Llewelyn (Row Jomah) on keys, Jacob Cox (HMM) on guitar and a rhythm section my notes fail to reveal stepped on stage with Alexa and Bella Toro (Endless Flow) and more. “We Are Family” and “It’s Your Thing” were perfect, and then Tyler came up to sing The Band’s “Don’t Do It (Don’t You Break My Heart).”
The Ajeva boys, Anthony Morales (HMM), Critter and Yral took over, and all I could scribble down was UNBELIEVABLE FUNK. Just wow. Then Dennis Stableman (CopE) joined Critter and gang for a tune. Next, it was Applebutter Duo time, as Shannon and Kyle Biss treated us to “Hey, My Brother” with Dani playing.
And then came the first amazing moment in what would be a string of amazing moments. Jenelle Muir (the power behind the throne) came to the microphone, resplendent in hat and red Hawaiian shirt, gripping a ukulele to match Kyle’s. She proceeded to shake off whatever stage fright she thought she had and delivered a truly beautiful and heartfelt “Lochloosa.” JJ would have loved it. We all did, and it turned into a lovely singalong. Nailed it!
I pretend like I know a lot about bands, but I have never had to collect talent and then work out a schedule based first on availability by day and then on making the music flow. I am always so impressed with how the festivals mentioned earlier ALL are put together so well musically. The Great Outdoors Jam followed suit. Blair and Bret Peretz did an amazing job.
Trae Pierce and T-Stone came to show us, to quote The Godfather of Soul, “where the funk come from.” Boy, did they ever! If you want to get everyone’s attention, starting with “Cosmic Slop” is a brilliant plan. After that, Trae and band had their way with us; we were powerless to resist the funk. The second tune led into “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again),” and at this point singer Missy Tenbroeck jumped into the crowd and led everybody in a singalong while Brandon “Twitch” Lewis was shredding away. Everybody on stage and in the crowd was bouncing.
Next, they crushed Gary Glitter’s stadium anthem “Rock and Roll, Pt. 2.” Trae and singer Ray Pierce joined the crowd. After “We Got the Power,” Lewis crowd-surfed on his back and never missed playing a note — to “Whole Lotta Love!” Then there was a Rage Against the Machine song, maybe, followed by Trae playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on bass. And it was only 9 PM. The night was still young!
Controlled Fall was up next. I hope they will accept my sincere apology, because this was the one of only two sets I missed the entire weekend; there is a rumor I nodded off. That is not an editorial comment about their music; it was the result of staying up until 4 AM finishing a review of The BIG What? from the previous weekend. I heard the beginning of the set, with “Song in My Soul,” but after that — FAIL. I look forward to hearing them awake — with caffeine.
Come Back Alice had two sets scheduled; the second would be their cover of the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach album. This night’s set was a joyride through many of their great songs. After “Along for the Ride,” Critter joined the band for a few songs, including that nasty “Ugly Rumors.” Tyler and Critter played some great twin-guitar lead stuff with Tyler wailing on slide. Dani played guitar and violin, and Tyler played the Hammond B3 as well as guitar.
Ajeva! Ajeva! Ajeva! This set was huge. Their concept of living together as a family has paid enormous dividends on stage. Foot-stomping funk, reggae, and jam rock poured from the stage. The pre-party attendees were fully caught up in the music of the day and danced and dance. They had been so impressive during the benefit for Funky D (they live in the same location as Funky D’s studio), and this was even better. Some of the bands were working Dead songs into their sets, so Ajeva delivered a welcome “St. Stephen > Friend of the Devil.”
Reed Skahill’s vocals are perfect for this band, and Dean Arscott was reminding us that (wait for it…) it IS all about that bass… and drums. He and Travis Young killed it. And Young was just getting warmed up.
Finally, it was time for the first of two big moments: the penultimate performance by Tampa’s and Florida’s beloved CopE. I have had the incredible good fortune to see these boys more than 30 times, and we were all hoping these last two shows before hiatus would be legendary.
We were NOT disappointed! First, this night, for me, belonged to Kenny Stadelman on bass and Brad Elliot on drums. They were so tight and so deep in the pocket. Juanjamon was rocking his keyboards, tenor Sax and EWI. He has been really impressive with the EWI of late and got some amazing clarinet-like tones from it on one song. Dave Gerulat has been playing percussion with the band recently; he was the band’s first drummer, and he took the drum kit for one song.
One highlight was an incredible song called “Look Who’s Dancing Now;” everybody was dancing. Trey Miller and Scott M (jew’s harp) joined the band for “Take Me Over.”
Dennis Stadelman later said he liked a phrase I used on a Facebook post that night: “This is NOT a ‘pre-party.’ This is full-frontal magnificence!”