Well, what happened was…
You know, nothing good ever follows those four words. My plan for Sunday, August 23, was to pack up after the astounding Reunion: Campout Concert Series at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, drive to St. Petersburg in time for the Umphrey’s McGee show, then catch the official afterparty with Voodoo Visionary, Displace and the redoubtable Roosevelt Collier at the Ringside Cafe next door, presented by Moongoddess Entertainment and Don’t Fret Entertainment. Seemed workable.
Well, what happened was… like an idiot, I left my phone charging in the Music Hall Friday night. The vibe that weekend was so great, but it only took one not-like-minded individual to steal it. After a fruitless search again Sunday morning, I spent forever that afternoon back in town purchasing a new phone.
Umphrey’s was out of the question. I had serious doubts about the afterparty, but I really wanted to see Voodoo Visionary again. MusicFestNews had just run a feature about this Atlanta-based band the previous Tuesday, so off I went.
Actually, there were several events happening that Sunday night in St. Pete. Juanjamon was in charge of the regular Sunday night jam at Ruby’s Elixir at the other end of the Jannus Live block. Justino and the Difference were opening the night. After checking in at the Ringside, I zipped around the corner to Ruby’s. Justino and the boys were just getting ready to go, and what a way to start: in fourth gear, playing Billy Cobham’s “Stratus,” which drummer Jonathan Thomas owns. WOW. Everybody was smoking, with Justino Lee Walker wailing on guitar, Juan Santana securing the bottom, and Jonathan Richardson’s keyboards dancing all over the place. After their original tune “So Much Trouble,” I zipped back to the Ringside.
Voodoo Visionary had just started. These boys had been in Tampa when Displace released their album Eureka! back in April.I was so impressed I caught them the next night at a little club in St. Pete and became even more impressed. But I swear to you somebody needs to investigate the whole scene, because they and many other bands are clearly taking musical steroids. How else to explain how each performance seems exponentially better than the last one?
Maybe it was “Testify,” one of the brilliant tunes from their new album Spirit of the Groove, that they were blasting as I walked in. They were on fire. There was no way to ignore the massive set developing on stage. Most folks coming in after the UM show knew nothing about Voodoo Visionary before this night, but I guarantee you they do now. This was huge.
They called Chris Sgammato of Displace to the stage to blow some alto sax. There are certain songs that every musician must know. One of them is “The Chicken,” the wonderful tune written by Alfred and PeeWee Ellis. You know it, just not by name. Then they did justice to “Eyes of the World.” It was interesting to hear Sgammato play this one but not sing it (he does sing it with Displace). Scottie MacDonald is simply a superb singer and front man, a gifted rock voice, smile a mile wide and dance moves besides.
After “The Heathen,” Roosevelt Collier climbed on stage with his lap steel guitar. I’ve seen VV bust out numerous interesting covers, but Prince’s “Kiss?” Perfect. Roosevelt always looks like he is having a good time, but for some reason his grin this entire evening was huge. He was having as much fun playing with them as they were with him. It was a perfect musical marriage. Roosevelt and Mike Wilson, VV’s guitarist, were just blasting back and forth. Wilson is a brilliant player.
Next up was another Voodoo Visionary song, “Salt,” and Roosevelt tucked right in as if he’d played the song a dozen times. Jimmy Lynch and Mac Schmitz were just killing it back in the rhythm section, everything colored by Dennis Dowd’s keyboards. Then they attacked “Take the Wheel” (all the original tunes from Spirit of the Groove). Again MacDonald showed his vocal prowess. This was a magical performance. Who’s doing the steroid testing?
During the set break, as they swapped out some equipment (bands do so well sharing these days), I went back to Ruby’s. By now, the jam was on, and an entire different set of musicians was playing, led by Juanjamon, who sang a soulful “Georgia” before leading the band, now with three saxophones, on a run through… “The Chicken!” See?
And back to the Ringside for Displace. Sgammato attempted as best he could before the set to explain to my non-musical brain what was about to expire. Put in extremely layman’s terms, the band would play a song until a band member opted to make a change, at which point he would suggest that with a musical cue; Sgammato would give it a thumbs up or down. The main idea was that it would be a continuous performance transitioning from one key to the next as they played. I tried…
I had seen Displace play a beach set the day before at Reunion which was near perfect; this night’s set left that and every other Displace performance I’ve seen in the dust. It truly did follow Sgammato’s explanation. I even caught one of the changes and his thumbs-up signal!
This set spiraled upward for more than 100 minutes, and Roosevelt joined them for an hour, again with that beautiful smile of his. The set had begun with a superb “Geonosis Shuffle,” but it blew up when Roosevelt stepped up for a stunning 24-minute “Generation Sloan,” followed by huge versions of “Valerie” (Zutons cover) and “Hillsboro River Rapids.” Sgammato switched from alto to guitar and back and played a keyboard as well. Sam Dobkin was crushing every solo, and Vinny Svoboda and Tucker Sody built a monsterous foundation for the whole event.
Vinny wrote a very personal explanation about the show:
“Enjoy this audio from the official Umphrey’s McGee after party ft. Roosevelt C., Displace and Voodoo Visionary. This is a special set of music, and personally my favorite show to date. The cohesiveness of the band and our guest (Roosevelt) is mature and respectful, and the content is downright raw. When you listen to ‘Generation: Sloan’ you can tell we’ve been listening to a lot of Lettuce.”
“I’m incredibly proud of this show and the crowd who gave us their attention and concentration to create such a great night. I’m usually not one to fluff my band because I’m very critical of our progress and never want to settle. But for this I want to take a step back, take a minute and thank everyone who’s supported us this far.”
I agree with every word he said. It was that special. And it got even better, because Displace and the Ringside donated toward the Keepin’ D Funky fundraiser from the night’s proceeds. That’s how you build a community. Mazel Tov!
And it got even better, as the Displace set with Roosevelt Collier is now available for download on Bandcamp: the link is here. YOU NEED THIS.
And to think I almost didn’t go.
Photography courtesy of Brian Hensley
P.S. The Dynamic Duo of Russ Bowers and Andy Lytle made huge contributions to the evening with lights and sound. It makes such a big difference when that all goes right!