For whatever reason, I have never made it to the Dunedin Oktobeerfest before this year. The Dunedin Brewery always goes all out for this event, but 2015 has already been legendary. It began on Thursday night with the long but not unpleasant wait in line for my first-ever liter stein (which entitles you to discount beer for the next year). The added benefit was that, thanks to a message from Jeff Moellering, I knew that the ISS (international space station) would be visible at 8:19. I purchased my mug at 8:17, then got to point out the awesomeness of the “flyover” to numerous other patrons (249 miles up, at 4.76 miles per second).
And it’s funny how I got here at all. My weekend was set for the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival, but, and I am crushed like a grape, it was cancelled for this year (praying it will return in 2016). Then, I had hoped to get to Leeway’s Home Grown Music Network 20th Anniversary in Mebane NC, but I just couldn’t swing it. That worked in my favor because, unfortunately, the site for the festival was deluged with more than six inches of rain the previous week, making it virtually unusable.
The possibility that Hurricane Joaquin might come visit prompted Lee Crumpton to cancel the festival. That must be the most heartbreaking decision to have to make, but kudos to Lee and his superb staff for putting the safety and comfort of potential attendees far ahead of any other consideration. There aren’t many people in this business whose support for the independent music scene is as unwavering as Lee’s, and we wish him continued success for another 20 years, and then 20 more.
Due to my wait in line, I missed the first portion of the set by Row Jomah, an outstanding jam rock quintet from Clearwater. I confess I was not expecting a lot from either band Thursday night, owing simply to the wall-to-wall patrons; we were squished like sardines early on.
My expectation was WAAAAY off base, I am delighted to say. Joe Roma and his band delivered an excellent set, enthusiastically received by us sardines. I missed about half the set while in line, but the setlist looked great, including “Tell Me” (one of my favorite tunes from recent release Cat People), “Cat People!” (which is NOT on Cat People), and “Sledgehammer.”
I arrived in the middle of “Choke,” another song from the new album, followed by a joyful cover of “Benny and the Jets,” Joe in full falsetto mode. “Shudder” was next, yet another great song from the new disk. At that point, Joe called up Jordan Garno, guitarist for Serotonic and Infinite Groove Orchestra, to join the band. Out came a superb version of “Fire and Ice,” with Garno and Row Jomah guitarist Mel Walsh both crushing solos.
Garno stayed on for a fine cover of Dave Matthews Band’s “#41.” I was particularly impressed with his rhythm guitar work on both songs. Dave Gerulat (shoeless soul) was coloring everything with great percussion, and the band honored him by playing a shoeless soul song. Another very Latin-tinged tune led into the superb finale, “Outhouse,” a fitting close to the set.
Then it was Serotonic time. This band has played numerous memorable sets at the Brewery (as have Row Jomah), including the New Year’s Eve gig with Freekbass and the Bump Society (playing Friday of Oktoberfest). This set was notable because leader and drummer Andrew Kilmartin had a competing event and was running sound at Rock the Park. One of the most impressive aspects of the music scene here is that the musicians cooperate and collaborate early and often. In this case, Infinite Groove Orchestra drummer Adam Volpe filled in, admirably (watch out, Kilmartin!). Volpe has played percussion with Serotonic on occasion, especially at the memorable show opening for The Motet.
It was clear from the first note that this set was on fire. “Think Fast” is a great opener, and “Molly Jane” always works. Next was Serotonic’s fine adaption of Soulive’s medley of “Eleanor Rigby > I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Garno was blazing. The band played a great version of their tune “Jelly,” which goes through numerous changes. Then, a wonderful surprise: Wes Montgomery’s “4 on 6.” Followed by “Madison Square” (Lettuce), Jon Tucker blowing his alto sax brains out. He also stood out on a song the band covers so well, “Move On Up.”
Thank heavens they played my favorite, “Rhinobelly,” with Garno and bass player Rob Sanger locked in mortal combat, and they closed with “Cinotores.” Bryan Lewis had a superb set on keyboards, and Volpe was simply superb. You would never have know he wasn’t the regular drummer. Once again, this a great tribute to all the players who step in to help and absolutely kill it.
If you are looking for an example of truth in advertising, look no further than DJ 45Revolver. He is a DJ, he spins 45s, and he apparently did the Vulcan Mind Meld and knew exactly what I wanted to hear. Brick, Tom Brown, Tavares, Burning Spear and so many more great tunes mainly from the ‘70s, not to mention a boatload of James Brown. I am looking forward to checking him out again.
Next up was the band I was looking forward to more than any other (on a weekend with so many favorites). Carly Meyers and Adam Gertner have been playing with the Mike Dillon Band (from New Orleans) for some time, but more recently they have also toured as a duo. When I ran across them, by accident, at the AURA Music and Art Festival, they called themselves Yojimbo. That was so September!
The band is now called Roar, and that is a fair assessment. Apparently, I will continue to refer to Carly as a pixie and a whirling dervish (both entirely accurate). She sings, dances, smiles, and, oh yes, she is a superb trombone player and also plays vibes (and was debuting the deluxe synth-vibe!). Gertner plays drums and keyboards and programs the computer. This was a traveling dance party.
She is so visibly engaging that you cannot help but be drawn in by her dancing and twirling, in addition to everything else. Some tunes were from the brand-new Roar EP, including “Fortune Telling.” Perhaps my favorite tune of the set was “Kids,” a bass-heavy tune that Gertner pushed along.
Speaking of dance parties, that is Freekbass Sherman’s middle name (I’m pretty sure). I have seen him a dozen times, including three here at Dunedin with this band. He always includes “Ain’t No Party Like a Dunedin Brewery Party (‘Cause a Dunedin Brewery Party Don’t Stop),” but realistically you should just insert ‘Freekbass’ for ‘Dunedin Brewery.’ Non-flipping-stop.
Big Bamm was on drums, a man channeling Billy Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon. The new addition was Jason Burgard on tenor sax, resplendent in a black robe, a more than suitable replacement for Dan the Sax Man. And then there was Freekbass, red Mad Hatter-style hat atop his blond locks. And it was ON!
It really IS an almost non-stop romp through the history of funk. We got old school funk, P-Funk style, including “Flashlight,” Bowie’s “Fame,” and lots more. Eventually, he coaxed Carly back on stage with her trombone (I suspect there wasn’t much coaxing), and for the next 20 minutes insanity ensued.
Freekbass ponted out that Big Bamm was from Detroit (he’s from Cincinnati). He said, “So this is a Detroit thing, a Cincinnati thing, a Florida thing!” Out came “Bodyslam!” Oh, hell, yeah! Most every song is a medley in his setlist. The next one included “Fire,” “We Want the Funk,” and (thank you so much) “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You).” A Rush song worked into “Rise” from Freekbass’ last album, Everybody’s Feelin’ Real. Finally, it was “(I’m Your) Boogie Man” with “Can You Get a Little Higher?” Ain’t no party…
The closing band was a group from Atlanta I had never heard before, Sumilan. Which I can see now was clearly a mistake. Memory is a fickle mistress (master, whatever); recent memory tends to cloud out older memories. That having been said, this Sumilan set might have been the greatest rock set I have ever witnessed. Seriously. BLOWN. AWAY.
I had no idea what to expect from this quartet. I was sort of expecting jamtronic rock. I got that, for sure, but with so much more. They kicked out with a blistering version of “Kiss” that went way over the top. They are supremely powerful, not loud. “Save On” made me feel like that old Maxell commercial — again, just so powerful. Then came a cover of “Working Man” into an incredible jam and back again.
From recent release En Transit came a great song title “I’m Not Missing You.” I was totally dialed into the vibe. Harris Culley was an excellent singer who played badass guitar as well. Bass player Mark Dykes was blowing up the bottom end of things and adding excellent harmony vocals. Things then veered delightfully jamtronic, that wonderful trance-dance stuff that speaks directly to me.
Another great new song, “Where It’s Getting,” featured a great battle between guitar and bass. Meanwhile, Alex Stokes was huge on guitar as well as keyboards. this was amazing. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, of course, it did! They unveiled a cover of “Sharp Dressed Man” that out-Topped Top. Seriously. Stunning. Called back for an encore, they raged Rage Against the Machine.
So truly magnificently wonderful.
Displace, the local boys who have been delivering the goods so excellently, had the early Saturday slot. So, of course, I missed it. Dan assures me I screwed up arriving late! Displace has earned the right to be on the Hulaween lineup and the first-wave announcement for AURA in March. Well played! And I missed Chris Sgammato’s 95-year-old grandfather dancing!
What I did get to hear, two hours’ worth, was the Larry Mitchell Band. I understand that Larry has earned several Grammies as a producer. This particular night, he stood out because he absolutely CRUSHED IT all set on guitar. Think Jimi Hendrix, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Satriani. Got the image? OK, transfer that to a dude who looks like Rick James with a black cowboy hat and an irrepressible smile.
This was a true power trio, with m and n providing great rhythm support. And Mitchell’s guitar talents are huge. For two hours, he brought his A game. It was impossible not to be impressed with his fluid style and enthusiastic presentation. On at least three occasions, he stepped down from the stage, walking throughout the crowd, smiling, letting children help him play (plus at least one lovely lady).
Rise of Saturn was on tap next. They brought a fun set with them. Lead singer w also played trumpet, and percussionist y also played saxophone, so there were lots of interesting variations. In addition to lots of originals, they threw in some interesting covers, including “Across the Universe” (“Best cover of that song ever,” said Dan), “Take On Me,” “Uptown Funk” and “25 or 6 to 4.”
There is something about the vibe at the Dunedin Brewery that truly excites musicians and patrons alike. Perhaps its the intimacy, plus superb sound, and the relentless pursuit of great music to bring to Dunedin. It certainly has the Midas Touch. And there was no better evidence than the set by The Heavy Pets, who have played the brewery dozens of times.
Michael Garrie said it better than I could after the show: “How do you write about that? The intensity was a 10. Setlists become irrelevant.” Indeed, this was my 25th HP show, but it raged beyond anything I could imagine. Tony D’Amato must take first responsibility, his bass so wonderfully over the top from the first tune to the last. A relatively short “Sigismondi” turned into a monster jam, as Mike Garulli and Prof. Jeff Lloyd (the glasses are too cool) continued to blow up solo after solo. My thought: if they’re at this level now, where will they go in the next hour and a half?
Outer space, was the answer. Things were heating up rapidly. Briefly, they let it cool down just a bit with a Beatles’ cover, “Don’t Let Me Down.” Another Beatles tune later revealed that they are doing two nights at The Funky Buddha (their home gig) on October 16th and 17th: Walrus: A Beatles Tribute (It’s Going Down Memory Lane).
Driven by Jamie Newitt’s incessant pace on the kit and Jim Wuest’s keyboard insanity, they jammed, reggae, rocked out and put everybody in a trance-dance trance. “Let Me Help You” lasted 20 minutes, or so it seemed. I could’ve done 20 more. They announced that this was the band’s 1089th show to a roar of approval. After “I Am the Walrus” and the set closer, it was certain the ecstatic crowd was having none of that set-over stuff; a 20-minute encore was the response, concluding with “Jackie Bones,” honoring Jeff’s dog in college AND the delicious beer so named up on the menu board.
After a long tradition of open-mike nights on Wednesdays, the decision was made a few months ago to solidify things, and a permanent house band was created (although players are always come to sit in). Well-respected musicians from four excellent area bands have melded into a tight group: Brandan Lewis, guitar and vocals (Currentz); Austin Llewelyn, keyboards (Row Jomah); Rob Sanger, bass (Serotonic); and Dave Gerulat, drums (shoeless soul).
For their opening set Sunday, they brought in reinforcements, and what reinforcements! Christian Ryan, reed player extraordinaire and member of a variety of bands, including Holey Miss Moley and Leisure Chief, was happy to finish his most awesome weekend at the brewery. And the lovely Toro sisters (Alexa and Bella) bring such beauty and joy to any stage, not to mention their wonderful voices. This was a septet on a mission.
By the time I arrived, they were jamming an outrageous cover of Phish’s “Birds of a Feather.” I’m certain I danced more to this and the remainder of the set than I did the rest of the weekend (you may have seen photos of me sitting in my chair, even occasionally “meditating”). This “Birds” was scorching hot and bouncy, and Llewelyn made some awesome keyboard sounds during his turn at bat in addition to melodic playing.
“Stir It Up” slowed the tempo way down, almost too much for me. When “Shadows” began at a similar pace, I was about to be disappointed when… BAM! The song went through a huge tempo change, almost triple time. The ladies were singing and dancing up a storm, with Alexa working through a variety of percussion instruments. “Get Lucky” featured a nice flute solo from Ryan. More than anything else all set, I was truly knocked out by Gerulat on the kit. I’ve seen him a dozen times or more, but this is the first time I truly appreciated how great a drummer he is.
Sanger was bouncing joyfully, and they brought up John for a rap during “Feel the Beat” before a monster “Rescue You > Monophyletic > Rescue You” to close their portion of the program.
Orlando’s The Groove Orient was setting up inside. They have been impressive recently, but none more so than the partial set I caught when they opened for Savants of Soul several weeks ago. These boys have been working — hard. I was looking forward to this one for certain.
As has been my usual refrain of late, no matter how good I expected it might be, I underestimated. By a lot. They hammered right into a very jazzy organ-driven tune called “David T. Walker Jam,” with Tommy Shugart absolutely enormous on the keyboards, this time perfectly mimicking a Hammond B3. Harry Ong on bass was out front, pushing the sound. “Radio Draft” gave Chuck Magid a chance to demonstrate his great guitar chops, and Shugart played both organ and electric piano.
The band does a very interesting variation on “I’m the Slime,” the first part straight Zappa style, then slowing it down to lounge jazz. The ubiquitous Christian Ryan came up to blow on “Let’s Go.” On “Hot Bandit Woman,” Shugart blew it out on guitar this time; his talents are massive.
David Vanegas moved from his percussion kit to handle bass chores as Ong sang “Bad Man” (great Magid solo), followed by their solid cover of “Whipping Post.” Then Rob Sanger was invited up to handle bass on two songs, and Shugart crushed, crushed, crushed another guitar solo. The Booker T. and the MGs song “Soul Limbo” was driven by Shugart’s organ and a wonderful drum battle between Vanegas and Paul Terry, who was relentless all set long.
After “Ghost Train,” a song from the upcoming album, they closed with a very Santana-like “Loose Change:” More percussive fun and a big solo from Ong on bass. Bravo, boys!
The weather had cooperated all weekend long, and even drizzles earlier in the day dampened nobody’s spirits as we herded, or, rather, flocked outside for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. Many in attendance caught their incendiary set at The Great Outdoors Jam and were hoping for more of the same. Only this set was about a light year beyond the other one, so blisteringly, intensely funkified. Stunning! The crowd didn’t thin much throughout the two-hour romp.
The insanity began immediately with “Funk E,” and it was clear to see how much PPPP likes coming to Florida and how much they love playing in Dunedin. This set was huge. “Sunny Day” led to “Hop,” and that segued into their classic (oh, yes it is) “F.U.” Scrambled Greg and Ben were twisting, dancing, gyrating and playing their — well, what do pigeons have? — off.
They hit full stride with a stunning medley that went down like this: “Landing > Drums > J. Town > Drunk People > Psycho Killer > Drunk People.” Jeremy Schon is one of the most underrated guitar players on the scene, and for my money he was better than ever this night. And Alex Petropulos was in lockstep with Ben on drums and bass. And the lights courtesy of Manny Moonrise were the bomb!
They slowed things down ever so slightly for their tune “Couldn’t We All (Just Get Along),” which morphed into “You Enjoy Myself.” Perfect! Phish when I arrived, Phish at the end. But of course it wasn’t the end, as the crowd deliriously begged for one more. The looks of joy on the faces of the band and of the crowd said everything.
How about “What is Love?” by Haddaway (think Night at the Roxbury), Greg and Ben with the head-bobbing, hair flying. Yep, that shut Oktoberfest proper-like!
The list of thanks for this event is huge: Dunedin Brewery and staff, musicians, Chris Fama and Joe Roma for outstanding sound, Mother Nature and so much more. When’s the next one? Oh, right! Spring Beer Fest first! Lift those litersteins high!
Photographs by kind permission of Mike Nymandia /