My life has always revolved around music. I grew up in Baltimore, listening to three superb soul stations (WWIN, WSID & WEBB) and the Rolling Stones, transitioning to psychedelia and funk. I was fortunate enough to see Hendrix, Zeppelin, and Derek & the Dominos. The 70s were dominated by Zappa, Grateful Dead and Parliament-Funkadelic.
After a lull in the 80s, my musical life hit a new trajectory after seeing my first Phish and Widespread Panic shows, sucking me completely into the jamband vortex. The next significant shift occurred in 2006, when Linda and I discovered each other and then music festivals: Langerado, Wanee and Bear Creek. There is no time to worry about shows you missed; I prefer to reflect on all the wonderful music that has filled my life.
Just when I thought my musical journey had peaked, I hit a six-week period in the summer of 2012 that sent me skyrocketing, and I’m happy to say I’m still in orbit. But let me describe briefly those six weeks, because they were for me remarkable.
It started simply enough. The Dunedin Brewery had a band playing called Serotonic on July 12th. From the blurb, it sounded like a perfect fit for me: funky jazz or jazzy funk. Little did I know! They were superb, so superb, in fact, that I’ve seen them 17 times since, including hiring them for my daughter’s wedding.
The next night, the kings of Tampa, CopE, were at Skipper’s Smokehouse with North Carolina buddies Big Something. Both bands were strong regional acts at the time, ready to burst onto the national scene. Both bands put on superior shows and have gone on to greater prominence, playing at numerous festivals, including Big Something’s own party, Big What?, always worth checking out.
A week later we were back at Skipper’s for the Lee Boys, nationally known as one of the greatest sacred steel bands. The Lee Boys’ national star, Roosevelt Collier, was on the road that night, but the Lee Boys always have back-up. The surprise this time was young 15-year-old Chris Johnson on the pedal steel. The Lee Boys have brought him out on occasion, memorably at Bear Creek 2011, but this was the first time I’d seen him carry an entire show, and carry it he did, admirably. Once he settled in, Chris was excellent. Remember that name.
The following night, I ventured over to the (former) Ringside Café for the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio with Matt Lapham on bass and Tom Damon on drums. I will simply say again that Lapham is my favorite bass player, period. And Damon is excellent as well. Then there is Bobby Lee, a great singer and songwriter and monster guitar player. The highlight of the evening was when they came out for a third set and delivered a magnificent, sublime, 25-minute take on Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father.” Just WOW.
We left for a week’s vacation in Nova Scotia. I’ll come back to that last.
Upon return, we headed to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater for Little Feat and the Roy Jay Band (August 1st). Feat, as always, put on a dazzling, satisfying show, dominated for me by bassist Kenny Gradney. And it is such a nice venue (recently remodeled).
The next night, I hit downtown Tampa for a monthly free concert in the park, this time featuring Serotonic as one of the three bands on the bill. They delighted the crowd – and certainly me as well.
And the night after THAT, somehow, I ended up at the House of Blues kitchen to catch the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio again. They had the entire place rocking with great enthusiasm for several well-delivered sets.
And the NEXT night, I saw ZOOGMA at the Crowbar, although actually I was able to catch Serotonic again at Gaspar’s Grotto beforehand. ZOOGMA do the livetronica thing with samples and monster guitars and keyboards and computers and… I can’t keep track of it all, but they crushed it, as they have every time I’ve seen them. And DJ Craig Heneveld, my favorite of the DJ crowd, had another excellent night.
I managed three nights “off” before hitting The Fly Bar for a fourth shot of Serotonic. The next night, it was the Thursday night ritual at Skipper’s with regulars Uncle John’s Band, this time joined by Charlie Dandelion and the Weeds, fronted by a truly superb vocalist – Reina Collins. And then it was Bride of Chaotica (Aug. 10th), a great instrumental jazz trio led by the fabulous guitar work of Bill Bechtel, at a true dive, Dave’s Aqua Lounge. The place was nearly empty, but that didn’t stop them from offering up great music to those appreciating the sounds.
We were lucky enough to make it to Hot August Blues at Oregon Ridge in Maryland (Aug. 18th). I had missed an opportunity 20 years earlier to see Magic Slim, so I was delighted to see him. Trombone Shorty thrilled the packed hillside in his inimitable fashion, and then it was time for Gov’t Mule. My brother, a fine musician in his own right, had never seen the Mule, so we were pleased to have him with us.
Warren and Co. treated us to two magnificent hours, bookended by “Blind Man in the Dark” and “Soulshine.” They touched on nine Beatles tunes on the way, blew up a superb “Birth of the Mule,” and brought Trombone Shorty back up along with Maryland’s favorite son, Ron Holloway, to wail on “The Letter” and “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” (I get chills every time I listen to Warren channeling Albert King). Then back to the trio. “Red House.” “How Many More Years.” “Mule.” YEP.
Finally, the Hippiefest made it to Ruth Eckerd Hall (Aug. 25). Leslie West was a no-show, but Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown got the party started in fine style, followed by a nice set from Rick Derringer, now a Clearwater resident. Then it was Edgar Winter’s turn. As great as he is on keyboards and sax, his best instrument remains his voice, which he amply demonstrated once again on his signature “Tobacco Road.” That left the stage for brother Johnny. I first saw Johnny in 1969, and I have enjoyed him every time I’ve seen him, but his set at Wanee 2010 was flat. This was exactly the opposite. He came out flame-throwing and never let up. It was a great night at the end of an amazing six weeks.
But about that vacation in Nova Scotia. Once we decided to go, we realized we did not have time to see everything. I KNEW I had to see the Bay of Fundy (check out Hall’s Harbor on YouTube), and then we headed toward Cape Breton. It was a truly spectacular trip. The only downside was that we had read that we would find ceilidhs, Gaelic music played at social places (pubs!). Alas, we didn’t find any. Near the end of our journey, we stopped in Louisbourg, visiting the fortress there (July 29). On the way to dinner, we spotted a sign about some local music. Finally, we thought. Maybe it will be good.
Understatement of the century, and the clear – and unexpected — highlight of the entire six weeks. We parked at the Louisbourg Playhouse, a wonderfully warm wooden theatre. We arrived just in time to see Jennifer Roland, a self-described Cape Breton fiddler, taking the stage, accompanied by a guitarist and keyboard player. What unfolded in the next two hours was so delightful, so eclectic, so heartwarming, so wonderful that everyone in the playhouse seemed transported to Scotland – or somewhere very magical. Roland is a perpetual motion machine; during the first set, she played part of it sitting down, her feet dancing jigs all the while. Fair enough. I was not prepared for what happened in the second set, when she proceeded to stand and step-dance while fiddling for a few tunes. I’m convinced she’s a sprite. It was pure heaven.
Be sure to check out Jennifer and all of these folks on Facebook and Youtube. The treasure chest is open – just dive in!