Downtown River Jam | the Blueberry Patch | State Theatre 12.06.14

IMG_2581I don’t even earn partial credit for attending this event. I missed all 13 performances on Friday and 23 on Saturday. From that standpoint, I can only tell you about the music we did get to hear, but we can still talk about the Herculean effort put on by Captain Mark Glenn and his troops to coordinate all of the bands, venues, sponsors, vendors, security, publicity and more. I’m guessing he didn’t get much sleep between Bear Creek and the two-day Downtown River Jam, which moved from its initial Ybor City location last year to several venues in St. Petersburg.

IMG_2561We headed after dark to the Blueberry Patch, that hippie paradise in Gulfport. It is so downhome funky wonderful, I’m not sure how I never knew about it until earlier this year. OK, I knew about it, but I didn’t get up off my arse to check it out. I was disappointed not to get it together in time to see Friends of Fil and the Donna Hopkins Band (nope, no relation, just an awesome last name and great band), but we did make it in time to see New Earth Army, invading from the Panhandle.

Carly Foster fronts NEA (with a new haircut – beautiful!). Her classically-trained voice lilts and shimmers over tunes in a variety of genres. Mike Flatau and Jacoby Jackson anchor the rhythm down tight, tight, tight, leaving plenty of room for Chavis Hobbs to romp on guitar. And half of their sax section is at Berklee School of Music, so tenor player Ben Johnson stepped up big to fill the sound with some great solos and ensemble work.

NEA hit several songs from their spring CD release, Musikizinew, including the title track, and three from Action, their first disc, and some new tunes as well. And the Patchside stage is under this incredible tree or enormous shrub or… I have no idea what it is, but it’s beautiful and decorated with lights and dangling stuff. It makes for a perfect setting for music. NEA’s set was warmly received.

IMG_2564shoeless soul had the next turn on the Patch stage. Thor from WMNF’s In the Groove has been telling me about them for ages, but this was our first hearing live. We missed the beginning of the set, because I forgot that the Blueberry Patch doesn’t sell beer, so we had to go out hunting libations (fortunately, there is a store a block away).

shoeless soul is a deceptive quartet. It seemed at first that it was a nice band, decent songs, but the set just continued to blossom and grow and explode and funk and drive and, well, I wasn’t expecting all that. Dave Gerulat’s strong resume’ on drums adds a great dimension to the band, joining with the bass of Sladjan Vidic to provide the bottom. Rene Schlegel and Mike Ratza rode atop the rhythm section, Schlegel on guitar and vocals and Ratza on tenor saxophone. Gerulat also added background vocals for a very enjoyable set. The Dunedin band describes its music as “Prozac Pop,” but don’t let that fool you. Worth seeing again, for certain.

I am an unabashed Savi Fernandez Band fan and have been for years, so this was one of the highlights of our outing, as I planned it. Little did I know!

Savi’s music is rooted in reggae, rock and funk. I am not a huge reggae fan, but Savi’s version always sounds fresh and unrepetitive. The intro and outro for “Viva Opportunity,” for instance were drenched in delicious psychedelia. The band did a first-time cover of Peter Tosh’s “”You Can’t Blame the Youth” that would be relevant any time, and Savi updated it nicely.IMG_2569

Linda and I were commenting on the superb performance of Savi’s rhythm section (“There I go again…”). Joe Lanna was having a brilliant night on drums, and I am (nearly) at a loss for words to describe the magnificence of bassist Greg Jungbluth. He chimed in, joking, that his name is Lord Bassgod Rhythm Ninja Jungbluth, and I am not disputing that. It was at this point that the trio launched into a song called “Shake It.”

In my head, I have this notion about music being, in the moment, ‘as good as it gets.’ Savi, Greg and Joe hit that mark for the entirety of “Shake It.” Savi, who was already having an amazing night on guitar, simply exploded. The other thought bouncing around in the back of my head was: “I’m hearing this stunning performance, and the notes are drifting into space.”

They hit my AGAIG mark again during a song titled “Skunk,” which actually surpassed “Shake It” (I think). It was a wonderful set, which they closed with a very manic cover of “Manic Depression.” Savi Fernandez Band rules, ladies and gentlemen.

IMG_2570“Where to next?” asked Linda. I said we were going to the other stage again to hear Between Bluffs. I pointed out that I’d seen them at last year’s Hometeam New Years Rally (December 26-28 this year at Maddox Ranch – get your tickets, folks!) Also, in searching my database of shows, I discovered that when I saw them last year, they followed Savi Fernandez. Cue the Twilight Zone music.

I told Linda their performance last year really knocked me out, and that it was unusual, but I couldn’t do better than that. I might still struggle. They played a superb hour set, but I’m still not sure how to describe it. But you know I’ll try.

The first thing that grabs you is Justin Davis’s upright electric bass. You would never know it was a stick with strings if you had your eyes closed. He got beautiful bass sounds out of it. Jerrod Simpson was a convincing singer and front man in addition to his rhythm guitar work; Melbourne Walsh took lead duties. Joseph Russek on drums had help from Gerulat (shoeless soul) on percussion.

The surprise was Devesh “Devo” Nirmal, who stood a bit farther back on the stage, fiddling away. Simpson assures me this was Devo’s first time ever with the band; they were so perfectly in sync you would never, ever have suspected it. I certainly hope they keep him and his violin around. I picked up their new CD, Shook Up from the Infoquake. I’m looking forward to hearing it and even more to seeing them again – soon!

Those who go to shows and concerts and festivals know that the soundman can make a performance – or severely hamper it. Andy Lytle, a fine musician in his own right with The Happy Campers, handled the sound on both stages. He gets an A+. All of the musicians sang his praises, deservedly so.

Too bad Andy’s clone wasn’t working at the State Theatre. We zipped over there at the end of Between Bluff’s set to catch the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio. The sound was atrocious. Rodrigo Zambrano’s bass was rumbling all over the cavernous theater, obscuring much of the excellent set the trio was putting down.IMG_2579

They were in the middle of “Begging You to Stay.” Tom Damon was back at the drum kit. His effervescent style has always delighted me, but I was never able to place influences before. After Bear Creek, I know for sure one of them is Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, one of BC’s artists-at-large. Damon exhibits that same flair.

BLR strummed the opening chords to “Outerspace,” one of his best-loved and most covered originals. They hammered it! Speaking of space, BLR gives his bass players lots of it to solo, and Zambrano gobbles up every opportunity. BLR often does entire jazz sets, and so the jazz influences pop up throughout his shows. Suits me just fine.

I think it was during “Overdrive” or the next tune that a member of the Big Wu, set to close the State Theatre, came on to take a fine solo with the band. After that, BLR motioned to the crowd, asking a young lady to step on stage with the band. Her name was Juanita Parkerurban, one of the vocalists from the Parker Urban Band out of Jacksonville. She and Bobby Lee crooned a lovely ballad together.

BLR encouraged her to stay on stage as the band lit into a high-tempo version of “When the World Comes Tumbling Down” (usually about 90 miles per hour anyway). Juanita motioned for another singer to join her on stage, and up stepped Myrna Stallworth, Juanita’s vocal partner in the Parker Urban Band. And the moment she opened her mouth…


Myrna’s voice was stunning, and immediately we were in church for the remainder of the tune (it was Sunday morning), especially when Juanita and Myrna began the call-and-response segment. I was thinking Dottie Peoples and Mavis Staples and Katie Jackson. ELECTRIFYING.

We saw five great performances, but we missed dozens more. I cannot wait to see the Parker Urban Band with the Lee Boys at Skipper’s December 19th (are you kidding me?). Sorry to miss Herd of Watts, Copious Jones, Freddy’s Finest and Sumilan among the out-of-towners as well as a long list of local favorites. I am so pleased that all of these fine bands and musicians contributed to the Downtown River Jam, hoping that it will establish itself firmly on the jam calendar along with the Hometeam New Years Rally, Gov-Fest, Orange Blossom Jamboree and more.

My pictures still hoover. Be sure to check out the superb work of Brian Hensley and Jeff Moellering, who work tirelessly to bring you great memories in photograph form. Find them both on FaceCrack.

Great to see Dee, Jeff and Winston.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Captain Mark!

[New Earth Army SET: Without Your Love, Shakedown, Jeffersons > Funk Medley, Widow’s Walk, Musikizinew, Delirium, What’s Up, Action]

[shoeless soul SET: They Fade Away, No Touch of Grey, Time, Reevaluate, Happiness, Bubble Song, Obviously Oblivious, Paving the Way]

[Savi Fernandez Band SET: Smooth Movements > Viva Opportunity, Shake That, Why Do We?, Give Me One Minute Girl, Skunk > You Can’t Blame the Youth, Dreams, Manic Depression]

[Between Bluffs SET: Burden to Bear, Music is Medicine, How Do You Feel?, Tuesday Morning, Give Up Everything, Out of My Mind, Gadget, Maybe One Day, Made of Water]

[BLR SET: ?, Begging you to Stay?, Outerspace, ?, Overdrive, ballad, When the World Comes Tumbling Down]


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