If you have ever waded through more than a couple of my reviews, then you know I am given to superlatives and lots of adjectives. Make no mistake: I am far less a critic than a cheerleader. I try to set myself up for success rather than failure, seeking out musical events that glisten with promise – according to my standards, naturally!
I suppose I could try to work harder to find the foibles and the chinks in the armor and the cracks in the pavement, but why? In spite of some recent events, my life is wonderful right now. I am going to hear music as often as I can manage, my family is wonderful, this blog my son gifted to me is a dream come true, I am a year away from retirement, and my glasses are rose-colored for sure.
I am having a great time explaining what’s in my heart when I hear musicians on stage working their behinds off to bring pleasure to us and to themselves. For certain, it’s not about fat stacks, yo. These men and women play from the heart, and they play for love.
I don’t know what your governor has done for you lately, but lemme tell ya about my Gov’nah! I speak, of course, about Mr. Adam Pierce, the Gov’nah of Waneetopia and head of state of the Brothers and Sisters of the Suwannee. He has been involved in a number of festivals but decided to hold one of his own at the beautiful Maddox Ranch in Lakeland, Florida. That has been the home to numerous similar events such as Hometeam New Year’s Rally, Little Econ Fest and the Great Outdoors Jam.
So the Gov’nah put together a first-rate festival coming up next weekend which he calls Gov-Fest. And then he had the idea to hold a pair of Gov-Fest pre-parties, one in Orlando at The Social, the other in Gainesville at The Jam (that’s tonight, folks, if I get this done in time!). There was no way I was going to miss the show at the Social.
First: This was Casey Cranford Night, by my estimation. He CRUSHED his regular set with Big Something and had great sit-ins with the Savi Fernandez Band and the Heavy Pets. I assure you that the photographs are not Brian Williams-photoshopped!
Big Something is a wonderful (and the superlatives are off!) sextet from Burlington, North Carolina. They were dynamite the first time I saw them in Newport News in 2012, but they have grown by leaps and bounds since then. They played my birthday party last May with the Heavy Pets (OK, the show happened to be on my birthday, but stop raining on my parade!), and I also caught them with TAUK in Baltimore during the time when lead guitarist Jesse Hensley was out of action medically. He’s darn sure healthy now; he ripped it up on guitar the entire set.
A few days ago, I had gone to the Gov-Fest site (www.govfest.net), and this superb song started playing. I had forgotten all about “Love Generator” from the new BS CD, Truth Serum. It sounded so good! It sounded even better last night on stage, anchored by Josh Kagel’s synthesizer. The boys had just delivered an excellent “Megalodon” (also from Truth Serum), and they were on fire, but nobody more than Casey Cranford. He was alternately blowing it out on alto sax and EWI, changing back and forth seamlessly. He has always impressed me, but this was special.
Singer and frontman Nick MacDaniels traded his guitar for mandolin for (what else?) “Amanda Lynn.” [Confessing that I did NOT get the pun until I typed that.] They were having a blast. And then Doug Marshall and Ben Vinograd took the rhythm over the top for a cover of the Lettuce tune “Blast Off.” Kagel grabbed his trumpet, and it was the perfect way to end their set. Big Something headlines Gov-Fest Friday night.
Next up was the Savi Fernandez Band, a group that calls Orlando home. There was no question about that looking at the dance floor. Well, actually, you couldn’t SEE the dance floor, because it was packed! I had seen Savi deliver an incendiary performance at the Downtown River Jam in December, and I wondered if he and the band could work that same magic again.
No need to wonder: the answer was a resounding YES. Savi was working with the same great drummer, Joe Lanna, but a different bass player, Nasrulah Rahbari. He was tremendous, a great player, also adding vocals and dancing like a madman. Danilo Maia gave the group further depth on percussion.
Savi’s music springs from reggae first and branches out in many directions. Given that this was Bob Marley’s birthday, you knew Savi would be all over it. The opening trio of reggae-tinged tunes filled the dance floor immediately: “Opportunity > Smooth Movements > Viva La Tierra.” From there, the quartet took a delightful romp through Ray Charles’ “Mess Around.”
SFB has been working in the studio and in rehearsal on their next recording, and we heard next three songs from the upcoming release: “My Baby,” “Dream” and “From My Heart.” Savi mentioned (and Lanna reiterated later) that the new disk will probably be titled From My Heart. If you know Savi and his crew, then you know that the title describes them perfectly. Somewhere in the proceedings, they called Casey Cranford and his alto sax back on stage to play a couple of songs, to great audience response.
Then it was the part of the program where Savi tries to destroy his wah-wah pedal. “Blessed” and “Skunk” are two incredible rockers, and the entire band was just tearing it up. Savi is a superb guitar-slinger, as he reminded us. The dude with the video camera has evidence, I swear.
The Marley tribute at the end featured “All Day All Night” segueing into “Get Up, Stand Up.” SFB closed with a great rendition of his signature tune, “Sweet Butterfly.” I would love to hear Savi sing with Christie Lenée; their vocal styles would match up really well. Savi and crew join Big Something on the Friday bill at Gov-Fest.
The Heavy Pets were in town from Ft. Lauderdale, on their way to the Northeast, to melt snow, if last night’s performance is any indication. From the opening whistle, the quintet came out slamming, Mike Garulli handling vocals on “Movie Star.”
And then it happened. “So Thank You Music” was the second song in the set. And the next 26 minutes were just RIDICULOUS. Off the charts, off the hook, ridiculous. At that point, I sent out a Facebook message that said, “And now the Heavy Pets are destroying the Social. Already best set I’ve heard from them.” Mind you, this was my 22nd HP show, so I know – sort of – what I’m hearing.
Jeff Lloyd had first vocal chores on STYM. Garulli took the first guitar solo, followed by Jim Wuest on electric piano, and then Lloyd on space guitar, which he does really well. After that, even a program would not have helped. There was so much happening, so many changes, and it was all happening in a whirlwind of sound.
Tony D’Amato and Jamie Newitt are so incredibly tight on bass and drums, and it was jaw-dropping watching them lead the Heavy Pets through this amazing tune. D’Amato and Newitt along with Wuest had played some of the sickest jams ever with Roosevelt Collier on their December mini-tour, and for my money this was more of the same. MIND BLOWN. I asked Lloyd about it after the show. He said, “Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever played it in the second spot. It was a highlight for me, too.”
“Keep Me Running” was actually an opportunity to catch one’s breath after the previous extravaganza. Lloyd was featured on “Pleasure Tank,” and a segment of the “Xylophone” reminded me of Cream’s take on Skip James’s “I’m So Glad.”
I really enjoy Jim Wuest’s work at his keyboards, including electric piano, synthesizer and voice tube. A long piano intro led into “Help Me Help You,” and Wuest called for the ubiquitous Cranford to get back on stage with his alto. Cranford responded with his best work of the night. And this song, like many in the HP repertoire including KMR, featured splendid three-part vocal harmonies from Wuest, Garulli and Lloyd to close out the set.
The Gov’nah, who had been on stage often raffling off tickets to Gov-Fest, was joined on stage by Matt. They gave away the grand prize (tickets to Gov-Fest AND Orange Blossom Jam, plus some merch). Then Matt pointed out that the Pets would be back through Orlando again at some point, but wouldn’t we like to hear ONE MORE SONG now?
Clearly, that was the overwhelming sentiment, and the Pets were back. More three-part harmony, synthesizer and another Lloyd space outing (brilliant) were all part of “Sigismondi,” and we were done. Baked. Put a fork in it. Me.
So, Gainesvillians and those in the neighborhood: Big Something, Savi Fernandez Band, the Heavy Pets and the Gov’nah do it again tonight at the Jam.
It would be a mistake to sit home. That’s all I’m saying.
Great to finally make it to the Social, and wonderful to talk to all of the musicians and Megan!
[BIG SOMETHING: Pnuts Song, Capt. D, Big Time, UFOs are Real, Megalodon, Love Generator, Amanda Lynn; E: Blast Off]
[SAVI FERNANDEZ: Opportunity, Smooth Movements, Viva La Tierra, Mess Around, My Baby, Dreams, From My Heart, Rockin’ and Rollin’, Forgive Forget Learn, Blessed, Skunk, All Day, All Night > Get Up, Stand Up; E: Sweet Butterfly]
[HEAVY PETS: Movie Star, So Thank You Music, Keep Me Running, Pleasure Tank, Xylophone, Help Me Help You; E: Sisgismondi]