Perhaps this has happened to you: you receive a Facecrack invitation from a name you don’t recognize, likely through a friend of a friend. But the invitation sounds interesting, and you think: well, OK!
In this case, the request came from ZenFest 2015, being held at All World Acres in Plant City (well, technically). The website was healingtoday.com, and the fest would feature live art, poetry reading, dance performances, drum circles, and… music! My calendar was open for Saturday, February 21, and, as luck would have it, the music schedule featured several bands I wanted to see again, several I wanted to see for the first time, and others I knew nothing about. That’s my kind of line-up!
All World Acres is a truly other-worldly place out a country road between Plant City and Zephyrhills. I drove right past the sign, doubled back and parked. I was filled with a sense of déjà vu; I had been here before, some years back. It must have been an early iteration of ZenFest, with all of the funkiness but none of the music.
From the moment you exit your car and enter the atmosphere, you sense that Zen is the proper name for this gathering. There were vendors, campers, artists, and a small but serviceable stage for music. I was excited to see the first two bands, Orchid Theory and Endless Flow. I had seen each of them for the first time in the previous few weeks.
When I saw Orchid Theory at Florida Avenue Brewing Company, it was a relatively low-key affair but a great set. At the end, to my delight, they ripped off an impromptu romp through Mahavishnu’s “Miles Beyond.” I guessed it was a one-off.
I would be WRONG. From the very first chords, Orchid Theory kicked out the jams, so to speak. There was much fusion, much jazz. I was really pleased to be able to hear each band member in such a great environment. Jen Sladky was killing it on bass, joined by José Cochez on drums. Nathalia Estrada started on her large drum (what is that thing’s name?) and later picked up her acoustic guitar.
Above all, I was buzzed to hear Tré Fitzgerald’s guitar. He was undermiked when I saw him before – not this time. He played lots of great, thoughtful guitar lines and solos. And he joined Estrada on a number of the vocals as well. “Train Closer Now” truly showcased the rhythm section, and Tré sang “You Don’t Have to Love Me.” “Orchid Theory” was followed by a “Bermuda Triangle” that veered into ska/reggae. For the last tune, Tré and Nathalia swapped guitars, and Nathalia blistered a great solo. It was a beautiful afternoon indeed.
With one stage, each set actually lasted about 40 to 45 minutes. I would have wanted more, but all the bands seemed happy for their slots and to support such a peaceful, growing fest. In short order, Endless Flow was on stage and ready. My first encounter with them was at Hometeam New Year’s Rally, and I was knocked out by the music and the harmony vocals.
Endless Flow, from Lutz, is fronted by Bella and Alexa Toro, two ladies short in stature but very tall in vocal ability. Their harmonies weave in and around the music provided by the gentlemen of the band (two guitars, bass and drums). It was nice to connect again with bassist John Demeter. The band played a set of all original music, every bit of it engaging and enjoyable. I’ll let their words help you fill in the picture; I can’t do better than this: “Endless Flow is a funkalicous project representing the never-ending exchange of energy and love, using the language of music… to paint pictures of harmony that move the body and soul.” What they said.
The remainder of the schedule for me (I had to leave before shoeless soul was to play) featured four bands I knew absolutely nothing about and a fifth I seem to keep missing. First up, the Brand New Opiates from Tampa. The sound reminded me of the E Street Band. Their Facebook page says: Swamp Blues, Gypsy, Punk, Americana and whatever else we are feeling. That was an accurate description for this set.
Lou Collazo is an engaging frontman, and he led the band immediately into “Make the Devil Run,” a very bluesy rocker featuring George Toledo on guitar and Melissa Grady on violin. Later in the set, they hit their stride with a song that sounded like early Velvet Underground and then “Don’t Hide My Whiskey.” The rhythm section of Joe Grady and Matt Salvador upheld their end of things admirably. The set closed with “Creole Woman,” reminding me of Nilsson. I need to see them again.
In the middle of the set, several people had turned around to look behind us, away from the stage. Finally, I turned to see what was all the hubbub (bub). It was an eagle, chasing a white ibis or heron. As we watched “The Wild Kingdom” live, the ibis was fortunately fast and was able to outmaneuver the eagle (better turn radius). The aerial show lasted several minutes and a number of swoops and turns. I don’t think this was on the printed ZenFest program, but it seemed totally appropriate.
There was a cancellation on the line-up, which accomplished two things. It allowed the music to get back close to on schedule, and it allowed us to discover “Thee Eloquent Barbarian.” While Troy Youngblood and SoulFish was setting up, the band’s keyboard player treated us to an impromptu set.
Imagine Tom Waits with a beautiful voice (I know, it’s hard). Thee Eloquent Barbarian has a beautiful baritone (bass?) voice. We are simply unaccustomed to hearing anyone sing in that range, and doing it so well. Accompanying himself on electric piano, he introduced each song with: “I call this [name of song].” He began with “Vacation.” I really enjoyed “Other Thing (Concentrate On).” At times, his voice seemed a mix of Waits and Captain Beefheart, again without the edge or rasp. His most amusing tune was “I Love You Like,” filled with deliberately horrible similes. The closer, “Disposable Love,” was great.
If I was knocked out by TEB’s voice, I was totally unprepared for what happened next. Troy Youngblood and the SoulFish hit the stage, and Youngblood’s amazing voice filled the entire fest. There simply aren’t many male singers of his caliber in these here parts. Youngblood also played a mean guitar, fronting bass, drums, keyboard, and trumpet!
“Just Another Day in My Life” had me thinking of my all-time favorite singer, Tim Buckley, among others. “Long Tall Ride” was an enjoyable romp, and during “Let Me Go” I was hearing Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Please do not misunderstand me: Youngblood is all his own man; I was just finding comparisons with my favorite music. The band had a ball performing “The Devil Smells Like Bourbon.” I’m hoping to see this band again soon, maybe this weekend!
The only hitch in the festival’s giddyup for me was Psycho Phonics. Many fest-goers enjoyed their raw but spirited set, so don’t judge by me. It just wasn’t my thing. They played reggae, ska, punk and rock and a really curious cover of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” in anticipation of the morning to come.
I can’t count how many times I was planning to see Row Jomah, only to have the plan fall through. Finally! Leader Joe Roma (get it?) sings and plays acoustic guitar, fronting a fine quartet. I confess I was tiring. I thought, Well, if they’re not so good, I’ll leave early.
Row Jomah played a tremendous set of well-crafted songs. They don’t sound like the Dead, but the feeling is right. You can’t help but headbob and dance. Melbourne Walsh had some very nice guitar solos, and Austin Llewellyn’s keyboards added great color to all the songs. My favorite song was “Cat Call,” which was jamming along like crazy, riding the bass of Jason Berlin, when suddenly it transfigured into “The Cantina Band Song,” morphing several more times into an interesting event.
I have this notion about drum solos (bass solos, too). For the most part, unless you are Ginger Baker or Buddy Rich, it’s been done. I am much more interested in what the rhythm section does underneath the band to prop it up and propel it headlong into deep space. So Dylan Che-A-Tow’s drum ‘solo’ was performed while the band kept vamping, and it was superb. This showed his skill in the structure of a song much better than a manic free-for-all. Well, for me, anyway.
Great set, boys! shoeless soul was up next, but I was baked and had to head home. Fortunately, I had seen them at the Downtown River Jam and Home Team New Year’s Rally recently, and I know our paths will cross again, soon.
Bravo to Allison Bowyer and her team for putting on such a lovely family-oriented and spiritual festival. I’m already marking my calendar for next year!
And I’m ‘borrowing’ a couple of your photos, Allison!