AURA Music & Arts Festival Thursday | Spirit of Suwannee Music Park 03.05.15

I didn’t want to take my wristband off. Once I got home, I kept looking at it for hours. I just didn’t want the magic to stop.

The AURA Music and Arts Festival was over, but this extraordinary experience will live in my head and my heart all year. And everybody — everybody — I have talked to or read a post by says exactly the same thing. The name of the festival is precisely correct: the aura surrounding the entire Spirit of Suwannee Music Park was full of magic and wonder and joy and friendship and community and family and love. If that sounds trippy-hippy-dippy to you, then one thing is for certain: you were not there!

I arrived to set up camp for the Thursday evening preparty just as The Motet was lighting up the amphitheatre stage. (Ghost Owl had played the opening set.) Motet founder Dave Watts has always sounded great in concert and on CD, but his drumming filled the campground with a relentless tribal beat that blew me away. And we were just five minutes into a four-day festival!

It’s all about the bass… and drums. Perhaps not at a bluegrass festival or other event, but at a funk throwdown like AURA and its sister festival Bear Creek the rhythm section is supreme. Delightfully, we heard nothing but tremendous rhythm sections the entire festival. That was certainly true about Watts and bassist Garrett Sayers.

Vocalist Jans Ingber is so much fun to watch as he dances and cheerleads and plays percussion and — what a great soul singer he is! As I made it to the amphitheatre, the band was in the middle of “Extraordinary High” from their latest CD, The Motet. He did a fine job of showing what to do during “Shake, Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty,” and Eli Winderman from Dopapod joined Joey Porter for a keyboard romp. Trumpet player Gabe Mervine took a brilliant solo and was great all set with Matt Pitts on tenor sax.

I am a huge P-Funk fan and always enjoy covers, but I have never seen anybody attempt “Handcuffs” before. Hands down the most sexist song in the Clinton catalog (you could look it up), the Motet absolutely nailed this one. And I know why Joey Porter enjoys playing “More Bounce to the Ounce” (they did not play it this set): it is a perfect description for Porter himself. Pound for pound, he might just be the funkiest man on the planet.

After a great version of “Closed Mouths (Don’t Get Fed),” it seemed they were out of time (you have to love how clockwork-like these festivals run, with bands respecting each others’ time), but somebody offstage was signalling the band.

“We can play some more?” asked Ingber. Now you know it’s going to get deep if the musicians are happily asking that. He went to sit down at his drums, and I got very excited.

When I first heard the Motet in 2004, they were a jazz band that played funk. I believe Music for Life was the album of that year, any genre. More recently, the band has transitioned to a funk band that plays jazz. There are subtle differences. I had never heard the Motet play any of “the old stuff.” Until that moment, the moment they launched into the Afropop jazz tune “Cheap Shit” (from Music for Life). It was magnificent.

Dopapod had the job of trying to follow that superb set. How would they respond? That is a question that raised itself throughout the festival, and it highlighted two things: just how incredible the line-up for this festival was, and just how brilliantly the schedule was planned.

Dopapod had a simply amazing set. From first note to last, they were simply on fire. This is not a case of one-upsmanship but rather of cooperation and collaboration and inspiration and community. More than anything else, that was the theme of the weekend. You saw it when musicians went to hear other sets, mingling with the crowd, soaking in the aura. There’s that word again.

Also, kudos to Dopapod for getting their sets up online almost immediately. Thursday’s set was available for download on Bandcamp Friday, and Friday’s set was also available the next day.

The set blasted out with “STADA” and “Turnin’ Knobs” and keyed around a 17-minute version of “FABA” from recent release Never Odd Or Even. Chuck Jones and Scotty Zwang built a dynamic foundation on bass and drums for guitarist Rob Compa and Winderman of keyboards to bring the funk.

Somebody asked: why is Dopapod considered a jamtronica band? Just because you have synthesizers doesn’t make the band jamtronic or electronic or anything else. Great question to ponder, because these boys rock out and funk. It was a superb ending to the preparty.

It seemed clear already and would become absolutely true by the time Sunday rolled around that Daryl Wolff had put together the best possible festival for the funk-minded individual.

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