Love, Devotion and Music at The Great Outdoors Jam

FRIDAY

Oh, yeah. There was this dude bouncing back and forth between stages like a ping pong ball. And he and Tony Tyler have apparently cornered the entire market on hip ‘60s/‘70s mod clothes. You know who I’m talking about: our illustrious MC, PK! He did a great job introducing each band AND making sure we showed appreciation at the end of each set. Seems like OBJ was just a warm-up. Listen! You can hear him right now: “YEAAAAAAH!”

The 1:00 PM slot was scheduled to be Legacy (Sean Maloney). That could have meant the one-man looping show, which is excellent, but instead we got the superb Legacy Orchestra Collective, this time with Christian, Mama Bone, Jacob Cox, Colin Getts, Anthony Morales (HMM), a second percussionist, and Travis Young (Ajeva) on drums. Here’s a way to open an afternoon: “Shakedown Street > Sesame Street > Electric Avenue > Fire.” It was smoking hot.

After several songs, Sean commented on the proceedings. “It is so much fun working with all these musicians; it’s like they’re interchangeable.” !00% correct! Next up was my favorite on Sean’s tunes, “Ridiculous Elephant.” Lytle and Dani joined in on a Happy Campers tune called “Avenue,” and then a enormous “Inner City Blues” emerged, with Critter on guitar. Young was amazing on drums. The set closed with Lytle singing “Fortunate Son.”

During this weekend, there were some musicians who just blew me away, more than ever before. Three of them were on stage at this point: Critter, Young and Dani. Her violin solo on “Fortunate Son” was the first of many monster solos she would give us!

I have failed to mention that every band made sure to offer warm and sincere thanks to Kenny Blair for inviting them and all of us to his party. Sometimes, you hear that stuff, and it seems like lip service. Not here. Each of these testimonials was heartfelt, loving.

If you imagine that ‘love’ is overused in this context, I can only assure you that love permeated the entire proceedings all weekend.

Second on the day’s bill was Llamas. I searched in vain trying to find information for my preview, and apparently I found some other Llamas who play world music and have a flute player. More on my gaffe later.

Two men stood on stage. Sam All was playing guitar, and Frenchie was on keyboards. Whatever I thought was going to happen, I was deliriously wrong. This was an excellent set from the duo, starting with an unexpected “Without a warning, you broke my heart” from Sam (Bobby Blue Bland’s “Turn On Your Lovelight.” All’s voice was perfect for this setting, and Frenchie added great colors to every song. All started on acoustic guitar. As they began “Call Me the Breeze,” All played bass, then looped it and went back to guitar.

Next up was a funk tune with the lyrics “It doesn’t have to be about money.” Well, that’s what my notes say. Dani then joined them for a Railroad Earth song, “Got a Long Way to Go.”

They’re playing this beautiful set, and then All said, “If anyone will book me after this, I’ll take it. Kenny Blair is the only one who will book me.” So, first, bravo to Blair for recognizing real talent. And second, HEY, CLUB OWNERS! Book these guys! They’re good! Llamas closed the set with “Scarlet Begonias > Fire On the Mountain,” joined by Niko Swarley on bass.

Later, All told me he saw the preview I wrote, and his first thought was, well, where do I get a flute player? It was ‘all’ even more enjoyable when we realized that Sam’s brother Ben and I have become good friends; we had both been at The BIG What? the previous weekend, as were Courtney Fishback and Lee, here to body-paint and paint, and Dan, who was attending his first Florida festival. Remarkably, Courtney and Lee camped directly in front of me, and Dan camped to my left, before we figured out we had all been in North Carolina together! That’s how this weekend was — enchanted.

Leisure Chief is a quintet from Orlando equally at home with jazz, funk and rock. This again was the best set I’ve ever seen them play. They stormed out with “Cherries,” with Christian (he’s actually IN this band, not just sitting in) on baritone sax. They never took their collective foot off the gas, burning through “Grandmaster,” featuring great synthesizer work from Keegan Matthews. Nick Bogdon sang a tune, and then Trey joined them on harp. Bogdon was huge on guitar on this one.

The band then mined deep, deep funk courtesy of Chris McMullen on bass and Derek Engstrom on drums, with Ryan switching from tenor to alto and back to baritone for this song. “Eight more minutes?  We have eight more minutes?” McMullen asked. Assured that they did, Leisure Chief closed out a rocking set.

My advice to festival-goers is to be sure to check out bands you’ve never heard of before. I took my own advice at Gov-Fest in February and was thrilled to ‘discover’ Flat Land (on Sunday’s schedule) and Post Pluto from somewhere in the Central Time Zone (Pensacola). PP had made lots of new fans at Gov-Fest, and I was really looking forward to the band’s return to Maddox Ranch.

Holy Toledo! This quintet came out of the gate at 100 MPH, opening with an unreal rocker called “Deja Vu.” There were so many dancers gyrating deliriously. The second tune was great as well, and then there was another stage invasion. Dani, Critter, Christian, Chris Sgammato (Displace) and Trey all crowded onto the side stage, and a huge super jam ensued. Everybody was grinning ear to ear. Singer Mike Garcia was singing and dancing, and toward the end a great version of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” washed over the crowd.

It was a good thing nobody was ready to stop dancing, because the Juanjamon Band was up next. This has turned into an awesome side project for the CopE keyboard and sax player. He has surrounded himself with a superb funkin’ band; for this show, Justino Walker joined Dre Mack on guitars. I had heard much about Justino but had not seen him play yet. Michael Garrie and Trevor McDannell are so tight on drums and bass, and Matt Giancola’s array of keyboards frees Juanjamon up to play more saxophone and EWI. McDannell and Giancola also play in their own group, Future Vintage.

After the “Meesta Juanjamon” song, they played a very Latin-tinged tune. Justino blew this one up. And then, for one nasty medley: “Hey Chester > Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples > drums > Booty.” And Giancola was playing lots of jazz chords! LIKE!

So here is another look at the genius of scheduling that Blair and crew put together. How will you follow two outrageously funky bands? The logical choice, clearly is… bluegrass! And it worked! It always works when it is bluegrass, Applebutter Express-style.

We were treated to many of our ABX favorites such as “Pussy” and “Smile, Smile, Smile.” Then Kyle introduced a song they wrote on the way home from the wedding of Cody Bean and Jenelle Muir called “When the Leaves Change Color.” Then Dennis Stadelman avec banjo joined them for several tunes. Critter and Trey also stage-bombed for “Don’t Ease Me In > Man Smart, Woman Smarter.” And you have to love bluegrass bands that take rock songs and turn them upside down, for instance, AC/DC’s “Have a Drink On Me.” Brilliant.

Suddenly the skies turned ominously gray, as if you should grab Toto and run to Auntie Em’s. At precisely that time, I had decided to head to camp to change shoes for wetter weather. I just managed to get into my car when the bottom dropped out. It rained. And rained. And rained. For two solid hours. Finally, it began to ease up, and, three hours later, we were ready to resume. Blair & Co. had a plan, and this one worked to perfection. Bands with 90-minute sets would play for 60, which would save almost two hours.

So the set by The Fritz, Asheville’s funk ambassadors, which was originally at 7, began at 10 PM. Again, everybody involved did a simply amazing job of keeping everything (relatively) dry and getting set up and starting so quickly.

The Fritz destroyed it, killed it, blew it up. Many online have called it their favorite GOJ set. The rhythm section of Jake O’Connor and Michael Tillis with Mikey Spice on percussion put everybody in a headspin. That provided the foundation for Jamar Woods to strut his stuff, and strut he did — on vocals and keyboards — while Jamie Hendrickson was shredding up a storm (probably a bad word choice here). Their funk and jam elements have spread out into jamtronica as well, delightfully so. They crammed 90 minutes of jamming into a tight 60-minute box.

More music from Asheville followed in the form of Jahman Brahman and their “shred’n’flow” music. The set began mid tempo, but shortly it picked up steam and roared at the end, with Christian and Sgammato on dueling alto saxes at one point. Justin Brown and Casey Chanatry were tearing it up on guitars.

And then it was time for the last CopE show. It is difficult to write that. Most Hometeamers have such a personal relationship with the band, and you could feel that love during their entire set. They played all the songs we wanted to hear that they didn’t play Thursday night. Dennis Stadelman is a superb guitarist, and his solos were like treats this night. Juanjamon was playing keyboards and EWI and tenor, and it was hard to keep up.

Finally, we heard that unmistakable intro to “Shakedown Street,” and there was electricity in the crowd (the good kind). Somewhere toward the transition into “Shake Anything,” people started appearing on stage: Blair, Bean, Muir, Bowers, and I’d have to look at a photo to remember who else, but eventually there were four band members and 19 others on stage, singing along, dancing, smiling, arms around each other. THAT was an incredible, wonderful sight. (And who was the best dancer up there? Jenelle!)

Blair begged the question: “Do you want one more?” When it’s your festival, you can do that! A fitting “Going Home” closed this chapter on Tampa Bay’s most renowned jam band.

And there was still more music to go! Jacksonville’s S.P.O.R.E. came out like gangbusters, superb almost prog-rock. Sgammato and Savi Fernandez jumped on stage. Eventually, Yral and Dani did, too, while Christian was on his grail quest of 20+ sit-ins.

Then one of the guys requested Blair’s presence on stage. “At OBJ in 2014, Kenny Blair made a request for a song. He says he doesn’t remember doing that. This is our first cover song ever, and the first with vocals” (they are an instrumental band). They called for Este Loves to come up, and they did a great take on “East L.A. Fadeaway.”

Holey Miss Moley had the closing slot and had been dropping not-so-subtle hints that this was going to be a monster set. This started normally enough with “Devil Funk,” a great band original, but things went bonkers after that. Travis Young, drummer for Ajeva, is also adept at hip hop rhymes, and he led the group through “Who Am I” (Snoop Dogg). Dennis Stableman came on for some Afropop, and then Danny Clemmons reminded us that it was “Ladies’ Night,” which morphed into “That’s the Way I Like it.”

Robyn Alleman then gave me a shout-out and said this tune was for me, and they busted out a beautiful cover of Orgone’s “Don’t Stop.” She was fabulous; I melted into a puddle.

B True Brian came on stage, and he and Clemmons threw down some more hip hop with “Between the Sheets” (Isleys & Notorious BIG), “I Wanna Do Something Freaky” (Kenyatta) and “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” (Dogg & Dre). Reed Skahill and Dani were next, as Reed nailed the falsetto on “Stayin’ Alive.” This was a bona fide dance party! Travis was back for more.

Tony Tyler came on stage wearing a black mustache. He announced, “I just want to be Christian Ryan when I grow up!” As if that wasn’t awesome enough, I was standing near  the stage by Trey, who told me to look at Dani; she had a Christian mustache on, too! Even awesomer, Robyn!

Tyler then delivered a superb “I Keep Forgettin’,” and HMM followed that with “Sho’ Nuff,” Critter blazing away, and finally, near 4:30, “Naugatuck” with Mama Bone.

Cody Bean and I embraced each other, and I asked, “How are we gonna make it to Sunday at this pace?” We hugged, laughed and shrugged. It would happen. Somehow.

The smart choice would have been bed, so of course I went the other direction. Sam All was playing some Dead tunes and other songs at their campsite. A young lady with mandolin came in at some point and sang a beautiful song and then left.

At least the sun wasn’t up yet.


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