Love, Devotion and Music at The Great Outdoors Jam


I had missed seeing Endless Flow more times than I’ve seen them, so I was excited to know I would catch a full set. I had no idea it would be as spectacular as it turned out. The group is fronted by the Toro sisters, Alexa and Bella, and they were positively brilliant this day, singing in unison and in harmony, tag teaming lyrics, smiling and dancing. It was the picture-perfect Saturday opener, and they set the bar HIGH.

Sgammato played the entire set with them on alto, and Trey Miller, who had numerous great harmonica sit-ins, delivered a superb one with them. Christian added flute and alto. Endless Flow was on fire. The set was fine. Fabulous. Fresh. From the opening notes until the simmering blues jam at the end, this was so good. John Demeter had everything anchored with his bass. It was great to see the first appearance of Johnny Nichol on trumpet (Green Sunshine).

More than anything, though, this was about the ladies. “Today for Tomorrow” and “Already on Your Way” were great. You need to put an Endless Flow show on your calendar of upcoming events.

Squeedlepuss had played a knock-out set at OBJ, so this promised to be another early-afternoon highlight. Taking a cue from Post Pluto the day before, they BLEW. IT. OUT. Unreal. They crushed it from start to finish. Somewhere in the middle of the set, Christian got on stage, and they proceeded to play the most phenomenal version of Floyd’s “Money” I will ever hear. You knew it was that tune, but it was jazzy slinky, then blasting, then jazzy slinky again. OH DAMN.

And the band followed that with a beautiful tribute to the recently departed Chris Squire with a very Yes-like song. Sulana called it. They capped it off with a great encore. Gavin Francis was rocking the keyboards, and Paul Miller and Dan Hunting killed on guitar. Rhythm section? Natch!

Wild Root was a group I knew nothing about; I don’t think anybody did, except, of course, the prescient Mr. Blair. This trio from Tampa proceeded to rock out with a very enjoyable set. Paul Fournier showed great guitar skills, and drummer Damon Owens is badass. WOW. We need to get these guys out more.

I had the privilege of writing an album review for the recent release From My Heart by the Savi Fernandez Band, and he always brings it, so we were more than ready for Savi’s blend of reggae, ska, funk and rock. And bring it he and the band did. Christian has played with Savi often and was featured on the album, so he was around for the entire set.

Savi’s rhythm section (look, I love rhythm sections, OK?) is a monster: Joe Lanna on drums and Greg Jungbluth on bass. The band plowed directly into “Rockin’ and Rollin’,” one of a half dozen tunes they played from the album. Critter and Dani were there at some point. When the opening strains of “Blessed” rang out, I was up at the rail. This song is so strong, so positive, my favorite from the album. After “One Minute,” they played another of his signature tunes, “Opportunity.” All of Savi’s guitar work was great, but he ripped this one to pieces. After “Shake That,” there was another stage invasion, with Trey, Critter, Juanjamon, Niko Swarley and Nick Landess (Unlimited Devotion) to rock out on “Gimme That Funk” (well, something like that).

Displace was coming to GOJ after spending a week at rock and roll camp, also known as a week’s residency at the Hog’s Breath Saloon in Key West. When you play seven nights at the same club, you learn what you can do, what will work, and how to stretch and how to cover. Fittingly, they began with a nice version of “Eyes of the World.” Dennis joined in on a killer “Geonosis Shuffle.” Then Christian, Mama Bone and the Toros made an appearance. That week in Key West clearly paid great benefits.

At The BIG What? in North Carolina, I saw, sort of, The Family. But it was raining, and I was a wimp, so I was under a tent a distance from the stage, and the people talking REALLY LOUD drowned out the band. Blair told me I should get a second opinion. Naturally, he was correct. Straight out of Greensboro, The Family immediately played Dead, including “Not Fade Away” (who doesn’t love singing “My love is bigger than a Cadillac?”). Later, a nice “Ramble On Rose” emerged. After that, it was a theoretical treatise: “If I’m Gonna Get High.” Theoretically speaking. And Critter joined in on the last tune. The Family also had the closing set Sunday.

Different strokes for different folks. Many friends were in Chicago for the weekend, enjoying the end of a long, strange trip. I was exactly where I wanted to be, among the best friends and family in the world, at a festival lovingly put together by people I admire greatly, surrounded by incredible music that just wouldn’t let up (thank heavens). That being said, and the great Dead covers notwithstanding, it was entirely appropriate that Unlimited Devotion should be playing this day.

This was my first time hearing this Dead cover band. The set began a bit slowly with “U.S. Blues > Cold Rain and Snow.” After a JGB song, the Toros were back on stage (what a great, great day they had) to sing “He’s Gone.” “The Music Never Stopped” and “Playing in the Band” were real highlights, and they closed with nice version of “Jackstraw.”

What better way to follow up after the Dead than with the Allman Brothers Band, Come Back Alice-style. In December, they had covered Live at the Fillmore East, and it was a great event. This time, the band had been working on Eat a Peach. Critter was on guitar most of the set, and the second drum seat was filled by the ubiquitous Travis Young.

Four words: Big Bad John Werner. He owned this set. Channeling Berry Oakley, Allen Woody, Oteil Burbridge, Lamar Williams and others who have held the ABB bass chair, he just romped from those opening notes on “Les Brers in A Minor” to the last of “Blue Sky,” this was Werner’s set.

Seriously, the entire band and enlisted friends were awesome. Dani Jaye is best known for her superb violin (fiddle?) work, but she crushed the best guitar solo I’ve ever heard from her on “Les Brers.” I smiled as a friend asked, “When did she become such an asskicker?” The “Mountain Jam” clocked in at over 26 minutes. Tony Tyler was again his triple-threat self, channeling Gregg on B3 and vocals and wailing on guitar. And there was, of course, the obligatory Facebook family picture, courtesy of Bryan Edward. The set closed with Tony solo on acoustic guitar for “Little Martha.” How fitting.

At some point, I went to get something to eat. As I returned, Sulana said, “There’s something you’re going to love when you get back (to the chairs). Look between the sound tents.” That was the understatement of all understatements. There, sitting in a chair, all dapper with his signature hat, was the man himself, the Rev. Funky D! You can’t count as high as the number of hugs, smiles and tears that generated from everyone.

It was time for my favorite Baltimoreans, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. I’ve been fortunate to see them five times, and each show gets better and better. I thought last week’s performance at The BIG What? was amazing. This set left last week’s in the dust. Friends are STILL talking about it.

The opening 12-minute song had people’s jaws on the ground. After “Ride,” they invited Sgammato on stage to play some alto; the bands had performed together last year at Dunedin (and played at the Brewery again Sunday night for the Great Outdoors Jam Decompression Party).

Another truly beautiful photo op occurred during this set, as Jenelle and Cody’s mom, Eileen Tortorelli, were dancing together joyously. I’m telling you: love was in the air. Everywhere.

I had noticed the previous week that PPPP have added more dimensions to their funky sound, one of which was jamtronica. But another one showed itself several times this night: some fine ABB-like jams. They dragged their buddies The Hornitz, up on stage for a massive “F.U.” It went all ABB again, before somebody said, “Too slow,” at which the blues went double-time and back to “F.U.”

Scrambled Greg Ormont (love that), singer and guitarist, said, “There’s probably not any Dead tune that hasn’t been played at least twice.” Immediately, they began “Shakedown Street” — for about ten seconds, before careening into “Down with Disease > jam > Run Like a Pigeon > another ABB-like jam.” Jeremy Schon is a spectacular lead guitar player, but even he was overshadowed by the massive bass of Ben Carrey.

During the fireworks, the band immediately segued into “American the Beautiful,” which somehow eventually turned into a patriotic sort of “Auld Lang Syne.” Hey, it worked. There is a whole flock of Pigeon converts out there now.

And The Hornitz were back. Two guys (plus a great lighting and effects director), bass trombone, tenor sax, beat box and two computers. They were jazzy and funky enough with PPPP, and that’s how the set started. Suddenly, we were full immersed with “Insane in the Brain” full-tilt, and it was insane. These guys could change directions in a split-second.

Friendship is the one with the trombone, while Stoo (that’s Stoobacca Dashiki to you) has the sax and the ‘fro. These boys are stone cold crazy. For their Dead cover, they revealed that they were going to play “Lovelight,” a song they had never played, not even rehearsed. Somewhere in there the synthesizers were blasting a mash-up that seemed like “Uptown Funk” meets “Rhapsody in Blue,” but it was after 1 AM, so who knows? Mostly, there was a lot of dancing and everybody but me singing the lyrics to the various hip hop songs they wove in and out of the mix. It was a blast.

The lighting was really nice all weekend long, and there was something special happening each night on the side stage. Moe Angelo was on the job with his Lightbrush projection mapping, creating amazing patterns and images on the side stage tapestries provided by M-Dub \m/\m/ Designs. He had to dodge some raindrops, but the effects were amazing. (You can check out the Lightbrush FB page and website.)

Big Something was set to close out the July 4th musical fireworks. Mind you that I saw them perform three sets the previous weekend. I thought this set was even better, although they were all superb. Somebody (and I wish I remembered who) pointed out that a band such as Big Something would have been a national smash back in the day before the suits hijacked the music industry. They certainly deserve to be!

They wasted no time, roaring into “Swingtown” (they did an entire set last week alternating Steve Miller songs with originals), then a chance for Casey Cranford to show his EWI skills on “Blue Dream > UFOs are Real.” Everybody picked up on the long intro to “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond,” and BS whipped the crowd into a frenzy, took the foot off the gas slightly for “Wish You Were Here,” and then floored it into “Another Brick in the Wall.”

Doug Marshall and Ben Vinograd again showed themselves as an amazing rhythm section, and Josh Kagel’s keyboards washed over every song (except when he was playing trumpet). Dani joined them for “Amanda Lynn,” and the ever-bouncing Nick MacDaniels suggested: “I think we should set up a conversation between Dani and Casey.” What followed was epic. Dani was brilliant every time she stepped on stage, violin in hand, but this might have been the best. She and Cranford rose to the occasion, including a funny moment when Dani just blew it out and Casey waved his arm as if to say ‘enough,’ then came roaring right back.

And you need to take time to listen to Jesse Hensley on guitar (just celebrating a birthday on the 3rd), because he is world-class. And I can make that remark about a number of musicians at this festival and at every festival you go to. There is so much talent everywhere. We are so blessed to swim in it all. Hensley is a beast (you, too, Brian).

With enormous smiles on their faces, to a huge roar as the clock approached 4 AM, the sextet came back on stage. First, they played a fun cover of Sublime’s “What I Got.” MacDaniels handles the lead vocals, and he is just so good. And then… And then… Because we had NOT danced quite enough yet, of course they threw out a magnificent version of “Uptown Funk.” That was fun to the power of funk.

Done, right? Blair grabbed the microphone and reminded us of the Copious Jones set about to start in the campground. All along, I though they meant that Critter would be jamming with a bunch of folks (well, that did happen), but this was full-on Copious Jones, one of Atlanta’s treasures.

They had painstakingly constructed a stage in the campground with full power, and for almost two hours we got more amazing music. I don’t know the CJ canon yet, but I plan to learn, so song titles are elusive, although I recognized “Expect Me Any Time” from a previous show (it’s your fault, Tami and Charles). Beyond the superb musicianship, the lyrics of their songs are intelligent and well crafted. ‘Sniffles’ Callahan (well, that’s what the FB page says) is a great singer and front man.

Dennis had grabbed a guitar, and he and Critter were playing this lovely music that certainly seemed like it wanted to head toward “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Gloriously, it did, a beautiful long version. It was great to see friends dancing just before 6 AM, including Arielle, Megan and Beatrice and her daughters. One more in a long list of beautiful visions from the weekend.

They knocked off about 6:15, and I folded up my chair and headed to the tent, not far away. Several minutes later, music started again. I’m accusing Andy Lyle and the usual suspects. I remained horizontal and listened for the extra half-hour of music.

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