After a wild long night at the Reunion: Campout Concert Series pre-party in St. Petersburg with The Motet and assorted friends Thursday night, and then a day of school prep, I drove like a madman, again obeying most of the posted speed signs, to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park for the first of what surely promises NOT to be a one-off event. It was a smash by any yardstick you choose.
If you’re looking for the Reader’s Digest version of this review, here it is: every band exceeded expectations. Bands I knew intimately took it well beyond the next level, and bands I didn’t know previously had huge performances. You can stop reading now if you like; you know what went down, minus the details.
For you stalwart readers, here goes:
First, let me remind you of organizer Trey Hebron’s remarks in the run-up to the festival:
“Reunion Campout Concert Series aims to bring an intimate musical getaway to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and will be EXTREMELY limited in capacity. Each ‘Reunion’ will be different, and rather than annually this series will pop-up from time to time when it makes sense for our extended family to get back together.”
Upon arrival, I headed as quickly as possible to the Music Hall, the center of the weekend’s activities, to check out Space Kadet (from Auburn and Atlanta). Think Lotus, because these boys are in very similar joyous groove, driven by the keyboards of Blake Catrair. And that groove never flagged for a moment during the set.
Like some of the jamtronic bands, they used some prerecorded material to play atop of, but they did it effectively. Kyle Gissendaner had a number of great guitar solos, and the rhythm section of Alex Etheridge and Rohan Prakash were just hammering the groove. It got downright stupid when Clark Smith from DYNOHUNTER came out to blow some tenor sax. That pushed it right over the top. One band in, and it’s already epic!
Music had begun in the courtyard, first courtesy of Matthew Connor for a short set. Sir Charles really spun heads around with his excellent set, and Nick Fresh closed down Friday’s outdoor festivities. And it was great, as always, to see the park’s official ambassador, Paul Levine, circulating with that ever-present smile.
DYNOHUNTER! They capitalize their name, but let me say it was absolutely required for this set. I’m not sure the music ever got better than this astounding set. Smith blew a world of tenor in addition to keyboards and DJ stuff, joined by bandmates Justin Ehmer (drums, percussion) and Fred Reisen (bass/synth). I had seen them once before, and they were awesome, but this set was somewhere in outer space. Our collective jaws were on the floor, they brought it so hard! The redefinition of the power trio. Just brilliant.
Greenhouse Lounge had the unenviable task of following this knock-out set. How would they manage? I’ve seen them numerous times, but the most recent was too much of playing on top of other people’s music for my taste. I remained optimistic. They CRUSHED it, best set I’ve ever heard from them (fair warning: get used to that sentence). This, like DYNOHUNTER, was exactly what this weekend was about. The intimacy of the setting did not keep anybody in check; this was an all-out assault on the musical senses, in the very best way possible. Dave McSweeney, Zach Weinert, and Ray Felts hail from Jacksonville but have a national following. I was so pleased to hear this tremendous set.
After the trio knocked out several great tunes, somebody said: “This is like our 20th show in the last week, so we’re going to bring up some friends!” Rachel Murray joined them first on vocals. After one tune, Todd Stoops was called to the stage. There were plenty of keyboards to share! Shortly thereafter, Luke Quaranta of Toubab Krewe joined them on percussion.
I was wearing my old-school Particle shirt (but, sadly, not the one with the chemical symbols) in anticipation of seeing Steve Molitz with the Stratosphere All-Stars. Several years back, I was wearing the same shirt at Wanee, and a voice from the treehouse said, “Nice shirt!” it was Molitz, who was gracious when we talked, as I explained we were definitely going to see Particle rather than the ‘big-name’ act on the main stage. Particle absolutely blew it out that day (OK, they’ve blown it out every time I’ve seen them). Anyway, I walked up to the bar, and there was Molitz, smiling and pointing to my shirt. We again said hello. There was just a vibe in the music hall where many of the musicians really enjoyed circulating among the crowd of dancers and head-bobbers.
There was much anticipation for the Stratosphere All-Stars. The moment a conglomerate of musicians are dubbed ‘all-stars,’ you begin to wonder if they will live up to the hype. That wonder was spindled, folded and mutilated within two minutes, as Molitz (keyboards), Marcus Rezak (Digital Tape machine) on guitar, David Murphy formerly STS9) on bass, and Allen Aucoin (drummer for the Disco Biscuits) amply demonstrated their all-star status.
After they melted faces with the first three long jams, things really lit up when the onstage collective busted out Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” with Ashley Nevins on vocals. Stoops had been called up as well, and he and Molitz were having a blast; Rezak was ripping solos right and left, and the rhythm section was stunning. Aucoin is always a treat to watch.
Gena’s tongue-in-cheek comment toward the end: “That totally didn’t suck!”
The band tore up everything they played, including several more songs with Nevins. This was jamtronic royalty! Finally, the set was over, the Music Hall was closing down, and there was only one place to go — for me, at least.
I rolled into the Silent Disco midway through the first pair of sets, two different channels with DJs pumping the jams. I switched back and forth, digging Combustible but preferring Leginge. I would call the crowd at the pavilion just beyond the amphitheater split 50-50, judging by the varied head-bobbing.
I was determined to catch Lava from Jacksonville at 4 AM; their Soundcloud music was awesome. At 3, there was only one channel, for Lucidea. In addition to his turntables and computers, he played a guitar. I nodded off some time about 3:30, I think. I was there for the entire Lava set, headphones on, sitting in my chair, and did not hear ONE. SINGLE. NOTE. Rats…
I missed Universal Green, the first band at the beach, while I searched in vain for the phone I had left in the Music Hall charging up. Never to be seen again. Well, by me, anyway. Reports were excellent about Universal Green, however. Their set had started late, so Shock Wave Frat Party gave up their time slot. SWFP is Matthew Connor and Vlad the Inhaler, two gentlemen who were working non-stop the entire weekend, helping to right the ship. They busted their behinds, always with a smile. THAT’S how you run a festival!
I arrived just as Jacksonville’s S.P.O.R.E. hit the stage. This was easily the best performance I’ve heard from this great quintet from Jax. Their “live instrumentated electrofunk jam band music” shoved the party into overdrive immediately. Steven Honig, Jeremy Kairalla, Joe Knoebel, Chris Richard, and Alex Sears were joined by percussionist Jason Hunnicutt, as some people surrounded the stage while others listened while enjoying the beach and the rootbeer-colored waters of the Suwannee.
S.P.O.R.E. played some new material including “Respect” in addition to their regular setlist tunes, and it all worked. There were bittersweet remarks at the end of the set about keyboard monster Alex Sears, who will be leaving the band shortly, I gather.
Ardency had the next DJ set, playing out of a big watersports truck parked facing the beach. This was perfect for me, an hour of deep house music that kept everyone moving. Meanwhile, Greenhouse Lounge was seeing up on the band stage. Also, it was hotter than Hades, or so it seemed at time. That didn’t seem to deter anyone from having a great afternoon.
This entire Greenhouse Lounge set was cover tunes with one original at the end. I was thrilled to hear them just jam their material Friday night, but in context this was the perfect afternoon beach set. They played on top of “A DJ Saved My Life,” Barry White, “A Real Mother for Ya” and more. The original tune was “Yean.” John Parkerurban sat in for a couple of tunes on guitar, fitting neatly into the groove.
At some point, and my notes are unclear as to exactly when, drummer Ray Felts was working out a percussion thing and began banging out a signature drum line, then asking, “What song is that?” Nobody was attempting to answer, so I yelled out: “WIPEOUT!” Felts wore a big grin.
Sir Charles had the last DJ set. The first half was my beloved deep house again. He went other directions during the second half, which, while not my favorites, certainly continued to energize the crowd. Displace, the Tampa quartet, was preparing for the last band set.
In their hour time slot, Displace delivered the perfect set: four songs, all superbly performed, kicking off with “Valerie,” a song John Parkerurban told me was a Zutons cover. Got to look that one up. They made it really bluesy toward the end, then launched into “Generation Sloan,” the first track on their dynamite album Eureka! Chris Sgammato had switched from guitar to alto sax as they sent this Zappa-esque tune spiralling. Sam Dobkin was blistering on the guitar. “Hillsborough River Rapids” featured a Sgammato guitar solo, while the rhythm section of Vinnie Svoboda and Tucker Sody was killing it, and that tune morphed into “The Flight of Admiral Archibald.” Deluxe.
Now, a decision. We were all hot, hot, hot. The prospect of sitting in the Music Hall for eight hours without showering just wasn’t working for me. I zipped back to the bathhouse, showered quickly, and jetted back to the hall in time to catch most of Lucky Costello’s set. This Jacksonville quartet is a trance-dance party, reminding you of the Disco Biscuits and more. And I had forgotten all about their go-go girl, who danced on a riser with her white go-go boots and platinum wig, the perfect addition to their sound.
Guitarist Gerry Raimondo and Jeff Raimondo on bass had a great evening, and Billy Begley killed it with his keyboard mastery. And new drummer Jeremiah Bacolor fit into the groove seamlessly. They set the bar high for the remainder of the evening.
Outside in the courtyard, I think Connor took Vlad’s shortened set before Rocks and Blunts hit at 8 pm. Inside, everyone was gearing up for New Orleans’ Gravity A, who had prepared a special Talking Heads set.
Gravity A is a funktronic blast, featuring Andrew Meehan (keys, organ, synths), Michael Fouquier, (drums), Devin Kerrigan, (bass), and Danny Abel (guitar). This night, their lineup was augmented with horns, another guitar player and the very David Byrne-like Cliff Hines. They wasted no time, jumping right into “Psycho Killer,” and it was ON! “And She Was” preceded a superb “Life During Wartime.” Hines had the Byrne quirkiness down, and there was an excellent instrumental break. After “Girlfriend is Better,” Rachel Murray came out to help on “Take Me to the River,” sounding great. Toubab’s Luke Quaranta made another appearance on percussion. They both stayed onstage.
“Once in a Lifetime” was great, and then came that glorious intro to “Burning Down the House,” everybody singing, dancing, fist-pumping, grooving. Enthusiastic response got them back up for an encore, and, just when I was trying to figure out what they could play next, out came Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” Perfect!
MZG (Monozygotik) was keeping everyone rocking in the courtyard, and Captain Green was setting up for the super jam inside. I have written extensively about Captain Green and have seen them a handful of times. This Baton Rouge sextet is all about psychedelic space jazz, and I really dig them.
I was totally unprepared, however, for the stunningly brilliant set they threw down. I had been hyping them to anyone who would listen, but this was about two light years beyond what I’d heard before. “Funky Armageddon” was absolutely balls-to-the-wall magnificent ‘thrash funk;’ it was impossible not to pay attention. And “Tar Balls” was just as riveting. Grant Hudson had a huge night on guitar, but then so did everyone in the band. Of all the shows of theirs I have heard, this was by far the best mixed. Every man stood out, a great compliment to the sound crews throughout the weekend.
Rachel Murray was called back to the stage, and she belted an incredible funky “Get Back,” with Bob Kling blowing it up on bass. And this was my first time seeing Katt on drums (he is the drummer on both CG albums, including the recent Protect Each Other Together). He is a monster in the Billy Cobham/Alphonse Mouton mold. Just WOW.
Then Murray coaxed Hines back on stage, and John Parkerurban plugged in on guitar, and the band romped through a wonderful version of “Shining Star.” The sax players had been great all set, but this was the perfect vehicle for Darin Jones, tenor, and Kevin McCann, alto. The Soulive tune that followed featured excellent guitar solos from Parkerurban and Hudson, who were grinning through the entire tune.
Then they were joined by Todd Stoops on keyboards and Quaranta on percussion. Stoops, Hudson, and Ross Hoppe all soloed. Not enough Stoops for my liking, but that would get rectified next set. Hoppe had a superb outing the entire set on his array of keyboards. Murray took the lead again on “Just Kissed My Baby,” down and dirty. For the closer, CG blew out the sick tune “Death to the .” Props all around.
Zoogma was the Music Hall finale. Like Greenhouse Lounge, I have liked some of their shows better than others. Not to worry. This one blew all the others away. It didn’t hurt that they started with my favorite tune, “M10.” Right at the end, the sound went out. Brock Bowling (guitar and live sequencing) said, “I think we blew the subs on the first song!” Fortunately, the crack sound crew got the sound back almost immediately.
A great new song was followed by “I Can’t Go for That.” The original tune, with some doctoring, plays in the background on songs such as this while the band drives the crowd wild with blasting tension-and-release electronic rock. Todd Stoops returned an delivered what he described as “my favorite sit-in” of the entire weekend, and I’ll second that emotion. I cannot wait to hear more about his new band Oktopus.
The Zoogma boys simply put on a jamtronic clinic. Matt Harris (drums, live sequencing) and Ryan Nall (bass, synthesizer) crushed it, allowing Bowling and Justin Hasting (guitar, synthesizer) to romp. Suddenly there was big buzz in the room, as Sexual Manatee (from Catfish Alliance) went to the stage and stood on the drum riser, shirtless, arms outstretched. Before the set was done, they had played Young Buck’s “Shorty Wanna Ride” mash-up with R.L. Burnside’s “Watch My Baby Ride” and, finally, “Hotel California.” Damn, it was awesome.
Time for the Silent Disco once again, sure I had at least a chance of staying awake this time! During the first hour, Clamballa was programming some dub stuff that many liked; I really enjoyed BLCKMRKT’s house jam, including Herbie’s “Rockit” and “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac! I was really intent on hearing Bells & Robes. My only other encounter was with Bells, or Robes, whichever, when one of them was in England. This night’s set was superb, with Luke Sipka playing keyboards and sampling and Dean Spaniol on the small but perfect drum kit, percussion, and sampling. They had both channels for the 3 AM slot.
By now I was ready for bed, but I enjoyed music at 4 AM from both Lord Cornelius on one channel and Alexander the Great on the other before careening back to my tent.
I cannot wait to hear what Trey Hebron, Vlad the Inhaler, Connor, Paul Levine and the rest of the merry men and women have in store for us next time. Don’t make us wait too long!