Sunshine Music Festival (St. Petersburg): Sunshine? Check! Music? Check!

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Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, courtesy of Ron Potoczny

The Sunshine Music Festival made its fourth appearance in St. Petersburg on Saturday, January 16th, under spectacularly warm blue skies. Once again, all ten bands and performers put on stellar sets, pure musical nirvana. The Tedeschi Trucks Band traveling show and friends filled Vinoy Park with ten hours of blessed music.

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Joanne Shaw Taylor, courtesy of Ron Potoczny

That music started at 11:30 a.m., as Brit blues rocker Joanne Shaw Taylor delighted early birds with a solid set. She shreds with abandon and sings up a storm. The Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio followed up with a tremendous set including “Start to Breathe,” “Ike Stubblefield” and “Beggin’ You to Stay.” Rodgers’ jazz roots run deep, his playing a mix of Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Herring.

The next delight came in the form of the Jerry Douglas Band. Most attendees might not have known Douglas by name, but all knew music he has performed, including the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? He and his band came out blazing and put on a superb set. Douglas plays the American resonator guitar and lap steel, and he is as good as it gets. And Christian Sedelmyer (violin), Daniel Kimbro (double bass) and Doug Belote (drums) were excellent.

Douglas got in on of the best quips of the day: “I just got up. Thank heavens for muscle memory. I haven’t played this early since 1978!”

There were lots of food vendors and beverage purveyors on site as well as lots of tie-dye tents and other delights for sale, and it was also nice during the very warm afternoon to stroll by the bayside, appreciating the lovely breeze. There were, unfortunately, no water stations where patrons could fill up containers. Many of 2015’s shortages were addressed; now organizers need to solve this problem.

smf schedule

Jorma Kaukonen had the duty of holding down the main stage solo. Kaukonen has been a mainstay of this and other festivals as a member of Hot Tuna, both acoustic and electric, but this was just Jorma. He delivered another great set of acoustic blues with brilliant picking. He introduced “Another Man Done A Full Go Round” by pointing out that the tune’s composer is one of Florida’s treasures, Roy Book Binder. The set included “Good Shepherd” (Jefferson Airplane) and crowd favorite “Hesitation Blues.” Jorma got in a great quip of his own: “Yeah, I miss Jack (Cassidy, partner in Hot Tuna), but what the heck. Next time!”

New Orleans’ The Revivalists blew it up on the second stage. I’m not always wild about the band’s song selection (I am in the distinct minority on this subject), but they are excellent musically and always display incredible energy, exemplified by vocalist David Shaw. Their radio ‘hit’ “Criminal” really resonated with the crowd. Shaw invited Bobby Lee Rodgers to join them: “Florida’s own!” Rodgers proceeded to throw down one of the greatest solos I’ve ever heard from him (and I’ve heard a lot). The set closed with a fiery “Wish I Knew You When I Was Young,” with a world of bass from George Gekas.

Few in the crowd had seen Hard Working Americans, although many knew about them: Dave Schools on bass and Duane Trucks on drums (both from Widespread Panic), Chad Staehly on keys (Great American Taxi), Jesse Aycock on guitar, and Todd Snider on vocals (great Americana artist whose new album is Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables). A lady also played guitar and sang but was not introduced.

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David Schools w/ Hard Working Americans, courtesy of Ron Potoczny.

They caught everyone’s attention with “That Won’t Fly” and “Dope is Hope.” Snider’s vocal style recalls both Lyle Lovett and Jorma. And he is a witty front man. At one point, he announced: “This one’s for Lemmy,” and the band proceeded to knock out a Motorhead riff before easing into another song. Staehly took a long piano solo followed by Casal on lap steel. Their set closed with “When You’re Down Down Down” and “Stomp and Holler.”

It was time for Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. It seems like ages since KDTU graced the Tampa Bay area. Denson is a candidate for James Brown’s old title of “hardest-working man in show business. They blasted out with “We’ve Got to Understand,” a vocal tune also featuring Denson’s tenor saxophone. After a funk instrumental, they surprised everyone with a tremendous cover of Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids.”

KDTU features one of the best guitarists on the scene — D.J. Williams. The band played one of his compositions, and Williams tore it up. He was equally impressive on slide on the next tune, “When I Get Home.” That was followed by a loving David Bowie tribute via “Young Americans.”

And then… and then. “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo!” It was over-the-top incredible. They did the Fly, the Swim, and a dozen other dance steps. During the instrumental portion, trumpeter Chris Littlefield, Denson and Williams were all doing dance steps in unison a la the Temptations. When Denson soloed, Littlefield came over to Williams, and they danced — Williams was amazing! Denson was stunning on flute. WOW!

Indigo Girls may have seemed like a surprise addition to this fest, but I had seen them with a band at Lilith Fair (1999) and knew they would deliver big-time. “Fill It Up Again” opened the set in fine style, Amy Ray and Emily Sailers sounding great, backed by bass, drums and violin. They rocked out with “Happy in the Sorrow Key,” and then Emily (Amy?) said: “Time for banjo!” Another great song was “Raise Your Hands.” One of them said, “You’re listening to songs you don’t know,” and “Driver Education” was the song that came next.

There was great audience recognition for the wonderful “Galileo.” Violinist Lyris Hung had a superb outing the entire set. “Rise of the Black Messiah” seemed especially poignant, and then they asked a lady to come since harmony of “Closer to Fine:” Susan Tedeschi! It was so sweet!

It was time to get funked up again with Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews never disappoints, and he and the band came out blazing. The band included two saxophone players, bass, drums and guitar in addition to Andrews (trombone, trumpet). The entire set was slammin’. Pete Murano tossed out several great guitar solos, and local star B.K. Jackson took a tremendous tenor sax solo including a “99 Luftballons” tease.

Finally, it was time for the stars of the show, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and their 12-piece big band. They unleashed Tedeschi immediately on “Break in the Road.” Several songs later, the band reprised their Lockn’ Maddogs and Englishmen set with “The Letter.” Tedeschi’s vocal was so powerful it blew the house down.

After “Anyway,” Susan reminded us about the new album Let Me Get By and pointed out that this would be the “first time out” for the next song, “Right On Time.” It was a real old-timey shuffle, with Mike Mattison on lead vocal. It drifted toward a David Bowie vamp. In fact, Bowie had been in touch with Tedeschi and Trucks recently, in part due to the fact that bassist Tim Lefebvre played on Bowie’s new (and last) album, Blackstar. Mattison also sang on another tune with a ‘50s feel to it about New Orleans.

Another great new tune was next, and then Jerry Douglas joined the band for an excellent “Keep On Goin’.” Somewhere in here, they also delivered “Within You, Without You,” which Trucks nails every time. And then it was Tedeschi preachifyin’ time on Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I Pity the Fool.” The band does this one up Ray Charles orchestra-style, and it was so hot, with killer background vocals.

“The Storm” followed (the song, not the weather). It did sprinkle briefly, but fortunately it stopped shortly thereafter. Kebbi Williams on saxophone and Ephraim Owens on trumpet had tremendous solos, and Trucks was simply brilliant. And there is no way to overstate the enormous power and majesty of the dual drumming of Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson — just incredible. As was Kofi Burbridge all set on Hammond B3, other keyboards and flute.

“Bound for Glory,” probably the second-most loved TTB songs, was met with a great roar of approval. Then came “It Ain’t Easy,” a tune from Ziggy Stardust (the only cover tune on that album).

And, suddenly, it was 9:30, and there was no encore. We got a fabulous set, but it did seem surprising. It would be wise not to advertise the last set as going from 8:00 to 10:00 unless you mean it.

Many people were heading to the Ringside Cafe to catch Come Back Alice. This amazing band from St. Petersburg deserves to be on the stage at Sunshine Music Festival, and I won’t be surprised to see them there before long. I had the privilege of seeing both of their sets at Home Team New Year’s Rally and their set January 12th opening for The New Mastersounds.

The Ringside was slammed with people from Sunshine and others, and CBA wasted no time getting right to it. In fact, after their Latin-tinged tune “Angelina,” they played “Ain’t Wastin’ Time.” Tony Tyler’s vocal was more Leon than Gregg, a great combination. On the reggae-ish “Keep the Faith,” Tyler was on Hammond B3 and electric piano while Dani Jaye wailed on guitar.

This was the perfect set for this setting. Tyler’s reading of “Feelin’ Alright” had more growl than Cocker’s, and then delightfully if improbably the song segued into “Flashlight,” with many singing along. Tony switched to clavinet next on a real funk romp. Dani was abusing her wah-wah pedal, and Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ was pushing the speed limit. Meanwhile, guest bassist Kenny Harvey was blowing it up as the band ran through “When Doves Cry” and into “Hot ‘Lanta.” Oh, yes, it was!

And I was baked. Done. Put a fork in it. I split.

Photographs and videos by kind permission of Ron Potoczny. Indigo Girls video courtesy of WardenJune.


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