Last night I was a part of something really special. Music is always fun to play, and when it’s original music at a venue that has great sound and an engaged audience, well, there’s really not more you could ask for. But last night’s show with Serotonic, Justino and the Difference and Us Four had a little something extra. Having so many high-caliber musicians in one room, including a lot who were just spectators, can add a different level of pressure to a performance. But the respect, love and support for one another is what made it such a special evening. Everyone was just there for the music and the community. THAT is what I will remember forever. Thanks to everyone at Dunedin Brewery and all the wonderful musicians that I am fortunate to be included among.
I didn’t write that. This wonderful paragraph was shared by drummer Adam Volpe, and it clearly shows from the musicians’ perspectives what those of us who listen can clearly see: the mutual love, respect and support that musicians have for each other. It is a blessing that this sort of outpouring is happening all across the country — and the world.
As Frank Zappa always said, “Music is the best.”
Once I saw Volpe’s words, I knew that I wanted to tie together two great nights of music with six great bands, further demonstrating what Volpe so perfectly expressed.
The two-day extravaganza started Friday, May 6, at Skipper’s Smokehouse with an Orange Blossom Jamboree pre-party. Future Vintage, who will be doing one of the silent disco shows at OBJ, had the honors, leading off. They have always been excellent, but recently they’ve been on fire, including a superb three-set outing the previous week at the Dunedin Brewery.
This night Future Vintage only had an hour, but they made the most of every second. Matt Giancola has new keyboard toys every time out, it seems, and he was in grand form. The band hit tunes from their new album Doin It Right and some other great dance grooves. Trevor McDannel has become a real force to be reckoned with on bass (and bass synth), and drummer Eric Layana was wearing that mile-wide grin, having a blast driving the beat. They closed their set with another brilliant take on the “Back to the Future Theme,” then a great new original titled “Get Loose.”
It was Row Jomah’s turn next. As has been the case at many RJ shows, Dave Gerulat, drummer for shoeless soul (also at OBJ!), joined the band on percussion, adding that special extra dimension. They amazed us by starting with the two songs they usually use for set closers: “Outhouse” and “Cat People.” Where would they go from there? Answer: everywhere they wanted to.
Joe Roma was in fine voice, his acoustic guitar leading the group through numerous tunes from Cat People, the band’s 2015 release. Drummer Dylan Chee-A-Tow turned heads, as is customary, with his great playing, and Austin Llewellyn made sure he threw in a “St. Thomas” quote during “Cat People;” that’s the one with the “Cantina Band” insert, as well.
That left it to Holey Miss Moley to bring the heat. They too led off with a song that usually shows up later in their sets: “Devil Funk,” an original. We got an earlier-than-usual first glimpse of Ms. Robyn Alleman on “Naugatuck,” and then things went off-the-charts crazy. It was already getting deep, because they had invited Jordan Garno, guitarist for Serotonic (and The 3rd King, and Infinite Groove Orchestra, and now Leisure Chief — who does he think he is — Christian Ryan?), to sit in, and he and Jacob Cox were already raving it up. But then…
The aforementioned Ryan, member of more groups than I can count, works with percussionist Vernon Suber in a magnificent Afrobeat band called Bengali 600. As the band shifted into “Afroshaft,” it simply blew up. BLEW. UP. The jam was absolutely ridiculous. That was my 30th HMM show, and this was the best performance I’ve ever heard from them. Suddenly, Cox announced a percussion jam with drummer Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris and band percussionists Tony Morales and Suber.
And somebody invited ALL the percussionists in the house up on stage. Thank heavens there is video evidence, courtesy of Sam Goodal. We almost got knocked down as all these drummers came running by (really!). Jimmy Jams Rector, Chee-A-Tow, Gerulat, and Kevin ‘Brick’ Blume (NoNeed) all stage-rushed. It was incredible. When the other band members came back out, Layana grabbed a cowbell, because, you know… Then Ryan picked up a tambourine. So, NINE percussionists. Ryan, who was blowing tenor earlier, grabbed his flute. He’s got that great Afrobeat flute tone down. And Mikey Guzman was channeling Fela Kuti on keyboards. Bassist Kenny “Bonesaw” Harvey was dancing the entire set.
It was THE SHIT.
They maintained high energy throughout the show, including songs such as “Nobody Else” and “I Wanna Do Somethin’ Freaky to You > Ain’t Nothin’ But a G Thang” with Danny Clemmons on lead vocals. The mutual respect that each band showed for the others was obvious and genuine, a hallmark of this scene. And occasionally I forget to shout-out MC #1, PK! Another job nicely done. I’ve mentioned before that crowds often don’t applaud enough for great performances; PK makes sure they do! Vinny Svoboda of Displace was in the house, well, Skipperdome.
And Christian Ryan made an announcement about a show heading to Skipper’s Smokehouse on Saturday, August 27th. You’d better mark that date on calendar NOW, and I would suggest getting tickets ahead of time, because this may well sell out. The evening will be jam-packed with three projects you can blame on Ryan.
At Little Econ Love Fest, Ryan compiled a star-studded band to play the music of Frank Zappa, and it was beyond stunning. You asked for it, and here it comes again: Christian Ryan’s Garage. Also at Little Econ, Holey Miss Moley revealed their Parliafunkadelicment Thang set. That too gets reprised. And now I find out Ryan has another project called Joose. This one features Morris on drums, Meg Shannon on vocals, and two of the Ajeva boys: Taylor Gilchrist on bass and Mark Mayea on keyboards. They will be performing the superb second album by Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Thrust (with the gorgeous “Butterfly”).
All of those sets, especially the Zappa one, again require the cooperation and collaboration of players from multiple bands, and they make it work. Every time. What a night that will be! They don’t call Ryan “Awesome Sauce” for nothing!
On to Saturday. Read Volpe’s remarks again.
Us Four needs to surface more. We first heard them in January when we went to see Justino and the Difference. I should have been tipped off by the number of other musicians in the house who were there to check out the double-bill. These guys are awesome, and their set Saturday at the Dunedin Brewery was a sweet confection. Their rock and jazz tend toward beautifully constructed pop. The name Us Four is great, by the way, but now there are six!
In the midst of fine originals such as “Above Me” and “Oscillations” (bassist Daniel Navarro really owned this one), they aced MJ’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” guitarist Will Scecina’s voice perfect for this music. Then they invited vocalist Heather Harrison, the band’s new vocalist, to sit in for several tunes including “Pull Me Through” and “Gravity.” They are not playing OBJ… this year, but just you wait. Scratch that. Don’t wait. Check them out for yourselves.
So already a band was missing one of its members (original keyboard player Stephen Dornfeld), but you would never have known, because their performance was spot-on, and Joe Coyle now plays keyboards with them as well and sounded great. The aforementioned Justino and the Difference were up next, and they too were down a man: drummer Jonathan Thomas. This quartet’s fusion is so incredibly tight that I was wondering how they would be without JT.
As usual, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Jason Caren was at the drum kit, and again you would never have known that he was ‘filling in.’ Because WOW. Justino Lee Walker also began with a tune they normally play at the end of a set: “Pop Song.” It goes through a number of manic changes with rock cliches flying everywhere. The vibe was just right as Justino encouraged the dancers: “Let’s Do-Si-Do, everybody!” And that lead to the cover of the cover of “Rodeo” (Aaron Copeland by way of Emerson, Lake and Palmer).
The band settled back (a wee bit) for an original titled “Somewhere.” Jonathan Richardson (also with Infinite Groove Orchestra) took a great synthesizer solo. Jeff Beck’s “Led Boots” had Justino and Richardson locked in a great guitar and synthesizer battle. After a vocal, Justino allowed as how they would feature Caren on the next tune, Stevie Wonder’s “Contusion.” Caren was crushing it.
They also played their video ‘hit,’ “The Ever-Receding Hairline of Dujavich Adams.” Next, Us Four drummer Dave Hamar was called up to sit in on a song, and that was great, too. Then Volpe continued the parade to the drum chair, knocking out a superb “In the Kitchen” (Umphrey’s McGee), some of his best work at kit ever — for me. Finally Caren regained his seat as bassist Juan Santana was featured on “Signals.”
And now it was Serotonic time. Recently, their bass player, Rob Sanger, had moved to North Carolina. How do you fill that slot? Answer: Daniel Navarro, the guy from Us Four. He is truly amazing, and once again you would never know there was a recent personnel change. And there was another substitution! Andrew Kilmartin could not make this gig, so Adam Volpe was in the drum chair. Volpe has played percussion a number of times with Serotonic and has filled in before when Kilmartin has had sound engineer duties elsewhere.
Serotonic lead off with “Think Fast,” a really uptempo tune that sails along at breakneck speed, then shifts gears into a slower bluesy thing built on Hendrix’s “Who Knows,” then returns at the quick tempo for a pregnant pause false ending, then the coda. A newer tune was second. Jon Tucker was dancing up a storm and playing a world of alto sax.
The true test for the ‘new guys’ is my favorite Serotonic song: “Rhinobelly.” NAILED IT. Navarro and Volpe were huge. This song depends upon the interplay of guitar and bass during the down-and-dirty part, and Jordan Garno locked figurative arms with Navarro and, again, NAILED IT.
It was an excellent set. Bryan Lewis (also in The 3rd Kind and Acme Jazz Garage) had a tremendous night on keyboards, especially on the lovely clavinet. During “Move So Well,” another vocal tune sung by Garno, he also threw in a nice “Jessica” quote during his solo. Another new tune, appropriately titled “Something New,” was lovely funk. After “Might As Well,” they turned Navarro and Volpe loose on “Cinotores,” a wonderful way to bring to a close two great nights of music, cooperation, support, respect and love.
Which is exactly what Adam Volpe said and exactly what the Orange Blossom Jamboree is all about. Please join the MusicFestNews team (six of us!) there May 19-22.
One other very important note, given how much I rant about lousy sound at venues. Both evenings were blessed with caring and competent song engineers who did their actual jobs. Even if you are good, it doesn’t matter if you don’t care. The gentleman at Skipper’s made sure every band sounded perfect; not too loud, not too soft, just “Goldilocks” right. And Chris Fama at Dunedin is a master. Period. THANK YOU.
Friday photographs courtesy of Anna Giancola. Friday video courtesy of Samantha Goodal. Saturday photographs courtesy of Kelly-Ann Garno.