Florida’s Got Talent at Purple Hatter’s Ball! (Georgia, Too!)

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With 28 bands and performers and 19 DJs on hand, there is plenty, plenty to see and hear at this year’s Purple Hatter’s Ball. You might or might not know much about these nine Florida groups (plus some Atlanta boys). Forthwith a short primer about music you should check out at the 2016 PHB.

Many of these are reviews from recents concerts and festivals (as noted). Find more information in our initial preview, second wave, and last week’s schedule announcement.

phb full schedule

SAVI FERNANDEZ BIRTHDAY BAND | Thursday | Amphitheater | 10:15 – 11:45

From Orange Blossom Jamboree:

We hightailed it back to the main stage for the Savi Fernandez Band. We arrived just in time for my favorite song from their most recent album From My Heart: “Blessed.” “One More Minute” turned into “You Got What I Need.” The band was on fire before settling down — briefly — for “Butterfly,” then ramping right back up for “Smooth Movement.” Rion Smith (Shak Nasti), Isaac Corbitt and Christian Ryan all sat in at some point.

VOODOO VISIONARY | Friday | Campground | 4:00 – 5:00

From Little Manatee April Fool’s River Jam:

Music began early Friday evening with Atlanta’s hard-grooving rockers Voodoo Visionary. They were on a brief tour of Florida before a swing through their home state. The tour had begun on Tuesday as they played live in the WMNF studios, and they were on fire.

After a brief soundcheck (“Testify”), they opened the fest with their funky “Kang Gang > Dancin’ Feet.” Vocalist Scottie MacDonald has the perfect voice for this band’s music, and his smile radiates when he performs. Guitarist Mike Wilson is another one of the superb but underrated players on our scene, and he ripped it up on every song; the band wisely gives him the space to do just that. The rhythm section had everything locked down tight while Dennis Dowd’s keyboards danced in and around Smith’s solos.

SQUEEDLEPUSS | Friday | Beach | 4:30 – 5:30

From Roosevelt Collier’s Suwannee Getdown:

Squeedlepuss describes their music as jazz/funk fusion, but this set demonstrated many more facets of their talent. The vocals were solid, as on “No Balls.” They hit a deep jam on “Chicken and Waffles” and unveiled a new ballad. Next up was a hot Dixie Dregs-style rocker, followed by a really stripped-down sound with syncopated lyrics on “Jump Down.” And they cracked everybody up when they announced their last tune, “Continuous Doobage.” Best set I’ve ever heard from them (get used to that sentence).

TRIAL BY STONE | Friday | Campground | 8:30 – 9:30

From Purple Hatter’s Ball 2015:

I’m not a huge reggae fan, so I figured I would catch a bit of the set and then meander over to the Malah. Didn’t happen. Trial by Stone plays full frontal reggae, slamming-in-your-face, drums and bass constantly pulsing, two trombones blasting, and Buck going hog-wild. In other words, perfect. It was so much fun, exactly what I was looking for at the time.

S.P.O.R.E. with ZAHIRA | Saturday | Beach | 1:30 – 2:30

From Orange Blossom Jamboree:

S.P.O.R.E. S.P.O.R.E. S.P.O.R.E. S.P.O.R.E. If you dig the funkiest prog rock and jamtronic insanity, then the set by this Jacksonville quartet was the place to be. They were simply amazing, once again. A hot intro led into “Tainted Pitties.” Right at the beginning of “Breakthrough,” the power went out. Fortunately, the sound folks were able to solve the problem almost immediately. Trey Miller joined them on harp. Jeremy Kairalla was again brilliant on guitar. After “Wait for It,” keyboard player Alex Sears had a nice intro to “Respect,” which got really deep.

When they got to “Hamster Hash,” they invited Alex’s brother Greg up on guitar. That tune starts with a powerful reggae lilt. Suddenly, after a few minutes, Kairalla and Greg jumped into the guitar rave-up from “Free Bird” (the only part of the song most people want to hear, anyway). That got everybody lit up. They returned for “Domoto” as an encore. Bassist Steve Honig had a superior set. Just WOW.

HEATHER GILLIS BAND | Saturday | Amphitheater | 3:00 – 4:00

From Orange Blossom Jamboree:

Then it was Heather Gillis’ turn. And here is why we love festivals, OBJ in particular. You have a rabid crowd of music fans just ready to soak up some music from bands new to them. That happened a number of times during the weekend, but the first was this monster set by Gillis and band. We had just seen her and the Corbitt-Clampitt Experience in Tallahassee the week before. But this set by the Heather Gillis Band seemed several light years beyond last week’s great set.

They started out with an enormously kick-ass instrumental, and suddenly all heads were turned in their direction. Kyle Chervanik (bass) and Gerald Watkins (drums) are the perfect rhythm section for this powerhouse band. After Gillis belted the lyrics to “I’m a Ram” and a tremendous tenor sax solo from Nyan Feder, they roared into a wicked jam.

Another original from the band’s album, “Fight to Win,” was followed by Gillis grabbing her lap steel and searching the crowd for a harp player. MusicFestNews’ own Matt Hillman jumped up and did us all proud as they played “Gonna Be a Storm > Shake Your Money Maker.” And Gillis, just 21 years old, is from Brooksville, and there we were at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville. How cool is that?

LEISURE CHIEF | Saturday | Beach | 4:30 – 5:30

This amazing quintet from Orlando is the only band I have not seen recently. They went through a recent personnel change from one great guitar player/vocalist to another. MusicFestNews will be posting a review of their awesome new album King of Nothing this week. It is a true jazzy masterpiece. And Florida knows that Christian Ryan has the Midas touch!

HERD OF WATTS | Saturday | Campground | 6:00 – 7:15

From Roosevelt Collier’s Suwannee Getdown:

Connor had another great DJ set while Herd of Watts, another Jacksonville group, set up. The first tune was good, but clearly they were setting us up like bowling pins to knock us down on the hot jam that emerged from the second song. The rhythm section of Sean Thomas on bass and Jamal “Music City” Wright on drums had an incredible night.

Keyboard player Matthew Strok was getting an awesome flute effect from his synthesizer, and that intro led into “Sledgehammer,” with Thomas handling the vocals. Next up was a effective, languid take on “Fire on the Mountain.” Roosevelt joined them for an amazing funk jam. He locked horns with Ben Strok for a great exchange. Did Roosevelt stay on stage for “Superstition? You already know the answer.

“Put Another Ring in Your Loop” featured a great electric piano solo from Matt. This was a tremendous set. Connor followed with more great music, and it was time for the finale.

FLAT LAND | Sunday | Campground | 12:00 – 1:00

From Orange Blossom Jamboree:

I hustled out to the by-now Moonshine Stage for Flat Land. This superb Gainesville quintet was blowing out a great set, and then they gave everyone a monstrous “Kiss.” Can you say dance party? A hard-charging new funk tune called “Ultraviolet” was next, followed by one of my favorites, “Relax Retry.” They added a dynamite “Rufio’s Last Stand” to close the set.

This was the second of four times I’ve seen Flat Land in the space of six weeks. And they may have topped themselves with a three-and-a-half hour set Thursday at the Ringside. Their new album Arrow to the Sun is brilliant. Review will be published soon!

SCOTT CAMPBELL & AVIS CHERRY | Sunday | Amphitheater | 1:00 – 2:00

From Purple Hatter’s Ball 2015:

When I was researching the Scott Campbell Band, I saw that he is an extremely talented musician who played punk back in the day and could do about anything. On my way in on Thursday, somebody intimated that they might cover the Blind Faith album. I forgot all about that, right up until they blistered those first chords to “Had to Cry Today.”

So how on earth were they going to cover this album? No keyboard player; Campbell looks like he’s nearly in my age bracket (that’s the AARP club). And this woman was standing there at the microphone.

NAILED IT. NAILED IT. Six times nailed it. What a delight. Then I’m looking around, realizing that many people had NO idea what was going down. Bass and drums were rock-steady and perfect for this outing. Campbell was a pure delight, such great tone on these songs at least some of us knew note for note. But it was Miss Avis Berry who sent this project over the top. She was magnificent. She scatted, she sang, she owned this set lyrically. After the album was complete, the band did a couple of Traffic songs to close out a tremendous set.

phb scott

You’ll be able to hear almost everybody, except for the times the Beach stage sets overlap with those at the Campground and Amphitheater stages.

MusicFestNews will see you on the rail!



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