Hometeam New Year’s Rally was a stark, raving success. Brilliant music, weather that seemed more like June and and close-knit family combined to make this an amazing festival weekend.
Before we delve more deeply, my mantra:
I don’t care where you were or what you heard over the New Year’s weekend, it wasn’t better than HTNYR.
New Year’s Eve blasted into the sky with an incendiary set from Justino and the Difference, opening with the full Jurassic Park theme, followed by their fine interpretation of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s interpretation of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown.” The all-too-short set closed with yet another stunning rendition of “Black Hole Sun” and Justino’s all-over-the-map “Pop Song.” Many who had arrive early had not yet seen them. I guarantee you everybody there is now aware! At-large artist Isaac Corbitt jumped on stage for the last tune.
I had the pleasure five days earlier of reviewing shoeless soul. This was another excellent set, very different from the previous — no tenor sax, no trombone. It was a totally energized performance, very powerful, driven by Sladjan Vidic and Dave Gerulat. One fascinating song was “Just a Movie You’re Directing.”
Copious Jones again made the trip from Atlanta to Maddox Ranch. They are always warmly received, and this time it seemed even more so. They were again brilliant (and a shout-out to both sound and light crews: their lyrics are worth hearing, and we could!). And they BLEW. UP. the best cover of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” EVER. Critter was in the zone. My notes don’t indicate when Donna Hopkins and Richie Jones joined them, but the fellow Atlantans were deluxe together.
Then it was time for a much-awaited event: Come Back Alice covering The Song Remains the Same. Kenny Stadelman and Brad Elliot (CopE) on bass and drums, Mark Mayea (Ajeva) on keyboards, Tony Tyler as Robert Plant and Dani Jaye as Jimmy Page. There were so many incredible aspects to this performance, but by far the best one was that Dani handled ALL the guitar duties. I swear she even wore her guitar lower (in Jimmy Page “rock-is-cock” mode).
And Tony Tyler had the Robert Plant look and mannerisms down cold (and I know, because I saw Zep in 1969). Stadelman and Elliott have played some of this material before, and they were beyond superb. If Dani was the star of the night, then Elliott was number 2 (more on that to follow). As Pat said with a grin, “This isn’t going to suck at all!”
“Black Dog,” “Rain Song,” “No Quarter,” “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love” all melted faces far and wide. Several special treats likely melted faces in downtown Lakeland. Consider: Elliott delighting everyone with his “Moby Dick” solo and the encore of “Heartbreaker > Livin’ Lovin’ Maid.” But THE moment of the night clearly was Dani whipping out her violin bow to do “Dazed and Confused” proper-like.
Hometeam favorites Applebutter Express had the seemingly unenviable task of following CBA. So what did we get? A wonderfully irreverent set from that was met with great response. So many crowd favorites emerged, starting with “Hey, My Brother,” a new tune, “Smile Smile Smile,” “Shit Ain’t Illegal If You Don’t Get Caught” and “Pussy.” Pretty certain they could see Shannon Biss’s smile from outer space!
And that was followed by another excellent Este Loves set: Este and sister in glorious harmony, backed by Porcupine; Sean Hartley KILLED on guitar! By this time, the sit-ins and collaborations were in full swing. Stadelman stayed on bass with Elliott on kit and The Rev. Funky D on keys (and man, is he funky!). Dani and Juanjamon also jumped on stage. There was a wonderful “Beautiful Child,” and Critter from Copious Jones and Alexa Toro (and maybe Bella?) joined in on “Bump in the Road.”
Hometeam All-Stars. Somehow, the stage didn’t collapse, although there were eight bazillion people on stage (well, looked like). Juanjamon had compiled an amazing array of talent. They kicked off with “Movin’ On Up” (The Jeffersons) and ran through “Sledgehammer,” “1999,” and a positively stunning “Eminence Front” with Alexa and Bella Toro and Este and lots of ladies on the lead vocal!!! Seriously, just about every musicians was on stage, and it was a joyous New Year’s countdown with lots of kissing and drinking and other activities. Kudos to Juanjamon for keeping the team sort of reined in! Elliott had three superb sets this evening!
Green Sunshine then proceeded to (see if you’ve seen me write this before) deliver their best set ever (well, for me). Absolutely superb. They mixed original music, excellent hip-hop lyrics and great covers for a dynamite set. Of note: “Bust a Move” (Young MC) and “Give It to Me Baby” (Rick James).
That left it to The Juanjamon Band to close down the stage. They began with a long Headhunters-like tune. Best set I’ve ever heard from this band. Everybody was on fire, but perhaps none so much as Dre Mack on guitar. Then they slipped immediately into “Knockin’ Boots” (thank you very much) eventually twisting and turning into “She’s Got a Real Nice Booty.” Bassist Trevor McDannel had an excellent bass solo before Dre Mack blasted out on “Hey Chester,” and then everybody sent “May We Funk You? (Night of the Thumpasaurus Peoples)” stratospheric. Good bye, 2015!
FRIDAY, JANUARY 1ST, 2016
Free Range Strange got the afternoon started on a fun note, followed by a nice set from alleged Chicagoans Under the Willow, with a stunning jam at the end.
And that’s when it got deep. Deeper than deep. What happened was… TEN BRILLIANT PERFORMANCES, BACK TO BACK. One more time:
I don’t care where you were or whom you heard, it wasn’t better than this day at Maddox Ranch.
Future Vintage shoulders the blame for getting things started. Their superb set included another monster cover of the Back to the Future theme, several excellent new songs, and a nasty jam with artist-at-large Kenny Harvey joining Trevor McDannel for a double bass jam, with Reed Skahill on vocals.
The next event involved most of us picking our jaws up off the ground after Nashville’s Backup Planet simply destroyed the stage. Their name is on the lips of everybody anywhere in the vicinity. The first thing I wrote in my notepad was: HOLY SHIT. This Nashville quartet was positively brilliant. People were talking about them the remainder of the weekend… and beyond. We were hearing some solid rock, then wild funk, and then… prog! Sulana said: “When did this become a prog festival?” Gavin Donati was ripping amazing guitar solos.
Also, with this set and the Future Vintage set before it, one thing became immediately clear: it IS all about that bass! Blake Gallant was amazing (that goes for all four Backup Planet boys). And we were off to the races!
That was followed by another stunning set, this time by Funk You (Atlanta). Fronted by a great soul singer (Gavin Hamilton), this band jammed, funked and rocked us. Rob Thompson was the man on the magical bass. It also continued a string of three amazing keyboard players in a row (Matt Giancola (Future Vintage), Ben Cooper (Backup Planet), and Will Foster (Funk You).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The Legendary JCs. I’ll match you funk and soul bands any day. These guys are tops, and the Energizer Bunny has got nothing on Eugene. As they came on stage, he used that Cleavon Little line from Blazing Saddles: “Excuse me while I whip this out!” The set featured many JCs originals such as “Lifted” and great covers, including “Sweet Soul Music” (Arthur Conley). And it is always great to hear Katie Burkess on vocals.
Holey Miss Moley has reached a new level. This was a mind-blowing set that kicked off with a soul-stirring Afrobeat song, and they hit more Afrobeat throughout the set, Kenny Harvey on bass and Christian Ryan on baritone. Ryan has a great new toy, a harmonizer, so that he often got that Eddie Harris effect on sax. There was a lot more Afrobeat, with Harvey deep, deep in the pocket. They invited JCs guitarist Roland Simmons up to channel Eddie Hazel on “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” I think Danny Clemmons enjoyed singing this one! More than anything, this was Jacob Cox night. His guitar solos were riveting.
I’ve seen Roosevelt Collier and compatriots in a number of settings, but absolutely nothing prepared me and the crowd for the psychedelic brilliance of this set with Matt Lapham (still my favorite bass player on the planet) and Anthony Cole (doing more with two drums and four cymbals that you could imagine). They kicked off a really funky jazzy piece, and this trio is beyond tight.
The third jam started off smooth (well, relatively speaking), but soon it escalated into a nasty, rough, hot segment. You could see Roosevelt’s smile for miles. Cole led the vocals on “Put Your Hands Together,” with Isaac Corbitt wailing on harp. Roland Simmons came up for some shredding on “Come Together” and “Shaky Ground;” Eugene, Clay Watson and Juanjamon joined in. Still all about that bass.
The Fritz. This Asheville band has been all over the scene and was here for The Great Outdoors Jam. They must have been on musical steroids, because this set was just ridiculous. The groove was so deep, Jake O’Connor’s bass lines incredible, Jamie Hendrickson’s guitar and Jamar Wood’s keyboards and vocals insane. After “Same Old Story,” they romped through a joyous “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” with Wood’s synthesizer ‘singing’ the vocal. Michael Tillis (drums) and Mikey Spice (percussion) were grinning ear to ear all set. And O’Connor blew up “Must Be a Better Way.”
The Heavy Pets delivered another amazing set, with some interesting aspects to it. There was a different feel, in a very positive way. Also, many of the tunes featured tenor sax player Rob Smilie. for the first time I remember, guitarists Jeff Lloyd and Mike Garulli were not next to each other on stage. And they gave us two of the songs from Walrus, their Beatles tribute: “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “A Day in the Life.” Corbitt guested on “Girl You Make Me Stupid.”
It seemed for a brief moment that Pirate’s Choice, a collective from New Orleans, wouldn’t match the level of previous performances. Boy, were we wrong! Luke Quaranta (Toubab Krewe), Raja Kassis and crew played a wonderful, captivating set of central African music. They played a Toubab tune, and things just soared joyously out of control.
That left S.P.O.R.E. to close out night two. The quartet delivered the tenth stunning set of the day, everybody glowing radioactively. I like the song “Tainted Pities.” They spanned the genres from ska to prog and rock and jam. Russ Bowers jumped on stage, and they closed with “Respect” (I think). What a brilliant, magical day!
SATURDAY, JANUARY 2ND
As I sat Saturday morning trying to write the abbreviated version of the first two days, I had to stop. At the time, I wrote:
Sorry. Slight delay. There was a second-line band marching through the campgrounds. Sean Maloney was in the lead (with his son), followed by Anthony Cole (tenor), Clay Watson (trombone), and Juanjamon (Sousaphone). The drumline included Tony Tyler, Grant McLeod, Tony Morales and more, including a bunch of munchkins. 40 or 50 in the parade.
That’s how you kick off day three of this great festival.
I was trying to write while Red Feather was on stage. It was spacey, psychedelic, ethereal. I cannot wait to see them again. The afternoon was under full sail. And then Ancient Sun decided to reach for the seventh dimension. Or something. It was an inspired, funk-filled performance. Christian Ryan sat in to do saxophone battle with Tom Shea, but this truly is the Rick Krasowski show, and properly so. My description of him as a one-man volcano is accurate. He is a great guitar player, but his vocals are extraordinary — more soul pound for pound than anyone I know. A great cover of “Crosstown Traffic” preceded the band’s signature “Tear You Apart.”
It was on. Ajeva saw that set and raised them some more funk. The band’s expansion to a sextet (septet now?) has been a brilliant move. As a quartet, these boys were excellent, but now Mark Mayea on keyboards and guitarist Skylar Golden have shoved this vehicle into overdrive. They call themselves a funk band, but everything came spilling out this set: soul, rock, ska, hip-hop. You name it; they’ve got it. Reed Skahill is such a fine vocalist and front man, and Taylor Gilchrist (bass), Dean Arscott (percussion/keys/guitar) and Travis Young (traps) were in great form. So glad they closed with “Funky Situation.” Expect a new album this spring.
A word about Reed Skahill. I admire musicians who catch other band’s gigs, and I see Reed at almost every show I hit, a perpetual motion machine as he grooves to the beat. That, ladies and gentlemen, is R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Serotonic proceeded to deliver a funky jazz set, unveiling several new tunes in the process, including “You Know What I’m Cookin’,” “Might As Well” and “Something New.” The ubiquitous Dave Gerulat sat in all set on percussion, and Christian Ryan, who has filled in with the band previously, sat in on “Molly Jane.” There was an encore, but the regular set ended with Jordan Garno and Rob Sanger sending “Rhinobelly” skyward.
The Applebutter Express again presented their grippingly ribald tunes to delighted fans, after which the Corbitt Brothers showed off their swampy funk stuff.Seeing Trey Miller, Isaac Corbitt AND Matt Hillman trade harp licks was awesome!
Excitement was building for the Flat Land set. Apart from the fact that this amazing band is simply electrifying, the buzz was about another lady fiddler at the fest as an artist at large, Fiddlin’ Faye. The mere possibility of three fiddlers on stage together was almost too much to image.
Flat Land turned in a dazzling set, with Fae Nae in a dazzling metallic blue dress as well. This was Brandon Miller’s first performance with the band on bass, and he rocked it! They hit peaks with “Black Rain” and “Turn,” and then IT happened! Dani Jaye and Fiddlin’ Faye stage-rushed, and the ensuing music was heaven-sent. Best line of the entire fest: Fae announced that they were considering putting together a group, which they would, of course, call Faye Nae Jaye. What else?
Then things got really stupid. The Mantras came to spread their Southern-fried North Carolina sauce over everything. It began with a Lynyrd Skynyrd-ish rockin’ boogie, but that immediately shifted into some deep prog that was mind-blowing. Bassist Brian Tyndall was THE MAN. The entire set was positively riveting, and then they got to a mash-up that began with “Burnin’ Down the House” and wove in and out of “Fire On the Mountain.” DAMN. So of course a “Linus and Lucy” tease would end up being “Cat Scratch Fever.” They have ten shows coming up with Papadosio.
Come Back Alice returned for a set of their music. Kenny Harvey did an admirable job filling in on bass. It started strong with “Just Along for the Ride” and never let up. Donna Hopkins came up for an ABB tune and bowled everybody over. Isaac Corbitt helped to blow up “Right Place, Wrong Time,” and Fae Nae fiddled with Dani on “Fast Train,” with Richie Jones on percussion. The encore was “Statesboro Blues.”
This whole day into evening was amazing, but The Werks made it more amazing still. This Columbus OH quartet just released Inside a Dream, a fine new album. We heard many of those tunes and some older originals, but honestly nothing matched the uncontrolled insanity of “Disco Inferno.” Everybody was spectacular, but it was bassist Dino Dimitrouleas who blew it threw the roof. Unreal.
If we thought we were going to get a respite before the Juanjamon set, we were delightfully mistaken. Sassafraz is also from Columbus, and they were also superb. They describe themselves as “funk/hip-hop/soul/pop,” and we got all of that and more from the sextet with tenor sax and trumpet-playing guitarist. Corbett and Juanjamon joined in the fun. Florida will welcome them back gladly.
That left it to The Juanjamon Band to close it down again. This time, Justino Lee Walker joined Dre Mack on guitar. They ought to be a law, because WOW. Those two together are mind-blowing, face-melting monsters. The set began innocently enough with “Noodle Doodle,” a tune Juanjamon played often with CopE. “Mr. Juanjamon” was his patented reggae rap, so great. Michael Garrie’s drums were augmented by percussion from Gerulat and Jones.
“Donde” was a nice Latin/calypso tune, followed by a new funk piece with Mack and Justino going berserk. And then… “Money > Higher Ground > Money.” Yep. Then a tribute to New Orleans with “Africa,” Corbitt on stage. And the appeal for an encore brought a righteous rendition of “Rosie.” Kudos all around.
The Screamin’ Js were playing a late-night set. I hear it was great.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 3RD
El Dub kicked off Sunday’s festivities with a nice set. He is a looper with reggae-isn tendencies and a refreshing outlook on the world. My favorite was “Reason I’m Still Living.”
The Happy Campers put on a superb set, and on top of that they had many great sit-ins. Ian McLeod, who fronts his band Ism and plays percussion with Flat Land, has joined THC on traps (through Little Econ Love Fest, the final Happy Campers performance). Brother Grant (drummer for Flat land) traded roles, sitting in on percussion. But this day belonged to Colin Getts on guitar and Andy Lytle (soundman extraordinaire) on bass; they were simply superb.
Sit-ins included Fae Nae, Dani Jaye, Juanjamon, Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris, and Trey Miller. The set started to build to a climax with “La Pizza” and “American Woman.” Before the “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now” closer, Sean Maloney delighted everyone with “Ridiculous Elephant > Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) > Fame > Ridiculous Elephant” (bittersweet now with the passing of David Bowie).
It was time for more funky jazz and more with Leisure Chief. First up was a Derek Engstrom composition, “Three Months.” Nick Bogdon and the band were totally locked in on “Lil Norm” with Nick on vocal. It was time for more Afrobeat with “Afro-esque,” Ryan on baritone joined by Juanjamon on tenor. By the time they played “Grand Mastrr,” it was officially Keegan Matthews; the keyboard player had a red-letter day. The set ended with a superb tune, “Ghost Crinkles.”
Now it was Donna Hopkins’ turn (no relation, but I’d claim her in a nanosecond). Donna did not have a bass player for this gig when she arrived; she was able to get Trevor McDannel to sit in. I’ve seen Trevor countless times in jamtronic and funk settings; how would he do with Donna’s music? A+, as it turns out. He was so solid that, after the first song, Donna said about him, “We just met. I love the way this works.”
Donna is a great singer and true guitar slinger, and this set was the perfect set for Sunday afternoon. Richie Jones played drums. At some point, Jack Gould (Sassafraz) joined them on alto sax. What a great set.
I was trying to pack up before the drizzle became drizzly-er, so I missed some of The Screamin’ Js. These guys are a blast: barrelhouse piano, upright bass and stripped-down drum kit plus delightful lyrics and vocals. My mistake. I need to see them again.
It was time to put Hometeam New Year’s Rally to bed, but not before one last collaborative romp: Jimmy Jams Jukebox: The Sunday Sunday Finale. Jimmy Rector had worked hard to orchestrate this musicians’ mob of talent.
Tony Tyler, Mark Mayea, Dani Jaye, Dave Gerulat, Heather Gillis, Kenny Harvey, Yral, Jimmy Rector, Reed Skahill, Kenny Stadelman, Skylar Golden, Jacob Cox, Travis Young, Juanjamon and more crammed the stage for this event. And what an event it was.
“Ain’t Wasting Time” and “Hot ‘Lanta” were first on the program. At that point my notes gave out. It was deluxe. My only complaint: I wanted more Heather Gillis. Maybe this was the “Africa” work-out, not during Juanjamon’s set.
Doesn’t matter. This was a stunning, spectacular, stupendous weekend of music.
NOBODY heard better music than we did. NO BODY.