All The Good Feels At Peace River Revival
By all accounts, the inaugural Peace River Revival held April 7 in Punta Gorda, Florida was a rousing success despite torrential rains that shut down the event during the last act, headliners Devon Allman Project featuring Duane Betts. Staged in scenic Laishley Park on the banks of the Peace River, the festival showcased Roots and Americana music including Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real and Donna The Buffalo among others.
I did not make to the festival in time to catch openers local folkies Michael Haymans And His Hibiscus Band, and I could kick myself for that. I was told by those who settled into the festival early that the band got things started quite nicely with an upbeat set of roots music and folk.
Next up, Seth Freeman laid down a solo performance of soulful, heart-wrenching blues on vocals, six-string and slide guitars. Freeman was a gratifying, last-minute replacement for Eric Lindell, who was originally on the bill but had to cancel due to illness.
Freeman’s day job with KDTU features his formidable skills that regularly destroy electric and slide guitars in scorching fashion. Saturday’s performance, however, showcased his softer side. From the opening strains of “Rainy Night In Georgia” to the classic spiritual “Walk With Me,” he reached deep into a place where all great blues artists draw from – the heart.
Sweet and soulful gave way to some filthy licks on lap steel guitar with Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ On My Mind” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” another great delta blues classic. By the time Freeman closed with a hip-shakin’ rendition of the Tom Waits tune “2:19,” those in the crowd who didn’t know him before would never forget him.
Now you’d think ’80s pop tunes would be completely incompatible with bluegrass, but you’d be wrong. Love Canon won over a slightly puzzled crowd and had them gleefully bopping to tunes like ZZ Top’s “She’s Got Legs,” The J Geils Band’s “Centerfold,” and John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down The Road.”
Led by guitarist Jesse Harper and complimented by Adam Larrabee on banjo, Andy Thacker on mandolin, Darrell Muller on bass, and Jay Starling on dobro, they took musical caricatures of an era and injected them with a dose of hilarity, fun and true musicianship. Hearing Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” and Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” reconstituted on banjo and mandolin was just flat out fun. No cover band ever sounded this original.
It’s crystal clear that Lukas Nelson, the next-to-youngest son of country legend and outlaw poet Willie Nelson, inherited his father’s talent and stage presence. You can hear some of Willie in his voice. But the comparisons stop there. Lukas Nelson has taken his plentiful gifts and is blazing his own path through a genre-bending terrain of Southern rock, gritty soul and country.
Currently touring extensively in support of their latest self-titled album, Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real showed just why Neil Young chose them as his backup band. From the slightly trippy breaks of opener “Entirely Different Stars” to the driving, dance-inducing beats of “Something Real,” they sizzled with a sincere earnestness that begged the question “where have you guys been all our lives?”
Promise of The Real, with Corey McCormick on bass, Tato Melgar on percussion, Anthony Logerfo on drums, Jesse Siebenberg on slide guitar and keyboards, held tight and nasty as powerful young musicians in their own right. The energy kicked into high gear on several occasions involving simultaneous mid-air leaps including on Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Somewhere in there Nelson channeled one of his heroes, Jimi Hendrix, by playing guitar and playing it really, really well, with his mouth. I literally cannot even…
By the time the band left us with the foot-stomping good feels of “Start To Go,” we were breathless and dying for more. We had to let them go but take comfort in the fact that there will be many opportunities to see them again. I don’t think any of these guys is beyond 30 years old, and their careers will be long ones with Lukas perhaps even surpassing his dad’s storied career. Catch them if you can while they’re still playing accessible festivals and before they start filling arenas.
For over 20 years, Donna The Buffalo have toured relentlessly, earning themselves a well-deserved reputation as a feel-good party band with roots wrapped around traditional fiddle and strings laced with rock and modern beats. Their buoyant sound has won them a dedicated fan base called “The Herd.” Hundreds of them packed themselves in front of the small River Stage to gleefully boogie to fan favorites like “Funky Side” and “Conscious Evolution.”
Multi-instrumentalist Tara Nevins kept things jumping on fiddle and accordion while trading vocals with guitarist Jeb Puryear on songs that alternated between jaunty, hip-shaking numbers to melodic and folksy tunes. Keyboardist Dave McCracken, bassist Kyle Spark, and drummer Mark Raudabaugh rounded out this tight outfit.
A big shout-out goes to the father and son team of Matthew and Nick Nemec of Edgewater Events for bringing world-class music and family-friendly, kick-ass festivals to a sleepy corner of Southwest Florida that can sometimes feel like a desert for the arts. At this rate, Punta Gorda will not stay sleepy for long.