AS GOOD AS IT GETS — Hometeam New Year’s Rally
Photographs courtesy of Matt Hillman and David Lee / Gypsyshooter.
Videos courtesy of Any Cantrell
I love recycling (and it’s so much better than accusing yourself of self-plagiarism), and so I will recycle this lede from (probably several) previous articles:
I don’t care where you were for New Year’s. New York, Atlanta, Denver, Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago. Doesn’t matter. Undoubtedly you heard fabulous music. But it wasn’t BETTER than what we heard — for three glorious days — at Hometeam New Year’s Rally in little old Lakeland, Florida.
Seriously, this seventh edition of the Rally was simply brilliant, start to finish. There wasn’t a down moment or sour note the entire three days (four, if you count the New Year’s morning acoustic jams). It was AS GOOD AS IT GETS.
This year’s HTNYR was intimate, a VIP experience for all. And the schedule allowed for everybody to play two-hour sets, a very popular move from the musicians’ and the fans’ perspectives. The entire Hometeam crew did a brilliant job of making each and every one of us feel welcomed and at home. Because we were, with family, with friends old and new.
SATURDAY New Year’s Eve Eve Eve
The first day of music began at 3 PM, and it began with a reminder of one of the festival’s major themes: the overarching importance of the godfather of the jam scene on Florida’s West Coast, the right Reverend Funky D, aka Darryl Quesenberry. Funky D was on keyboards for the first set of the festival and the last — and other appearances in between.
He kicked it off performing with Russ Bowers Isn’t Dead Yet, the first of five tribute sets on the day (plus a magical late-night romp from Custard Pie). Bowers is the genius, heart and soul behind Orange Blossom Jamboree, and he and his merry men took us through a great tour of the Dead canon. Bowers was joined on guitar and vocals by Matt Weis, who was again superb. Kenny Harvey blew it up on bass, and you’ve never seen two drummers smiling as much as Michael Garrie and Dillon Reeder, who also ran impeccable sound on the Dunedin Brewery Stage (the permanent structure on site). And, of course, Funky D on keyboards and vocals. It was the perfect way to kick Hometeam off in style.
Juanjamon had the day’s second event, a Marley tribute featuring drummer and vocalist Derrick McDonald (The Sunsetters). Any concern that two hours might prove too long were shattered by the high-energy set the band presented, with Juanjamon on vocals, keyboards, and saxophone. Max Kipnis was a great addition on guitar. As you might expect, the set reached a real peak with the power of “Exodus.”
The Tony Tyler Trance then covered the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. No matter if you’ve never seen the move (like me); you still know every song on it! This was a brilliant ’70s rock and roll revue. They didn’t get to all 14 tracks from the movie, but they hit the big ones and added a song or two as well. These sorts of tributes are incredibly difficult, getting players from diverse places and bands together to practice relatively unfamiliar music.
This band did it with style, starting with the rhythm section of Brad Elliott on drums (also performing with Come Back Alice) and Kenny Harvey on bass. Tony Morales (Holey Miss Moley) was an important addition on percussion, and Austin Llewellyn (Row Jomah) absolutely owned all of the keyboard stuff required. Tyler on guitar was joined by young phenom Stephanie Perez, who had a great night.
Most of this set would have been less vibrant, however, without the addition of five more ladies: the amazing vocal chorus featured on 14 of the 18 tracks played (and one more superb solo effort). Danielle Mohr (Honey What), Ellie McCaw (Holey Miss Moley), Courtney Calo, and Flow Sisters Alexa and Bella Toro were wonderful.
The first tune, “Sweet Emotion,” gave Tyler the chance to try out his new talkbox tube thingie. The chorus harmonies started to jell on “School’s Out,” continuing through a bouncy “Why Can’t We Be Friends.” Then the chorus split to let Tyler and Perez wailing away on “Stranglehold.” The chorus returned for “Do You Feel Like We Do” and more talkbox, and Elliott and Morales took a percussion outing during “Low Rider,” then Harvey jumping in for more fun.
A real surprise surfaced next, as Mohr’s acoustic guitar set up Dani Jaye’s violin (fiddle, whatever) for a great take on “Hurricane.” Llewellyn really stood out on “Tuesday’s Gone,” his electric piano perfect in the moment. McCaw, with vocal help from Perez, blasted “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Cherry Bomb.” They closed with joyous “Rock and Roll All Night” and encored with “Free Ride.” The set highlight — for me — was the magnificence of the chorus on “Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo” a bit earlier.
The Tony Tyler TranceHometeam New Years Rally
Posted by Matt Davis on Saturday, December 29, 2018
I made a judgment during the set by Antelope: A Tribute to the Band Phish that I want to share here. Mind you that this was only four sets into a fabulous three-day lineup. Here is that judgment: what Sean Hartley did on bass during that set was the most impressive playing I heard all fest long. And I stand by it, now that the fest is over and done. He was the festival MVP, to my ears.
Something else about that set in the way of a personal confession. I saw Phish for the first time in 1993 and saw them for the last time in 1998. I really, really liked them, but I confess I never got them, not the way I got Widespread Panic. I got Phish on this Saturday night, thanks to Matt Weis, Hartley, Juanjamon, and Garrie. That was a stunning set.
They slammed us immediately with “Mike’s Song” and then “Gita Jibboo,” and the quartet never let up. Dave Rakower (The Game of Zonk!) shared keyboard duties at some point, probably during “Blaze On.” One of many highlights was “Birds of a Feather,” where Trevor McDannel (Future Vintage) and Richie Jones (The Jones Ain’t Modified) sat in. Well, they did at some point.
Next they crushed “Boogie On Reggae Woman” before sending us skyward with a mean “Tweezer > funky jam > Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001).” WOW! Garrie was a non-stop propulsion machine as Juanjamon dazzled on the keys and Weis demonstrated again why he is so highly regarded for his guitar work and vocals.
The fifth and final tribute set was Row Jomah’s Stop Making Sense in tribute to Talking Heads. This was the third time I’d had the privilege of hearing them do this, and this was light years better than the previous two, both of which were great. The performance was magnificent, and the sound on that stage (all day, all fest) was as close to perfect as you can get out of doors.
Joe Roma and company eased into the set with “And She Was,” then ripped our heads off with “Making Flippy-Floppy.” Michael Lyn Bryant (Dunedin Brewery) was twisting synthesizer knobs alongside Austin Llewellyn, which created some magical spiraling moments. And it just didn’t stop, with “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” filling the “dance floor” as Sara ‘Mama Bone’ Phillips joined in the fun. Bassist Vinny ‘Tina Weymouth’ Svoboda absolutely killed “Slippery People.”
The vocal trio of Joe Roma, Miss Robyn Alleman (Holey Miss Moley) and Dave Gerulat (shoeless soul) were magnificent, and we could hear every note, every nuance. Gerulat took lead on “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” Melbourne Walsh on guitar and Dylan Chee-A-Tow on drums somehow made this difficult set of music look easy — flawless.
Mama Bone was back for the big windup with “Take Me to the River,” “Life During Wartime” and, of course, “Burning Down the House.” Called back up for an encore with encouragement from MC PK, they started with the stripped-down intro to “Psycho Killer” before the band fell in, then shut it down with “Crosseyed and Painless,” Tony Tyler guesting on guitar.
And then those Georgia interlopers, Custard Pie, had the late-night set. This trio has made incredible strides since their very first festival experience 17 months ago, but this set truly established them. Their funky goes way deep, and they did fine covers of songs as diverse as “Cosmik Debris” (Zappa) and “Second Skin” (Widespread Panic). They always delight and played long into the night.
SUNDAY New Year’s Eve Eve
The parachute near the Hometeam tree was the place for acoustic jams and for Blübop Fandango’s Mornin’ Pickin’ Circle events. The Sunday edition blossomed in a dozen wonderful ways. Blübop’s Riley O’Brien was at drum kit and Trey Miller on keyboards, with the aforementioned Sean Hartley on bass and Colin Christopher on guitar. There were two ukuleles and a banjo in play as well, as they worked through some very jazzy takes on songs such as “Crazy” and “Comfortably Numb.” It was deluxe.
Meanwhile, Sean Maloney was wringing his hands. He had two guitars lined up for the Legacy Orchestra Collective, but neither was able to get to Maddox. What would he do? I nodded in the direction of Christopher, who is a superb player, attending the fest because he is a true fan (heck, he was on the cover of last year’s review).
When LOC kicked off their set, Harvey was playing bass, Garrie on drums, and, sure enough, Christopher on guitar (he and Maloney were bandmates in the much-missed band The Happy Campers). What ensued was just another remarkable and outstanding LOC event. There were great jams and excellent originals intertwined with great covers such as “Iko Iko” and “Inner City Blues.”
We got “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now,” “Shit Ain’t Right,” and the awesome medley “Ridiculous Elephant > Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) > Give Up the Funk > Ridiculous Elephant.” Juanjamon guested on a deep groove jam that morphed into “That’s It for The Other One,” almost. After “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley,” the band blew it out with another deep “That’s It for The Other One” jam, everybody on fire, especially Garrie, Harvey, and Christopher, who had two superb sets in a row.
Row Jomah, having recovered from their epic Talking Heads set, came back for round two with lots of their great originals and some dandy covers. Llewellyn sounded fine on electric piano on “Shudder.” At some point during “Choke,” they threw in a lovely punk version of “Auld Lang Syne.” The band got really spacey somewhere in the midst of “Fire & Ice > Break Your Heart.”
Vinny Svoboda is a great “fill-in” on bass. Another “semi-regular” member, Dave Gerulat, again added perfect touches on percussion to the great work at drum kit by Dylan Chee-A-Tow (and vocals as well). On the DMB song “#41,” Juanjamon offered more great alto sax, Llewellyn crushing on electric piano and synths. They played that great country opener to “Tell Me” and shut things down with an excellent recent composition, “Taintasia.”
It was fit and proper having The Applebutter Express back on stage after their maternity hiatus. They encouraged us first to “Smile” before taking us through a whirlwind of band songs and fascinating covers. “Jet Airliner” and “Rocky Top” were great, and Shannon Biss’s plaintive “Angel from Montgomery” was lovely. Favorites included “Hammocks and Hand Grenades” and “Wake Up the Sun,” vocal harmonies from Kyle and Shannon so perfect. And they turned the boys loose — Kyle Biss on ukulele, Joe Trivette on fiddle, and Zach Rogers on bass — for a rollicking set-closing “Orange Blossom Special.”
The Florida jam scene has always had a great relationship with the Georgia Pandas, Hometeam’s north-of-the-border counterparts. Copious Jones was one of our favorite imports. At last year’s rally, the Atlanta scene was represented by GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) and by The Dot Line Projekt. Both were back this year, one no longer “modified.”
The Jones Ain’t Modified offered up a spectacular two hours of music with a rotating cast that kept it fresh and entertaining. What you do is take the four members of The Ain’t Sisters and fold in three from Copious Jones, and voila! a supergroup. The Ain’t Sisters had just made their Tampa Area debut (I think) at Unicorns Unite with a delightful and wide-ranging performance.
The set opened with the Jones boys — Richie Jones on percussion; Mikhail Peterson, guitar and vocals; and Chris ‘Critter’ Ricker, guitar and vocals — and the Ain’t rhythm section — Justin Boudreau on bass and John Cowin on drums. “A Place to Go” was the perfect place to start. For the second tune, “Lucy,” they invited Dani Jaye (Come Back Alice) to play fiddle. Then Barb Carbon (half of The Ain’t Sisters) joined in, and finally Arrie Bozeman (the other half). Carbon and Bozeman both sing and play guitar, so at times there eight people on stage.
Then we began an enjoyable game of Musical Musicians, as Critter, Peterson and Jaye went off so that we could experience The Ain’t Sisters in pure form as they played “Everything Can Wait One More Day.” Critter then rejoined to rip some wicked guitar on a really punk-ish tune. There were beautiful ballads by The Ain’ts and by Peterson and plenty of rocking and some great pickin’, as Jaye’s fiddle sent the music in that direction. This was a simply superb set, ending with “Walls” and “Wildfire.”
It was Ajeva’s turn to impress next, and they knocked out another great set, similar to their Hulaween-opening set on the Amphitheater Stage. “Cinematic intro” was stunning, Skyler Golden on guitar shredding and Mark Mayea dancing all over the keyboards. The set just kept building, Taylor Gilchrist and Travis ‘Too Tall’ Young driving them through on bass and drums, respectively.
After a romp through “Try Not To > Space Ducks,” they built a beautiful slow vamp with “Age of Light” before they turned Golden and Mayea loose again, this time on a “Maggot Brain”/Hendrix opus titled “No Holding Back.”
Turns out that title was prophetic. Golden, at the tender age of 22, took the mic and announced that tendonitis in his hands is forcing him to step away from the guitar, at least for the present time. With that, Golden went off, and Elliott Dickinson and Michael Nivens joined Ajeva for “Funky Green Men” on guitars.
Ella Jet joined Reed Skahill on vocals for “Groove Mountain,” and they finally shut the set down — Golden returning to the stage — with “Do You Want to Get Down,” which we did!
It was great having the Melody Trucks Band back for the second year, and they were strong out of the gate. “Synchronicity” let us know that Trucks would NOT be holding back vocally, as she soared right from the start. To make sure we got the message, she jumped from there to “Little by Little,” West Brook with a superb slide solo. He took vocals on the next tune.
Guitarist Brady Clampitt took the next vocal on a funky tune before Willis Gore took a blistering solo. Trucks then invited Tony Tyler and Dani Jaye to help them on “Don’t Keep Me Wondering,” so perfect. “Southbound” was also a gas. Clampitt sang “Personal Thing” before Ben Strok guested on a huge “You Haven’t Done Nothin.’”
Trucks then announced that they were going to “unleash the beast,” and unleash him they did! Bassist Shane Platten always stands out with his incredible playing, but he becomes a different animal near the microphone. He tore through “Jellyfish,” which featured an Isaac Corbitt harp solo and a brief Shaun Taunton drum solo. Next they played the most stretched-out “Use Me” ever, Platten demonstrating great vocalese talent. And he buried “Spanish Moon!”
Corbitt sang the Mofro song “Ho Cake,” then Trucks introducing a Frogwings song her dad’s band had played, “Pattern,” and they shut down the great set with “Yield Not to Temptation,” which even several power outages couldn’t destroy.
The big coup for Cody and Jenelle Bean this year was landing dynamite funk rockers The Main Squeeze from Los Angeles, and they really did it up right. They rock so hard you forget — momentarily — that they’re a funk band, and “who says a funk band can’t play rock?” Many in the crowd had not seen them before and were truly knocked out.
Actually, we all were. Corey Frye, bedecked in his robe/cape, strode the stage in dazzling fashion, flanked by four tremendous players. Max Newman is a true guitar rock star, so great to watch. Meanwhile Rob Walker and Reuben Gingrich (bass and drums) continued driving the pace as the set continued. Gingrich got a concise drum solo during “The Way That I Do.” And Ben “Smiley” Silverstein was excellent on his bank of keyboards.
Suddenly, right when the band seemed to be peaking, things came to a grinding halt. Clearly it was not where they meant to leave the set. What happened? The set was slated for 11 to 1, but it shut down shortly after 12:30. Apparently, there was a noise complaint (?!?) from who knows where.
The disruption also affected Michael Lyn Bryant’s Electric Jungle and their late-night slot from 1 to 2:30-ish. We sat around waiting for word that music would — or wouldn’t — begin. Finally, about 1:35, Bryant got the high sign, and the band set out. Bryant and his phalanx of keyboards and synthesizers were joined by Trevor McDannel on bass, Jamie Newitt (The Heavy Pets) on drums, Dave Gerulat on percussion, and Joe King (Blackwater Grease) of guitar.
This was the best work I’ve heard from King, who also plays with Bryant in Follow the Monarchs and is a member of S.P.O.R.E. as well. The band hit deep grooves in their improvisations for a very special hour of music before that, too, was curtailed. We got to hear a great Jon Ditty rap, and Nook took a turn as well. Another highlight was the S.P.O.R.E. tune they soundchecked… on kazoos!
MONDAY New Year’s Eve
The early parachute set took a very different but no less lovely turn when Este Loves took over the jam. She was joined by Dani Jaye, fiddle; Justin Davis, bass; Tony Tyler, drums; and Sandi Grecco, drums; plus the usual wonderful chorus and other pickers. This was the Este Loves set, so much more intimate there than on the stage. We got all the hits — well, they should be hits — from Este and crew, including “Embrace Yourself,” “Come Inside My Mind” and “Livin’ Life Under the Moonlight.” And there was a great song written collectively during a Rising Light workshop that those involved sang, with a great segment from Scott Nave.
We got more elegance next from Ella Jet and Future Soul. Dillon Reeder had abandoned his FOH sound engineer seat for the one behind the drum kit. After “Cerebral Overdrive,” Jet let “Vision Screen” segue into Erykah Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know.” “Little Prince” led to “Nakamarra,” the Hiatus Kiayote tune. The serene and lovely set closed with “We Are Not Alone.”
Those goofy boys The Reality had a dandy set lined up for us to boogie to in the early afternoon, blasting immediately into “All My Time” before an amusing cover of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Dan Jones (guitar, trombone), Caleb Bone (bass) and BA Jones (drums) all took turns on lead vocals through a tour of their catalog and some covers as well.
Dan’s trombone work was on display on songs such as “I Wish You Would” and “Don’t Care Anymore.” Josh Kim added just the right touches on keyboards, and Bone had a great outing on bass. The Hometeam family photo was snapped somewhere around 4:45 by the MusicFestNews staff, and The Reality came roaring back with a stunner — a magnificent cover by Caleb Bone of Joe Cocker’s version of “A Little Help from My Friends” — with great backing vocals from Alexa Toro, Ellie McCaw, and Loe Sanz.
The third Georgia Panda representatives, The Dot Line Projekt, blew out a stunning set, again cementing the musical relationship between our two states. Critter and company got everyone’s attention from the get-go with Zappa’s “I’m the Slime” and then the bluesy vamp of “You Ain’t Gettin’ No Sleep Tonight.” There were great originals and tremendous covers of “Ride Me High” and “Bird of a Feather.” And why not shut this killer set down with “Run DMC”! Did we mention that Funky D was on keyboards?
Come Back Alice kept the festival in high gear with their set, anchored by Sean Hartley on bass and Brad Elliott on drums. And the Reverend Funky D on keyboards! “Mind Control” led to fan favorite “Coraline,” and shortly thereafter Critter hopped on stage to play guitar as Tony Tyler joined Funky D for a Hammond B3 duo on “Angelina.” It was huge! They covered “Hey Bulldog” and knocked out lots of their great originals, including “The Ride” and “Live It Up.”
Dani Jaye sounded fabulous whether she had her fiddle or her guitar, and the band really sold the crowd on “Love is the Answer.” They also debuted their new single, “Throne,” before closing with a deluxe reading of Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein.”
Electric Kif is usually described — and often by me — as a fusion band. And that they are. But this set was brilliant, filled with killer jam rock in addition to that glorious jazz/rock amalgam straight out of the ’70s. “3 Body Problem” opened the set, and they just kept on grooving from there. Rodrigo Zambrano, aka Digo, (bass) and Armando Lopez (drums) propelled the set at a brisk pace, allowing Jason Matthews (keyboards) and Eric Escanes (guitar) to soar. “Little Louie” and “Spider” appeared from last studio album The Heist, and they threw down a fabulous cover of “Hang Up Your Hangups” as well.
Again this year, Roosevelt Collier had the honor of ringing in the new year with an all-star Hometeam crew. The band included the ubitious Hartley on bass, Mark Mayea on keyboards, and Brad Elliot and Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris on, well, drums! Stephanie Perez was there on guitar as well. they started, as almost every Collier set starts, with a huge jam to allow everyone to get settled in, actually to get deep in the groove.
“Get Back” was a blast, and then Tony Tyler and Sara ‘Mama Bone’ Phillips jumped into an incredible jam. Hartley was again fabulous, and at some point Dani Jaye was there with fiddle, and Dillon Reeder, finally done with sound engineer duties on the Dunedin Brewery stage, took a turn on drums. Some nasty blues poured out with Critter on stage, and the Electric Kif boys, who have often backed Collier, played as well: Digo, Armando Lopez, and Jason Matthews. “The Way You Make Me Feel” is always a favorite of Collier’s, who is such a gracious host. “Chameleon” was in there somewhere. Things were kinda blurry. Just sayin’…
Funky D’s Deja Voodoo That’s a New Bandung sounded fabulous — from our tent. I was baked. Done. Everybody who’s ever played with him wanted to get on stage to pay tribute to the godfather in the most loving way possible.
So Hometeam Seven is in the books. A lot of questions will need to be answered before number eight rolls around, primarily, will the Rally remain at Maddox Ranch, where attendance has been severely restricted by county ordinance? No matter what happens next time around, be assured that Jenelle and Cody Bean and their tireless cast of roustabouts and wranglers will again throw an amazing, midn-blowing, face-melting, soul-stirring event.
Special shout-out, as always, to Receptor Sound and Lighting for their spectacular work, especially Dillon Reeder (Dunedin Brewery Stage) and (Main Stage) for their work as sound engineers. Rising Light once again raised our spirits and our collective consciousness. All of the volunteers were spectacular, and THE QUEEN was back — Jillian Melucci!
Thank you once again, Jenelle and Cody Bean and the entire Hometeam New Year’s Rally crew! Oh, and a bunch of musicians, too!