Funk Fest Punta Gorda Tenth Anniversary Hits All the Right Notes
Funk Fest Punta Gorda hit all the right notes for its tenth anniversary celebration on February 15 and 16, throwing a party that felt more like a jubilant family reunion than a music festival. Thousands of fans came to vibe out with a stellar lineup of artists who opened up a big can of funk, soul, rock, and even a smattering of electronic dance music at City Marketplace in historic downtown Punta Gorda. Perfect weather, a good selection of food and beverage trucks, an improved tented VIP lounge area, and nonstop music kept the party ramped up for the two-day festival.
A grateful shout out goes to MFN editor and writer Scott Hopkins for lending his eyes, ears and expert commentary where I couldn’t and to Matthew Chase for sharing his incredible photos. A special big thank you goes to promoters Matt and Nick Nemec for bringing Funk Fest Punta Gorda to their hometown and sharing it with fans starving for world-class music in southwest Florida.
Friday night was clear, mild and beautiful but lightly attended. Warning: momentary rant ahead.
Note to Southwest Florida fans: Get your butts out to support live music lest world-class acts decide to avoid the area because y’all want to be in bed by 9:00 p.m. or some other excuse like having kids at home. Leave the little buggers with some dry food and a big bowl of water for the evening. They’ll be fine. Better yet, bring them. Funk Fest is the perfect family-friendly festival for them. End rant.
But for the hundreds of music lovers who did attend, they were rewarded with a terrific lineup of music starting with Atlanta’s emerging dance/pop/funk band The Hedonistas. Comprised of Max Blount on guitar, Jake Keeble on vocals and keys, Peter Brazeal on guitar, Hunter Tredway on bass and Sawyer Drummond on drums, The Hedonistas offered the perfect opening set with great original music and clever covers.
We would get plenty more from them later that night and again on Saturday. Over on the main stage, there were more Georgia grooves on the way, as Augusta’s Funk You lit up the main stage with a tremendous set. These seven men do the funk real justice, led by dynamic vocalist Gavin Hamilton. In the midst of some great original music, they fell into a huge jam they called “Hall and Goats” which was mostly “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” followed by a massive “Supernatural.” And they really impressed with “What’s On Your Mind” and “Important to You.”
Voodoo Visionary, also among Atlanta’s most favorite sons of dance, soul and funk, kept the afternoon humming on the small aptly named Groove Stage, which barely contained the entourage they brought along. Funk Fest’s incarnation of the band was complemented by frequent collaborator and percussionist Jose Rivera and The Sidechick Horns, the excellent duo of Martin Anderson (a.k.a. Yung Mango) on sax and Ben Otieno (a.k.a Lil Bango) on trumpet. While Voodoo Visionary, comprised of Scottie MacDonald (vocals), Trent Gilson (Bass), Marcus White (Keys), Mike Wilson (Guitar) and Mac Schmitz (drums), are always a Tour De force of funky grooves, the additions filled up the airspace with a whole other level of vibes.
Imploring us to “Hold Tight,” the first number of the night, the band rolled into “The Heathen,” a 15-minute jam anchored by a rock solid rhythm section in Schmitz and Gilson that reached high into the psychedelic jazz/funk/soul/dance continuum. Punctuated by brass from the Sidechick Horns, Marcus White’s trippy keyboard work gave way to Mike Wilson’s scorching guitar riffs climbing ever higher. Caught myself holding my breath here, only exhaling when Scottie MacDonald brought us back down to earth.
From there we got a peek into “True Colors” a brand new tune that starts nice and easy with old school grooves but then spins wonderfully out of control into a cyclone of rhythm. There was no standing still to “Cold Shallow Moon” or “Harmony.” The band pulled out a full-on funk attack with James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” with every musician on stage demonstrating why this outfit has earned its place among funk’s best emerging acts.
The Southern contingent of my family has a saying about concoctions so tasty they “make you wanna slap yo’ momma.” That about sums up how I feel about Joe Marcinek’s delicious choice of musicians who formed Joe Marcinek Band for Funk Fest. Made up of Marcinek on guitar, drummer Nikki Glaspie of The Nth Power, bassist Tony Hall of Dumpstaphunk, and Grammy award-winning keyboardist Shaun Martin of Snarky Puppy, this particular collaboration was one that will live in my memory banks for all time. With practically no rehearsal involved, the band came together organically but played together like they’d been family forever.
Taking the main stage for Dead Funk Summit – JMB’s funked-up take on (you guessed it) The Grateful Dead – we knew right off the bat that this was anything but your average Dead tribute. JMB came right out the hole with Marcinek’s own jubilant instrumental “George Washington.” Marcinek’s considerable guitar skills were on full display, and frequent JMB collaborator Tony Hall thumping licks showed why they made bass. Shaun Martin, a charismatic showman and gifted musician, smashed it on keys, and Nikki Glaspie, one of the hardest-hitting drummers in the business, drove kinetic beats on drums.
Shades of The Dead came next as JMB rolled out a bluesy version of “West LA Fade Away” with Marcinek on vocals. Can’t have a Dead tribute without the crowd-pleasing “Shakedown Street” in there. And please it did with Tony Hall taking over vocals and putting his soulful stamp on the ubiquitous tune. “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire One The Mountain” moved us into true Dead territory, and the vibe was just beautiful with Marcinek on lead vocals and ultimately ripping it up on guitar.
JMB’s closer veered off into fun and hilarity with a hugely fun medley of Hip Hop tunes and Prince thrown in there in case we weren’t sufficiently fired up. We bumped and jumped to teases of “No Diggity,” “Da Butt,” “Big Ole Butt,” “Bustin’ Loose,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” All the while Shaun Martin’s voice boomed out over the crowd teasing repeatedly, “We’re sure this is not what you want, Funk Fest!” Au contraire. We were sure it was.
If imitation is the greatest from of flattery, then The Floatiez Jamiroquai Jam did one of the greatest dance/pop/funk/jazz fusion bands of all time real justice. Made up of members of Funk You, The Hedonistas and Voodoo Visionary, The Floatiez lit the place up with classic dance grooves while remaining true to spirit of the legendary originals.
At any given moment the Groove Stage was packed with nearly a dozen musicians, including The Sidechick Horns, all of whom demonstrated a real affection and affinity for the material. The groove was strong with this set right off the bat with “High Times” and “Alright,” the latter layered with Ben Otieno’s fabulous trumpet. “Deeper Underground” rocked hard on the edge of psychedelic metal made a little softer by Martin Anderson’s sax.
From where I stood, The Hedonistas lead singer Jake Keeble’s vocals came astonishingly close to the real deal – Jay Kay. It was a delight to hear hits “Virtual Insanity” and “Cosmic Girl” sung with the appreciation of someone who is clearly a fan himself. And his dancing and lithe movements around the stage also honored the master. I think Jay Kay would have been pleased. Check out the full set in the video below with the first couple minutes featuring JMB’s closing medley off camera as a bonus.
Floatiez: Jamiroquai tribute
Posted by Mike Wilson on Friday, February 15, 2019
Genre-busting jam band The Werks rocked the evening to a close with a tribute set to those bad boys of funk, The Red Hot Chili Peppers: The Werks Funks The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Made up of Rob Chafin (drums and vocals), Jake Goldberg (bass and vocals), Chris Houser (guitar and vocals) and Dan Shaw (keyboards and vocals), The Werks gave no quarter, tearing into a bass heavy “Suck My Kiss.” The band hewed closely to the Chili’s original material but still managed to put their stamp on ragers like “Dani California” and “Soul To Squeeze,” the latter featuring an excellent guitar solo by Chris Houser.
“Californication” segued into another terrific cover – The Doobie Brother’s “Long Train Running.” Dan Shaw’s fantastic work on keys led into an eight-minute jam where Chris Houser made his guitar sing once again. Thoroughly pumped, The Werks wound things down with “Aeroplane,” sending us off into the night after a thoroughly satisfying first day.
Warmer temperatures greeted several thousand Funk-Festers Saturday (it was nippy Friday night). Banyan, the duo of Michael Saenz and Logan Gomez, opened the afternoon with their world view on electronic dance music, a very pleasant kick-off to a huge day of music.
The Hedonistas were back for round two (round three for those involved in that astounding Floatiez set). The Sidekick Horns, who were everywhere, helped to pump up their excellent set. Front man Jake Keeble, who also plays keyboards, is one of the most engaging singers we’ve seen in some time (which he apply demonstrated during the Jamiroquai cover set). Guitarists Max Blount and Peter Brazeal both shredded like mad on “Mogo,” and “On the Run” (their single) was absolutely superb funk.
After rocker “TWTW,” they knocked out a very different “Frankenstein” (Edgar Winter, not New York Dolls) and then a fine funky “Johnny Walker’s in My Room > Activate Yourself.” To close, they offered up a solid “Whipping Post.”
Funk You was back again as well. It was great getting to see these bands performing on consecutive days; they have deep catalogs and got the chance to stretch out. “2-Steppin’” got the set off to a rousing start, and they never took their collective foot off the gas pedal. After “Jimmy Got Shot Down,”
Marcus White, keyboard player with Voodoo Visionary, came out to join Will Foster on “Black D,” a smokin’ tune that really lit up the place. The Dancing Gumbys returned to the stage just in time for “Kung Fu Fighting,” with great electric piano from Foster and guitar by Evan Miller. Then they slammed the set shut with “So High,” which segued into “All We Need is a Resolution.”
The triple-Georgia funk onslaught continued with more Voodoo Visionary, kicking out with “Sip of the Sunshine.” Vocalist Scottie MacDonald did his usual great job motivating the crowd and encouraging applause for his bandmates and the Sidechick Horns. “Testify” always gets the crowd up and dancing, and “I’ve Got a Feeling” had a decidedly Latin bent to it. There were lots of big jams and great guitar solos from Mike Wilson. Speaking of Marcus White, he is from Chattanooga with the band Soul Mechanic and also started The Shady Recruits with members of The Marcus King Band. As the newest addition to Voodoo Visionary, he performed brilliantly all weekend.
They worked a Prince medley of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Controversy,” with Funk You percussionist Palmer Owens jumping in. Then the Funk You horns joined the Sidekick Horns for a romp through “Shaky Ground,” which really blew up when Jake Keeble from The Hedonistas joined MacDonald on vocals. See the full set below.
Posted by Voodoo Visionary on Friday, February 15, 2019
Joe Marcinek Band was back on the main stage easing into things slowly with “Funnily,” a beautiful bluesy number off JM3, Marcinek’s latest album. Still taking it relatively easy, the band dipped into the jazz-infused “Mojo,” an instrumental where Marcinek’s versatility on guitar shone through, buoyed Shawn Martin’s keys and Nikki Glaspie’s smooth drumbeats entwined with Tony Hall’s powerful bass. It did my heart good to see how easily Glaspie and Hall, who were band mates in Dumpstaphunk, slipped back into an old familiarity that make these two brilliant musicians a joy to watch as a unit.
Soon enough, JMB got busy fulfilling their promise from the previous night to “bust it wide open” with “Dreams” by the Allman Brothers. Martin took us to church, and Hall’s soulful vocals could be heard in heaven along Marcinek’s piercing guitar. Meanwhile Glaspie, a force of nature, was destroying the drums before easily sequing into an original tune from Marcinek’s second album, Slink, titled “Holtsford.”
This was followed by a heart-wrenching cover of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” with Hall on vocals doing it justice — after he told us about listening to it in his formative years with his friends. For full effect, the band was joined by Lettuce sax man Ryan Zoidis, who blew a hole in the universe on this number. JMB owned the crowd by the time they launched into their finale, “Hyberbole,” a crazy romp of an instrumental with the dynamic duo of Glaspie and Hall laying down ferocious rhythms and Shaun Martin attacking the keys like the crazy genius madman that he is. Hands all a-blur, Marcinek got to serious shredding on the guitar one more time to the roar of an appreciative crowd.
Returning for their second set of the weekend on The Main Stage, The Werks claimed their space among a young crop of innovators on the jam scene who will fry the synapses of your brain in a cauldron of modern rock and roll and genre bending instrumentation. Opening with the “No Prisoners,” an instrumental blazing with guitars, they glided down easily into the reggae-influenced easy vibe of “Wide Awake” and back up again into the heady jams of “Into The Moss.”
They pulled out some heavy funk on what is pretty much a no-holds-barred rock tune, “Burning Groove,” with a terrific rhythm section anchored by on Jake Goldberg on bass and Rob Chafin on drums and righteous guitar riffs by Chris Houser. What’s left to do but follow this with an all-out jam session stuffed with dance grooves with Marcus White sitting in on keys and The Sidechick Horns adding brass.
Mixing in progressive electronic elements with metal, The Werks smashed it with the headbanger “Flatiron” and then trained their sights on “Lights Out,” a fire-breathing rock-and-funk blend where the Sidechick Horns took no prisoners. The Werks let us down gently with the smooth grooves and old-fashioned dance rhythms of “Stars Collide.”
“I like to be on the edge, on the cutting edge, or be into the unknown, into the territory where I have to depend on being in the moment and depending on my instincts.” – Herbie Hancock.
Herbie Hancock didn’t know it back then when he described pushing the envelope, but he would go on to inspire a band that embodies this description like no other. Lettuce, who count Hancock among their biggest influences, test the boundaries of creativity to the point where they bend the time and space continuum. They’ve been brewing up a blend of hip-hop-infused funk and jazz for the better part of twenty years, and in that time no category has emerged to contain them. At their core, they are an improvisational band reaching ever higher for surreal soundscapes while making poetry from music.
Saturday’s performance would be the culmination of a four-year quest on the part of Funk Fest promoter Nick Nemec, a huge Lettuce fan, to bring the band to Southwest Florida. It turned out to be worth the wait.
As a slavering denizen myself, I confess I was too blissed out riding the rail at the band’s set to be concerned with earthly distractions like taking notes. I think I left my body at one point, floating above a crowd that was up out of their seats connected by the same electricity that I was.
Made up of Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff (Guitar), Adam Deitch (Drums), Erick “Jesus” Coomes (Bass), Ryan Zoidis (Sax), Eric “Benny” Bloom (Trumpet) and Nigel Hall (Keys and Vocals), Lettuce came out of the box with “Get Greasy,” an old school funk number anchored by the The Shady Horns (Bloom and Zoidis).
I knew something lif-changing was in store when I spotted Nikki Glaspie off to one side of the stage adding percussion for “Yakitori,” a rager in of itself. But when she took the mike alongside Nigel Hall to split vocals on the Q-Tip banger “Vivrant Thing,” several thousand people simultaneously lost their minds, me being first in line.
Lemme let tell you something about Nikki Glaspie. She is my spirit animal and a goddess whose mission is to bring positivity to the world through music. A gifted, charismatic musician possessed of a monstrous talent, she had the crowd eating of the palm of her hand. When she was finished with us we were limp with happiness and hungry for a whole lot more.
Lettuce was on ?
Posted by Funk Fest Punta Gorda on Saturday, February 23, 2019
Lettuce released the Kraken with the space jam “Madison Square.” From there, Hall picked up the torch and led a joyful sing-along with “Makin’ My Way Back Home.” The band dove into the dreamscape of “Gang Ten” before turning the force of Adam Smirnoff’s guitar loose on us on “By Any Shmeeans Necessary.”
Lettuce with Shaun Martin on keys. Wow!!!
Posted by Funk Fest Punta Gorda on Saturday, February 23, 2019
Our journey into the nether regions funk led us deeper into the Lettuce discography with “116th.” And then Nigel Hall, Adam Deitch, The Shady Horns, and (Gulp!) keys destroyer Shaun White threw down the gauntlet with “Squadlive,” a rager I didn’t think I’d survive. They tested the boundaries of our galaxy with “Trap” and floated back down to earth with Hall’s soulful vocals lifting us up through Curtis Mayfield’s ode to audacious hope and perseverance “Move On Up.” My body and soul are still buzzing.
The guardians of exploratory progressive rock, Papadosio, aren’t really a funk band. But they are a brilliant choice on the Jamtronica spectrum to bring to the festival and a nod to sonic diversity. Comprised of Anthony Thogmartin (lead vocals, guitar, production), Mike Healy (drums), Rob McConnell (bass and vocals), Billy Brouse (keys, synth and vocals), and Sam Brouse (keys, guitar and vocals, Papadosio’s dazzling visuals and seamless blends of rock, psychedelic dance grooves and electronica make for an entrancing show.
The sizable crowd of young faces in front of The Funk Stage was deep into the slightly spooky ethereal beats of the band’s opener “Write Sing Play Mix” before the band broke into the rock jams and guitar riffs of “Find Your Cloud.” For most of the set Papadosio would be hopping from dance jams to synth-heavy electronic tunes. They opened it up on the progressive rock scale with “Taking Turns.” With “Cue” they took us deep down a path into a psychedelic forrest with dance beats mirroring classic ’70s disco along the way. Some of their instrumentation including excellent guitar work by Anthony Thogmartin, and Sam Brouse replicated horns where there were none. “Fire Right and “We Are Water” dripped with synthetic beats.
The first thing to understand about a Here Come The Mummies performance, other than the fact that they are a troupe of undead musicians slaying unsuspecting audiences around the country with their musical prowess, is that they are real showman. The Mummies put on a true show replete with carefully crafted choreography, set lists, story-telling and audience participation. It’s a party for sure and a wicked one at that. Be sure to leave your inhibitions and hang ups at the door when you cross the threshold of no return and step into Mummy world. Because a Mummies’ show is like a boundary-free frat party run by The Adams Family, and it’s all in good fun.
The costumes may seem silly but are rumored to be necessary because the band (Mummy Cass(anova), Eddie Mummy, K.W. TuT, Spaz, The Flu, Ra, B.B.Queen, The Pole, Midnight, Mummy (Dr.) Yo, & H.P.O.D., yes H.P.O.D.) are allegedly well-known studio musicians who are contractually bound to play exclusively for their employers. That’s one theory, anyway.
Returning for their ninth year at Funk Fest, The Mummies began the show parading (complete with drum line) through the audience to take their place on The Main Stage to close out the festival. Wasting no time getting the party started with the crowd pleaser “My Party,” The Mummies unleashed plenty of funk with an astounding horn section that put any doubts of their abilities to rest. “Ra, Ra, Ra,” a Latin-tinged dance anthem, had the crowd shaking everything they had only to go even wilder over “Freak Flag,” the ultimate entreaty against conformity.
A couple of the songs have titles and lyrics that are unprintable, but suffice it to say The Mummies legions were happy to lap it all up. There was a serious drum-off in there on “Do You Believe,” and the party kept humming until after midnight when the finale bumped to a close with the raucous “Underground.” They may be ghouls, but Here Come The Mummies have won the hearts of fans in Southwest Florida and will always have a place at Funk Fest Punta Gorda.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Funk Fest Punta Gorda has established itself on a list of must-attend small music festivals. What’s not to like? Tropical weather, a gorgeous and accessible historic downtown, an intimate and relaxed festival atmosphere, enthusiastic crowds, affordable ticket prices and unforgettable music have put it on the map of burgeoning small town music scenes. With all this going for it, I also suspect Funk Fest is now on the radar of well-known artists looking to expand their fan base. And maybe, just maybe, those of us starved for good music in this corner of the world won’t go hungry for long.
FUNK FEST PUNTA GORDA TENTH ANNIVERSARY
Funk Fest 10 recap video courtesy of Matthew Chase Photography