Orange Blossom Jamboree: Community Healing Writ Large (The Halftime Report)
[With apologies to all, here is the OBJ Halftime Report: Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. We will have Saturday and Sunday up soon. If there is a blue hyperlink for a band, then we have also published an article about that band with a photo gallery. If the video courtesy of Volke Mon and Pattie Boates is available now, that will be included as well. 18 videos have already been uploaded to YouTube. Click away!]
Was there music at Orange Blossom Jamboree 2021? Yes, in fact, there was. In actual point of fact, there was an astounding assortment of brilliant music stretching from Wookie Wednesday through Sunday evening.
Yes, there was music.
But that was NOT the main reason people gathered at Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville, Florida, May 12-16. This was a community healing event, facilitated by the music. For many of the patrons, this was their first time out an event and for most their first festival in what seemed like eons.
“I feel like I just got out of jail.” — George
Toby and Russ Bowers, the perennial hosts of OBJ, thought this might be a smaller event than in years previous, but it certainly didn’t feel like that. There were constant opportunities for exchanges ranging from five-minute-long hugs and kisses to handshakes and fist-bumps to simple smiles and head-nods.
In short, it was spectacular in every possible facet possible. There were great food options, fine vendors of all sorts, a children’s playground packed with activities, a place for teens to gather, the amazing Rising Light workshops, yoga, and healing opportunities, and beer available for those who did not BYO, courtesy of OBJ major sponsor Dunedin Brewery.
The volunteers checking everyone in, those on trash detail, the amazing stage crews, superb sound and lighting crews, Volke Mon and Pattie and their state-of-the-art video systems capturing every second of the music on the three stages — far too many who deserve an enormous outpouring of gratitude from all of us.
Oh, and there was some music, I think. This is our view. YMMV.
The plan, as it was originally concocted, was for CopE, the premier jam band in the Tampa Bay area, to play the first night as people began to roll in.
Kenny Stadelman’s truck, however, had another idea.
Shortly before OBJ, Stadelman had a freak accident in which his truck ran over him, requiring extensive surgeries and a long road to recovery. The bass player for CopE (vocals, too) maintained his wry sense of humor. Consider this exchange:
Kenny’s daughter Sierra: Dad, how do you feel?
Kenny: Like I’ve been run over by a truck.
On to plan B. It would be CopE & Friends for the evening. Initially, CopE members Dennis Stadelman, Juanjamon, and Dave Gerulat were on stage, joined by others, including Dani Jaye of Tire Fire. What emerged was the Juanjamon show, as he directed traffic as a host of players came and went throughout the evening.
It was a series of loose jams on great cover tunes, beginning with “Feelin’ Alright” and “Little Wing,” then on to songs such as “Cosmic Slop” and “New Minglewood Blues.” The music was great, and Kenny’s spirit infected the entire proceedings with magic.
THURSDAY, MAY 13
Lucid Wake had the honor of opening OBJ proper Thursday. This is the vehicle for Stephanie Perez, and she made the most of the opportunity with a fine set of originals and choice covers. She has become a killer guitarist with the future wide open.
[LUCID WAKE: Hey Na Na (Galactic), Blood (Band Of Skulls), Free My Mind, Lover (Royal Blood), You Got a Killer Scene Man (Queens of the Stone Age), I See Right Through Him]
OBJ is set up with the two main stages adjacent to one another and the third toward the back of the property. If all you wanted to do was alternate between the two main stages, you wouldn’t miss a note. But that would mean you’d miss ALL THE NOTES on the Clementine stage. This year especially, that would be an enormous mistake. There were a dozen sets on that stage; I was not able to get to four of them.
That began with Joy Wagon, an absolutely outstanding band who crushed two huge sets at Fool’s Engagement. All reports indicate that Colin Christopher (guitars and vocals), Jeremy Clapper (bass), Remy Lundy (drums), and Mikey Guzman, keyboard master for Holey Miss Moley, did the same at OBJ.
Tire Fire has been in development for a couple years, evolving into a wonderful Americana quintet. This was the first time many of us had seen this new and improved incarnation of the band, and they knocked us out. Most attendees were familiar with Trey Miller, banjo and harmonica; Dani Jaye, fiddle; and Sean Hartley, bass. They kept us moving with a varied set of Americana, bluegrass, five-part harmonies, and good-time music, including their “hit” single “Pile o’ Dust.” It was great to see and hear Arrie Bozeman, mandolin, from The Ain’t Sisters, and we enjoyed the “newcomer,” guitarist Jack Boyanton (especially when he was dancing and Hartley was watching his, uh, derriere!).
[TIRE FIRE: Full Gospel, Pile o’ Dust, Emanon/Alive, Lift You Up, That’s On Me, Flight of the Phoenix, Fireflies, Two Trains, Got Damn Mess]
George Pennington is another excellent young guitar player forging his path, finding his essence as player, singer, and band leader. He was joined by Tucker Sody, drums; Levi Foe, keyboards; and Sebastian Siaca, bass. They played a series of Pennington’s compositions, including the last long song, “Don’t Belong Here.” With a little extra time, they knocked out a fine “War Pigs.”
[GEORGE PENNINGTON: Warchief, King of the Dark, Go Down Slow, Borrowed Soul, Presence, M.SUNN, Don’t Belong Here, War Pigs (Black Sabbath)]
Tony Tyler Trance
No excuses. We missed also Tony Tyler Trance, and we are well aware that Tony always immerses himself completely in the music. It was, by all accounts, a knockout.
The West Palm quartet Guavatron threw down a ridiculous dance party, an amazing first real peak. It took all of five minutes for Conor Crookham to shift into space bass as the trance-dance jamtronica reached out from under the large structure, drawing more and more people in.
There was a short vocal tune with the delightful name “Mechanical Tropical Fruit Monster,” teetering between prog and pop. The dance party continued unabated, Roddy Hansen’s synths and keyboards swirling everywhere. There was a riotous tune appropriately titled “Disco Shades,” guitarist Adonis Guava singing, sporting his very own disco shades. More time? Casey Luden drove the band through “Gloopin’” from drum kit as the crowd surged again before the end of the set.
[GUAVATRON: Grit > MTFM (Mechanical Tropical Fruit Monster), Gustavo > Turtle Dream, Disco Shades, Gloopin’]
Dead Set Florida were the first of the five (well, maybe six) tribute bands on the OBJ schedule. They offered up a joyous set of Dead tunes, including a not-often-heard “Throwing Stones” and a deep “Loser.” They closed with “Turn On Your Lovelight.”
Dead Set Florida are: Mike Garrie, drums, vocals; Paul Wolff, lead guitar; Christian Walker, bass guitar, vocals; Mike Pandiscio, rhythm guitar, vocals; and John Sabal, keyboards, vocals.
[DEAD SET FLORIDA: Tennessee Jed, Hell in a Bucket, Help on the Way > Slipknot > Throwing Stones, Loser, The Music Never Stopped, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Jack Straw, Turn on Your Lovelight]
The Daniel Heitz Band also played on the back stage, and they about destroyed the place. This was a sly ploy by Daniel Heitzhausen, guitar and vocals; Chuck Magid, guitar and vocals; Colin Fei, keyboards and vocals; and Glenn Kastrinos, bass and vocals, to get to play three times at OBJ. And that suited everybody just fine, because they crushed all three times. For this set, Jamal ‘Music City’ Wright was on drums, with David Vanegas on percussion and vocals.
They tore it up. Trey Miller had a sit-in on “Dry Land.” Next they were twisting up blues and prog in “Sugar for Ya.” They slowed things down a bit as Heitzhausen and Magid blended their guitars. Then it was skyrocket time as they blasted through “Sega Genesis,” Fei weaving synths throughout the tune and Kastrinos huge on bass. Wright and Vanegas were superb the entire set. They invited Jay Umlauf from Grindstone Sinners up to join them on the closing “Some Sunny Day” for some awesome shredding.
[DANIEL HEITZ BAND: Weary Woman, Mountains, Dry Land, Sugar for Ya, Sweet Love Songs, Sega Genesis, Some Sunny Day]
Many were surprised that there was a Pink Floyd tribute band in the Tampa Bay area. Wall of Echoes had a really solid night introducing themselves to the OBJ crowd. They chose real gems from the Floyd canon, then played Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety.
The one single moment that most OBJers will point out was — hands down — the remarkable Leah Clark on vocals, most especially when she owned “The Great Gig in the Sky.” The other most impressive member of the band was keyboard and electronics wizard Daisy Ash. WOW.
The band also included: Ron Arbisi, vocals, bass, frontman; Eric Sandalic, vocals, guitar; Billy Mac, drums, vocals, electronics; and Michael Rashas, vocals, guitar.
[WALL OF ECHOES: Shine On You Crazy Diamond, In the Flesh, Mother, Pigs (Three Different Ones), Wish You Were Here, Happiest Days of Our Lives / Another Brick in the Wall Pt 2, Dark Side of the Moon (entire album!), Comfortably Numb, Empty Spaces/Young Lust]
FRIDAY, MAY 14
The Good Wood Band always sends out a set of positive vibes when they step on stage. Led by the Harringtons — Jim, vocals, acoustic guitar; Jimmy, bass; and Wesley, lead guitar, vocals — they opened the day’s festivities with “I’m So Glad,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Chilly Water.”
[THE GOOD WOOD BAND: I’m So Glad, Sympathy for the Devil, Chilly Water, Four Tin Soldiers*, Greta, The Ribbon, I Know You Rider, No Promise*, Hot July Day*, Soulshine]
Grindstone Sinners have been on roll of late with great concert and festival appearances. This is high-energy music. Fronted by vocalist Ashyln Weidemiller, they romped through some fine originals and really fine cover versions of songs such as “Crossroads” and “Les Brers in A Minor.”
[GRINDSTONE SINNERS: Midnight Hour > Crossroads > What Do You See?,You > Hot ’Lanta > Life Can Be A Breeze > Les Brers in A Minor, Hard To Handle > After Midnight]
Hannah Harber & the Lionhearts
Hannah Harber & the Lionhearts are a group new to many of us, and this turned out to be the first in a remarkable string of sets featuring absolutely incredible female vocalists. Harber was nothing short of spectacular. Her vocals were often country-tinged in the very best way. Her singing is effortless (well, it certainly sounds that way). “Sin and Bones” rocked out, while “Sorry Darlin’” adopted a slower pace. “Come Alive” was a blistering hot almost-country rocker.
Colin Fei on keyboards (four sets for him!) shone on a very deliberate “St. James Infirmary” with a nice touch at the end: that “Pray for the Dead” riff. Harber’s husband is Thomas Wynn, a fine guitarist who fronted his own great band for years. He rocked on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and throughout the set. Fei (Colin, Kenny Fei was on bass) also had a fine Hammond B3 solo here and on “Heartaches.” It began with Harber solo, then turned into an R&B rocker. Harber possesses the majesty of Dolly Parton’s voice.
[HANNAH HARBER: Sin and Bones, Sorry Darlin’, Come Alive, St James Infirmary Blues, Hold on You, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Heartaches, Seminole Wind*, Long Time Coming, Slow Leak]
Ashley Smith & the Random Occurrence
Ashley Smith & the Random Occurrence had played an interesting set at last year’s Gasparilla Music Festival. Never mind that one: their set on the back stage was simply stunning. Focus belonged first on Smith, a slinky, sexy stage presence with a magnificent voice and then on Nick Ewing, violin. Power pop, Latin, jazz, rock — they went many lovely directions. My first thought was: Swing Out Sister.
One tune featured Ewing and then lead guitarist Bryan Smith on a Santana-like Latin tune. David Diaz and Andrew Kilmartin anchored the great set on bass and drums. they blew out a REALLY WOW rocker “Wish That I” that reminded on Nine In Nails which somehow segued into “Wicked Game”! And their closing “Atmospheric” was every bit as ethereal as the title suggests.
[ASHLEY SMITH: Loneliness Intro > Loneliness, Decide for Yourself, Synchronicity, High Horse, Worthy, 3 Goodbyes, Strange, Limbo, Tension, Wish That I > Wicked Game, Atmospheric]
Souljam was slated to have the next slot, but COVID had another idea. In their place, shoeless soul came and did their glorious thing. René Schlegel and the boys always deliver a righteously positive set, and they certainly did so here. He and drummer Dave Gerulat soar on vocals, with Mike Ratza’s tenor sax the perfect third voice. Bass player Sladjan Vidic had a fine set, and his smile is a mile wide. they were joined by Austin Llewellyn (Row Jomah) on keyboards and by David Vanegas on percussion.
[shoeless soul: They Fade Away, No Touch of Grey, Modern-Day Pioneers, Mother Nature, Where It’s At, Bubble Song, Paving the Way, Time]
Shevonne has grown as an artist each time we see her, including at Suwannee Hulaween 2019 and Gasparilla Music Festival 2020. Her OBJ set made those irrelevant. She has found in Andrew, Julian, Davon, and Devon the perfect band to showcase her wide range of talents. This set kicked ass. And she is constantly reinventing herself, which is PRECISELY what an artist of her age and stature SHOULD be doing. This was definitely a “next-level” set.
[SHEVONNE: Sunset Love, Beautiful to Me, Just Right, Strange Love, I Will Always Love You, Kiss, Something Better, Sellout]
There are few bands more loved on the OBJ/Hometeam scene than The Applebutter Express, with Kyle Biss (ukulele) and Shannon Biss on marvelous, raucous, riotously funny vocals, joined by Zack Rogers on bass and Jason Baker on fiddle. Shannon’s infectious smile radiates everywhere. They romped through many of their “greatest hits,” fan favorites all.
[APPLEBUTTER EXPRESS: Ragin’ on the Weekdays, Sex and Beer, Just Add Water, Start a Fire, Milwaukee Here I Come,Wha’ Da Ya Got, Rag Mama Rag, Smile, Orange Blossom Special, Tell Me if I’m Crazy, My Poor Heart, Ebb and Flow, Hot Pussy. He’s Got Love in His Heart (and Mayonnaise in His Head), Until the Morning Came, Wanee Trippin’, Riley, Handguns and Hammocks, Do You Believe in Love]
Thee are quite a few bands of late that have also decided to reinvent themselves, adding jamtronica, prog rock, and more to their previous self-descriptions. OBJ 2021 was jam-packed with superb prog rock and more from bands such as Guavatron, Tand, Greenhouse Lounge, Anthill Cinema, and Electric Kif. Add Row Jomah to that list, because they busted wide open with a new facet to their already excellent persona.
Blame Austin Llewellyn (keyboards) and Mel Walsh (guitar). It’s their fault. Joe Roma’s, too, for turning ’em loose. By any measurement, this was the deepest Row Jomah set… to date! Sarah Phillips guested early on trombone — such a good fit. Wait: don’t forget Dylan Chee-A-Tow on drums and guest bass player Ryan Weiss. They’re ALL to blame!
And not only prog! They got all trance-dancey, too, on “Big Water.” “Better Days” features that acoustic intro from Roma, but after that Llewellyn and Walsh were off to the races! Jaw-dropping. More jaw-drops following the quirky intro to “Devil’s Fair,” Llewellyn switching from clavinet on the previous tune to synths. And there are no words to describe how deep, down, and dirty it got with the closing “Slippery People.” My notes simply said DAMN!
[ROW JOMAH: Shudder > Back & Forth, Rain Down, Big Water, New Song, Better Days, Devil’s Fair, Slippery People]
From that stunning set, we jetted back to hear Anthill Cinema, who had a brilliant set at Suwannee Rising and were bringing those vibes back home. By this point, we were going to need permanent jaw support. If you’ve seen them before, then you know. These guys are ridiculous: JR Williams; Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris; Cody Moore, keyboards, alto sax; Matt Mayu, keyboards, vocals; Vinny Svoboda, bass; Jason Hobert, guitar; and Justino Lee Walker, guitar, vocals.
Do they play prog? Jazz? Pop? Rock? Funk? Jam? Psychedelia? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, they do, brilliantly. After a truly monster set, they bounced through Walker’s “Pop Song,” twisting and turning from second to second.
[ANTHILL CINEMA: Essential Works: Wash Yo Gaht Damn Hands, Crack Smoke 2.0, So So Many Men, James Tron, Hyphen No Space, People Watching, Parfum, Dunjavich, Amnesia; Great Ghoul, Jig Montage; Act 2: We’ve Got a Lot of Work to Do, Flight of the Kiwi, Pandora’s Box; Pop Song]
Chuck Magid, Daniel Heitzhausen, Colin Fei, and Glenn Kastrinos were back for round two with their Allman Brothers Band tribute Steeln’ Peaches. The percussion section of David Vanegas and Aaron Buckingham lived up to the ABB standard all night. The group chose material from the greatest hits column and from the ones you might not know but really should, such as “Back Where It All Begins” and “Madness from the West.” They did true justice to “Ramblin’ Man,” and the set highlight may have been a scorching “Maydelle,” with Heitzhausen on vocals. The twin-guitar jam after that was sick!
[STEELN’ PEACHES: Blue Sky, Southbound, Back Where It All Begins, Soulshine, Ramblin’ Man, Maydelle, Madness from the West, Whipping Post, Jessica]
We missed another set that got rave reviews: GoldenEra. Fortunately, there is video evidence.
Uncle John’s Band kept the tribute band dance party rolling with their eclectic mix of Grateful Dead music and similarly inspired tunes such as Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile (with the Memphis Blues Again).” They invited Chris Sgammato and Koko Ray up to wrangle saxes on “Don’t Let Go” and “Dancing in the Street.” Everybody was singing (OK, not Casey Otto on keyboards), and it was fine. Rich Whiteley and Alan Gilman offered great guitar work, supported by Mike Edwards on bass. The “Playing in the Band > Terrapin Station > Playing in the Band” sandwich was particularly tasty, with Dan DeGregory and Mike Bortz on those magical double drums. “The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion” was a fine way to finish off Friday night!
[UJB: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On the Mountain, Cumberland Blues, Looks Like Rain, Don’t Let Go*, Dancing in the Street*, Stuck Inside of Mobile (with the Memphis Blues Again), Stagger Lee, Playing in the Band > Terrapin Station > Playing in the Band, Touch of Grey, The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion]
Were there late-night sets at Hometeam and elsewhere? Absolutely! Did I manage to get to a single one of them? Absolutely not!
This concludes the Orange Blossom Jamboree Halftime Report, long overdue. Stay tuned for the second-half report SOON!