The BASH Festival Lights Up Gainesville
The second iteration of the Gainesville BASH Festival (Blues, Americana, Soul and Heritage) took place with some major acts the first weekend in November. Fresh on the heels of The Fest, the hugely popular punk-rock festival, the BASH was free to the public. It was a major undertaking by Sarah and Jason Hedges, in part to raise funds for the University of Florida Shands Hospital Arts in Medicine Program. While the initial effort was hometown hero Tom Petty-centered, the festival has become a great roots- and rock-oriented event, with some fine headliners as well as some of Florida’s best bands. Southern and straight-up rock, blues, salsa, the Motown sound, gospel, folk, funk, and Americana were all represented on the three stages at Gainesville’s Depot Park. With headliners like Mavis Staples, Drive-By Truckers, Larkin Poe, and Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, it was an ambitious event that was a huge success.
While festival attendance was free, there was a VIP singer/songwriter event on Friday night, headlined by the Trucker’s Patterson Hood. Two sets of rounds with songwriters from Nashville, Knoxville, South Carolina, and Florida provided a great warm-up at the Wooly venue. Performing solo, Hood performed some of his classics: “Heathens,” “Lookout Mountain,” “21st Century USA,” “My Sweet Annette,” and from the Trucker’s newest album, “Welcome 2 Club XIII.”
Saturday kicked off with a variety of local and regional acts: Rancho LaChua, Wild Blue Yonder, and multi-instrumentalist Edan Archer. Nashville Americana stalwart Lilly Hiatt provided a great set, and South Carolina trio The High Divers kept up the quality songwriting and instrumentation, as did Nashville writer/performer Miss Tess. Johnathon Coody from the power punk group Ninja Gun demonstrated some great writing chops.
An All-Star Tribute band that included festival organizer Jason Hedges and Matt Burke’s band Have Gun, Will Travel warmed things up for Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, the Nashville dual-guitar-fueled hard rock band, whose most recent album, Shake the Roots, was a more tempered sound. They were joined onstage by rocker sisters Larkin Poe for even more fiery guitar jamming.
The crowd was all warmed up for Drive-By Truckers. The legendary Athens-based rock band started by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley in 1996 has produced 14 albums. Known for their progressive political views, they take no prisoners, and the guitar interplay between Cooley and guitarist Jay Gonzalez was fine straight-ahead rock.
Sunday brought the hot Jacksonville salsa band LPT and Tampa Bay area Kristopher James and his band. The secondary stages had lots of fine regional music: Wax Wings, the Barry Sides Blues Band, and The Savants of Soul had great sets.
Sometimes you happen on bands you know nothing about at a festival, and they turn out to be eye-opening. That would describe Rae and the Ragdolls. By the time the Atlanta-based young group finished their set, the crowd was on their feet yelling for more. Twin guitars William Bennet Jr. and Spencer Lingle traded hot breaks, drummer Devon Hirsch actually broke the tip off one of his drumsticks, and bass player Olivia Towe was playing some great bass lines. Frontwoman Natasha Rae Wermers owned the stage, always in motion, singing some great leads for their original hard rock material, and just generally mixing it up with the other band members; she’s a sight to behold onstage. Other than covers of “Whipping Post” and CSNY’s “Ohio,” which was their closer, the rest of their songs were original and tightly done; they play like a seasoned, much older band, even though they’ve only been together for a few years. By far my biggest surprise of the weekend; you really need to see this band if you get a chance.
Local favorite Little Jake and the Soul Searchers always provide a solid professional R&B set; their horn section is tight, and Jake Mitchell, who at one point toured with James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke, can still hold an audience. They provided some great covers: Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops,” Jr. Walker’s “Shotgun,” and the classic “634-5789.”
Larkin Poe was next. Sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell started off in bluegrass and folk-oriented Americana, appearing on Prairie Home Companion. They began playing electric instruments and were tapped to appear on the New Basement Tapes Lost on the River album. By 2018 they were releasing blues and electric music; their album Self-Made Man reached #1 on the Billboard Blues charts and was nominated for a Grammy; the title cut from that album was one of the highlights of their set. They have a new album coming out any day now called Blood Harmony and did several cuts from the album, including the title cut and “I’ve Got Georgia Off My Mind”. They’ve been called “The Allman Brothers’ little sisters”; Megan’s a master of slide guitar, Rebecca can play some fine rock guitar and handles most of the lead vocals. They have a huge and dedicated following, and the crowd was packed and wanting more.
Three-time Grammy-award-winning member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Mavis Staples closed out the festival. At 83, she still can hold an audience in her hands. Her set ranged from the Staples Singers classics “Respect Yourself” and “Handwriting on the Wall” to the old spiritual “Wade in the Water.” Every time I see her, I always remember her singing “The Weight” with her family and the Band in The Last Waltz, sharing the lead with Levon Helm, one of the classic moments in music film history. The crowd, as they say, loved every minute.
Gainesville has a long music history… Tom Petty grew up there, Stephen Stills and The Eagles’ Don Felder and Bernie Leadon lived there, and Bo Diddley lived just down the road in Archer. With several great venues and three well-attended large festivals each year, Gainesville is poised to become a regular location for larger festivals; this year’s BASH was a great step toward that goal.