The More You Know: JONI BOTTARI & Friends at Cage Brewing

[Thanks to Cristin Garrie Photography for the great pictures!]

The Tampa Bay area and Florida in general have a really good record of supporting some excellent Grateful Dead tribute bands, notably Crazy Fingers, Dead Set Florida, Funkin’ Grateful, Spiral Light, Uncle John’s Band, and Unlimited Devotion. Those bands draw really well, show after show.

It was a shame so many missed an incredible show by an amazing collaboration of five musicians who play in three of those bands on Friday, September 15, at Cage Brewing in St. Petersburg. I am going to chalk that up in part to the fact that not enough people know WHO Joni Bottari is and WHAT she does. Let me try to fix that.

Spiral Light

Joni Bottari is one of the best lead guitarists channeling Jerry Garcia you will ever hear. She plays regularly with her band Spiral Light out or Delray Beach. She is also lead guitar for Brown Eyed Women, the preeminent all-female Dead tribute band, and she also works with another group, China Dolls.

Brown Eyed Women

Bottari was positively brilliant last night, supported by a wonderful band. Her Spiral Light bandmate Nick Landess was on keyboards and vocals; Rich Whiteley of Uncle John’s Band and the Rich Whiteley Band played primarily rhythm guitar (the Bob Weir role) and sang. The rhythm section included Dead Set Florida bandmates Christian Walker (bass, vocals) and Michael Garrie (drums, vocals). Also, it was Garrie’s birthday!

Michael Garrie & Joni Botari – Joni Bottari & Friends – Cage Brewing – 09.15.23. 📸: Cristin Garrie Photography

Walker also books shows at Cage Brewing and hosts a variety of festivals, including the upcoming Grateful Gathering at Maddox Ranch in Lakeland November 15-17. Walker played with Bottari at last year’s Gathering, and it was superb. Bottari will be back for this year as well. 

And Brown Eyed Women will make a Florida swing, stopping at Cage Brewing December 1!

Christian Walker – Joni Bottari & Friends – Cage Brewing – 09.15.23. 📸: Cristin Garrie Photography

A couple of notes about the band. Walker and Garrie are both monsters, and they both delivered big-time for Bottari & Friends. Landess is a fine talent on keyboards, and his vocals are spot-on. Kudos to Whitelely for excellently play the Weir role; his playing and vocals were great. Because the singers are in three different groups, sometimes the harmonies were a little off, but the effect was negligible. And of course I though it was louder than it needed to be. 

Rich Whiteley – Joni Bottari & Friends – Cage Brewing – 09.15.23. 📸: Cristin Garrie Photography

The lead vocals bounced back and forth among Landess, Whiteley, and Walker, with duos, choruses, and harmonies everywhere. Landess had the first turn on a fine “Jack Straw,” and we were off to the races. Whiteley stepped up for “Foolish Heart,” followed by a loping “Ramble On Rose.”

With everybody warmed up, they launched a solid “Black Throated Wind.” Bottari was throwing out some awesome notes in the midst of her solo, and Walker killed this one. They settled back in for a reserved “Althea” (Whiteley). Landess, who was a bit too far down in the mix, really stood out here on electric piano while Bottari offered a delicious solo.

Nick Landess – Joni Bottari & Friends – Cage Brewing – 09.15.23. 📸: Cristin Garrie Photography

They dug in deep for a fine take on “Weather Report Suite Pt. 2 (Let It Grow)” with Whiteley and Walker singing, and they followed that up with a lovely “Box of Rain” (Whiteley again). Then Landess said they were trying to think of a surprise for Garrie for his birthday, and they didn’t tell him what was coming. In seconds flat, Garrie discerned it was “Comfortably Numb.” The band crushed it, and Bottari was simply stunning, her best work of the set. DAMN!

Joni Bottari & Friends – Cage Brewing – 09.15.23. 📸: Cristin Garrie Photography

They returned from set break and jumped into “China Cat Sunflower,” Whiteley on lead guitar, sounding great. There was a great transition into “I Know You Rider,” Bottari throwing in a “Mountain Jam” tease. The dancers had the floor packed up front as Landess and Whiteley crooned in concert, and Walker and Garrie blew it sky high.

Joni Bottari & Friends – Cage Brewing – 09.15.23. 📸: Cristin Garrie Photography

They dialed it back down as Walker sang “Loser,” with Landess on organ shining through. Bottari was on fire, and she continued to blaze as next they romped through “The Music Never Stopped” (Whiteley). This one contained the best jam of the night… so far! A leisurely “Eyes of the World” was next with Landess on electric piano sounding great. The jam slowed down almost to a halt, then built back up into “Looks Like Rain,” Whiteley lead vocals on both.

There was a brief technical delay, but Garrie assured us it would be worth the wait. He was 100% correct as we enjoyed “Scarlet Begonias > Fire On the Mountain.” Bottari gets that magnificent horn sound Garcia made famous, and she got even more serious as she donned her New York Yankees cap (atop a New York Rangers shirt!). The quintet were in complete lockstep as they tore it up! Walker and Garrie — once again!

Joni Bottari & Michael Garrie – Joni Bottari & Friends – Cage Brewing – 09.15.23. 📸: Cristin Garrie Photography

“Terrapin Station” was pure power. Every player knows the Dead canon; despite the fact that they play in different bands, they were all in perfect sync. Just WOW! That left one more song, and they brought it home with a joyous “Playing in the Band.” Whiteley took lead guitar first and knocked it out, while Landess offered great organ accents. And Bottari got in a few more salvos! The jam was brief but perfect to close out the night.

Michael Garrie & Christian Walker – Joni Bottari & Friends – Cage Brewing – 09.15.23. 📸: Cristin Garrie Photography

The end of the photo gallery has several pictures of an incredible mural being painting during the show on a wall of the bath house. And the dog, Lady, was with the sound engineer. She was everywhere!


If you live on the east coast of Florida, be sure to check out Spiral Light. Remember that Grateful Gathering returns to Maddox Ranch November 17-19, with sets by Joni Bottari & Friends and Spiral Light, and be sure to see Brown Eyed Women in December at Cage Brewing and in Stuart and Boca Raton.

[SET ONE: Jack Straw, Foolish Heart, Ramble On Rose, Black Throated Wind, Althea, Weather Report Suite Pt. 2 (Let It Grow), Box of Rain, Comfortably Numb; SET TWO: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Loser, The Music Never Stopped, Eyes of the World > Looks Like Rain, Scarlet Begonias > Fire On the Mountain, Terrapin Station, Playing in the Band]



10/13  Thunderbird Music Hall | Pittsburgh PA
14  Beachland Ballroom | Cleveland OH
10/15  Woodlands Tavern | Columbus OH
12/01  Cage Brewing | St. Petersburg FL
12/02  Terra Fermata | Stuart FL
12/03  Crazy Uncle Mike’s | Boca Raton FL



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