As we drove across Alligator Alley towards the right coast of Florida, we were excited to be only miles away from the Second Annual Langerado Music Festival. Having enjoyed last year's inaugural event held at Markham Park in Ft. Lauderdale, we were a bit questionable about the change in location. The grounds in Ft. Lauderdale were large, a little lacking on shade trees and a bit short on the water supplies, but the event was most enjoyable, highlighted by the energetic closing performance by moe. As we entered the new arena, Young Circle Park, in Hollywood Florida, after walking only a few blocks through many fashionable sidewalk cafes, where we were probably quite the spectacle with our camp chairs slung over our arms and our festival tie-dyes, we were greatly impressed.
The 13-acre venue in the middle of old "downtown" Hollywood was spacious and filled with many huge shade trees and natural grouping areas. Plenty of spots were still available to spread blankets and make camp for the day. Four stages were set up on the grounds, all within easy walking distance of each other (unlike last year where it was almost a straight and very long walk between stages). These four stages were to be the home for 20 bands over an almost 13 hour period, 11:15 a.m. to midnight. We arrived a little after 1:00, to find the grounds not crowded, but pleasantly and easily filled with many happy music fans, including a sizeable crowd grooving in the sun in front of Drive-By Truckers at the Main Stage East. One of the few independent bands to receive high reviews from Rolling Stone, their sound is mostly southern rock, with punchy power chords. They reminded us of MOFRO, perhaps in their honest, raw delivery. The rhythm of the road could be felt through the grassy carpet while they ground their southern rock beat. Even with the sleepiness of the warm afternoon, their tenacity was apparent, and the crowd truly rocked and rolled.
Mike Cooley of Drive-By Truckers
Afterwards, on the other side of the park (and only a short walk through the colorful vending area), John "JJ" Grey, the old-time Floridian heart and soul of MOFRO, wailed on his harmonica in front of an enthusiastic melee at the Main Stage West. He announced to the fans that "we ain't no garage band playing at a fraternity, we are music with a message." That message, commenting on the progress and development of the state, and the effects on the environment and the area's soul, included songs with words such as "What don't kill ya, Lord, it will make you strong," and other favorites from the Blackwater album. JJ asked the crowd "how y'all doing in the sun" as he commented how good the sea breeze felt from the ocean only a mile or so away, while the audience screamed requests.
JJ Grey of MOFRO
After his performance, JJ said that his music is not a message but a ranting about the environment, different cultures, and what he loves. He said that he doesn't think having individual regions and their different ways is separatism, rather these differences of culture, weather, land, and food give it individual life. He still writes songs the way he always has since he was twelve years old and trying to write as some sort of exorcism for what he felt. The new album due out this summer is no exception. Some of the songs just rolled out of him ready to go, while others needed a return visit to fill in what was needed. For material, he just looks around him and reflects in his writing what he sees, particularly the changes that are inevitable. Even thought there is no hard and fast solution in specific situations, he said, he just wants people to be more aware of the attitude of change, to look around where they live and to be more conscious of what they don't want it to become. More dangerous than change itself is the ability to ignore the changes happening around you, he believes.
Frenchy, a music-inspired artist, in true Scramble Campbell style, stood to the rear of the energized MOFRO crowd, capturing the synergy in swirls of color, with his parents standing proudly by. Frenchy's mom, Sandra, leaked the secret that she still is the proud custodian of the artwork he created in his very young days, while Frenchy said that if he could be with them everyday, his life would be perfect. As a student in graphic art, Frenchy was encouraged to become a commercial artist to be successful. Nevertheless, his love of art has brought him a living without following any other path but his heart.
JJ Grey of MOFRO
The energy really accumulated at the end of MOFRO's set, Frenchy explained, in his totally inspired state. Painting inside stadiums at musical or sporting events, the energy is dizzying, like a swirling whirlpool because it has nowhere to go. Outdoors, for him, it just tunnels up into the atmosphere and his creativity as a performance artist is enhanced.
While JJ ranted at the sunny side of the festival grounds, Moshi Moshi held a large handful of the attendees in rapture under oriental-looking trees at the third stage. The entranced crowd was infected by the intensity of the multi-dimensional music, and were seemingly in a time trance separate from the other venues, whereas back at the Main Stage East, Cracker was setting up to rock the masses. Cracker's recently released album Countrysides is a compilation of mostly country tune covers, unlike the quirky pop rock of the band's beginnings. Early last year, the band collaborated with a jam band festival favorite, Leftover Salmon to create the album O Cracker Where Art Thou, featuring polyethnic bluegrassy versions of standard Cracker songs. Their performance to a good sized crowd was primarily alternative country, with a strong rock and roll beat, and included "Low" from their Forever album released in January, 2002. Cracker has been giving their fans great music for over a decade, and this performance was no exception to that rule. They will be performing at Summer Camp in Illinois in May and Bonnaroo in mid-June.
The Wailers set later in the afternoon at the Main Stage East was entirely a feel good crowd of happiness, in true reggae style. Long time favorites such as "No Woman No Cry" were performed to a gyrating audience. As their set ended, across the way, DJ Le Spam & The Spam Allstars picked up the beat at the Up & Coming Stage to keep the audience dancing. A favorite Miami group that plays live two to three times a week, their new album, awaiting only layout and manufacturing, will be available in about five weeks. With a cartoony, black and white Dave Lebo penned cover; the album was developed following the style of a '60s Latin allstar group from New York. The compilation mimics their predecessors' creation of recording studio jam sessions including the in between song tracks of the musicians and engineers talking and joking. On The Spam Allstars version, obviously a bit more of a modern take with enhanced electronics and flute player Mercedes Abal are highlighted.
Meanwhile, across the park at the Main Stage East, as the sun was setting on the gorgeous day, Sound Tribe Sector 9 was entrancing their following with their unique ethereal mixture and seamless blend of space and funk. Festivarians grooved to the beat as the day turned to night and the music played on. After ending their set with a political message, encouraging everyone to get out and vote George Bush out of office, the crowd moved to other stages where Perpetual Groove and G. Love & Special Sauce were performing.
Sound Tribe Sector 9
G. Love & Special Sauce's unique talents in throwing down the rap have garnered them a large fan base, evident at the size of the crowd that began forming in front of the Main Stage West a little before 7:00 p.m. Their energy on stage was instantly infectious, and the crowd was particularly excited when they introduced the new song "Booty Call."
Since the day when "G." (Garrett Dutton) of G. Love & Special Sauce skipped school at fifteen to supposedly write a paper, his music has been central to his life. Sitting on a hillside in Philly that day he realized that he only needed his guitar and his bag lunch to feel fulfilled. Later, learning about the great music scene is Boston, he saw many groups, some making it, like Morphine, and others not quite getting over the hump, like Jasper and the Prodigal Sons. When Morphine left their weekly gig at a pub in Cambridge to go on tour, G. Love got it. And so it went, every time they landed a gig, they just seemed to get another one out of it. For the band today, it's still all about being self-sufficient, not much of a change for a group of musicians who were all sustained at times by the street scene and who were all familiar with that nitty-gritty style.
One of the two co-headliners of the evening, Cake, was a nice change of pace from both last year's schedule of jam bands and the rest of this year's talent. Not considered a jam band, the group was considered to be representative of the already changing nature of this neophyte festival. Prior to the band's performance, John McCrea and Vince di Fiore of Cake spoke about their new album, coming out this summer. Recording it in their new studio and engineering it themselves is great, they said, and fans can now expect new creations with greater frequency. They consider it "tightly self-conscious" to try to predetermine a direction for the new album, even though the songs are already written. John said that placing a direction higher than the song is a mistake as it's not about any kind of broad stylistic evolution, but rather each song and doing it the right way.
Contrary to past critical comment, John and Vince don't think they are trying to send a message with their music, particularly any sort of a positioning for a world view or a suggestion towards what one can possibly experience through their music. John is said to be very elusive when you ask him about the meaning of a song he has written. He believes its meaning is apparent, and said, it's all there, it's open face--you can see the peanut butter and the jelly and the banana or whatever, there's no mystery to it.
John McCrea of Cake
Cake has traditionally seen festivals as a mass production of something that should be a little more personal and immediate (McDonalds or Wendy's vs. a mom and pop place) where the musicians are just a music product that is hoisted on people without even a proper sound check. Given that they flew in just for that night's performance, "a lot of times these festivals are just about money but this one so far seems like a little bit more natural, and so far, he hadn't felt mass produced yet, but we'll see how it goes."
Vince added that he thinks playing these festivals is really great. He remembers going to festivals and having a peak community experience. Maybe this is something that could be created, even planned between bands such as having positive affirmations that are called out from a prayer tower before resuming the music. To which John replied that maybe in the United States it would be more appropriate to have someone calling out stuff for sale, such as good cheap products. On the political scene, John said that honestly, he would love to send a message out to young people, given the current climate, but he feels that as musicians they are not qualified. "I think our attitude does seep through a little bit, through our music, but ultimately we don't think of ourselves as like messengers from God, like Sting or somebody like that, we just want to play music and do a good job at that and once in a while you can kind of sense our world view a little bit here and there but we're not professionals mind changers. "I'd love to though, but it's a little bit inappropriate in our view. It would be great if we could, but I think you have to do it through the songs themselves." This is particularly true he said, because he feels that when you foist things into people's heads in a really aggressive way, you miss the opportunity to use the side door into their subconscious minds. "It's better to use the side door than the front door with trying to propagandize people," he explained.
Reviewers have stated that Cake epitomized the postmodern irony-drenched aesthetic of '90s geek rock, but the audience in attendance at the festival didn't seem geeky and didn't scream with irony. Fans instead seemed steadfast and excited. People were talking about how long since they had last seen them, how far they had traveled for this show, and which songs were their favorites. College-age kids even said they were turned on to the band by their older siblings. The excitement continued to grow as the 8:30 p.m. starting time came, and then went.
Vince di Fiore of Cake
Delayed over half an hour by what John said was the late arrival of the drummer and problems with their promoter the fans finally got their Cake mix of old and new songs. McCrae greeted the patient crowd and announced, "We're Cake and we're here to serve you" before asking the crowd if anyone had been on a major airline recently and stating, "It sucks," in reference to their grueling all-day traveling to get to the show. McCrae then commented on Florida being a terrorist hot spot, before launching the band into a sweaty rendition of "Sheep Go to Heaven." McCrae commented that the song was released on their first album, prior to any of the audience being born. As the show continued, fans were even more excited as many must have gotten their wish-listed request with "Frank Sinatra."
Asking the audience how many of them brought cell phones here tonight because of a need to stay connected, McCrae debuted a song from the new album, a song whose title he said would become apparent from the chorus, "No phone, no phone, I just want to be alone." With easy-chanting rhymes like, "It never lets me go to sleep, it silences me with just one beep," the infectiousness of the tune was instantaneous. The audience participation and singing was overwhelming, while John ordered the fans in front not to smile at him if they weren't singing. The song ended with loud static-like noise. McCrae further played with the audience as he told them that he felt like there some people singing along that didn't really mean it, that were just going along with what everybody out there was doing.
John McCrea of Cake
After telling the audience "you are all culpable," John asked how many of them had heard about Cake before (to which there was a very loud audience yes) and asked that everyone sign up on the website, www.cakemusic.com. Then, just as he announced that the band was tired of working with certain people (perhaps the promoter who had already been identified by his previous comments), and said, "We might just bail, but we'll survive" to launch his group into their cover of Gloria Gaynor's hit, "I Will Survive." Even though he later teased the crowd that they might have run out of songs, both "Grand Piano" and "Stickshift" were fired at the very willing crowd. Even given the added stresses of whatever delayed the start of the performance, and John's perhaps crass, or just plain truthful remarks regarding the experience, the shortened 60-minute show was way too short, and many fans were disappointed when the encores were finally over.
The day had been wonderful, and, just as the evening felt like it couldn't get better, it did. Under a brilliant full moon, with a tropical ocean breeze and great friends, all within a serene environment moe. kicked off the end of the festival with an almost two-hour set. Compared to last year's show, some fans were disappointed. At this point we were happy to hang out towards the side of the stage, enjoying the music as it drifted through the night. moe. began the one set show slow and spacey with "McBain," "Not Coming Down" > "Wormwood" and finally started to open things up a bit when they grooved into "OK Allright." A couple more tunes from Wormwood followed before the stage got some real energy when David Lowery and Johnny Hickman from Cracker joined the boys for "Good Guys Bad Guys" and a real surprise in "Fire on the Mountain." moe. then ended the set strongly with some of their better songs; "Opium" > "St. Augustine" > "32 Things" > "St. Augustine." Just when everyone thought that curfew was upon them, they came back for an encore of "Meat." As moe. sets go, it wasn't the best but after such a long great day of music, I don't think anyone had any real complaints.
Al Schnier of moe.
Approximately 5,000 people attended the 2nd Annual Langerado Music Festival, and already the show's promoter, Ethan Schwartz, is dreaming of and planning next years event, perhaps even an expansion into more days and more groups. Just a few words, borrowed from somewhere: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And believe me when I tell you, it definitely "ain't broke." This unique mix of jam and some not-so-jam bands, with styles ranging from alternative rock to explosive improvisation, was a great success and brought together an equally diverse group of music fans for a magical day. We'll just hope no one falls into the money trap of festival production, as Cake mentioned, where the payoff becomes more important than the experience, because this is one experience we hope to repeat.
Words by: Randi Whitehead
Images by: George Weiss
JamBase | Florida
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