FESTIVAL REVIEW: WMNF’s 30th Annual Tropical Heatwave 05.14.11
A so-called rainstorm seemed poised to ruin early sets as doors for WMNF’s 30thannual Tropical Heatwave approached, but the WMNF faithful always seem to buck every obstacle they face with gusto. They somehow scrape up enough cash to keep the station on the air during fundraising drives, and there was apparently no way a little precipitation was going to keep them from having a good time on Saturday as the best little radio station on Earth staged the 30thedition of Tropical Heatwave in Ybor City.
Suburban Apologist sent myself – along with photographers Nicole Kibert, gtdmouse, and Kelley Jackson – to cover the madness, and while one will never get to see everything he or she wants to see at the fest, I’d like to think that this crew was almost everywhere, all at once. Here’s how it looked at felt to us.
You see, it all started with blues and barefeet as Sarasota Slim opened the festivities by trying to remember how long it had been since he last set foot in the cantina, and while he used his actual foot to provide the beat during his solo opener, the folks at the bandshell were getting their bare feet all kinds of wet during a rain-soaked set from Have Gun, Travel.
More than a handful of brave souls braved the rain in ponchos and some were even content to let the rain fall on their bare skin, but the sun finally decided to show up as the Hip Abduction took the stage at El Pasaje plaza. Frontman David New could be seen glancing to the west as the setting sun’s rays slowly poked their way through the clouds, and it was quite fitting that the weather would clear up during the Tampa-based outfit’s set as their blend of world, reggae, and funk seemed to bring hoards of people out from inside the Cuban Club and into the fresh air where they could shake their own hips all night long. Hell, even WMNF-lifer, Flee, got in on the action.
Have Gun, Will Travel’s rain-soaked congregation spilled into the plaza as the band’s set came to a close around 5:30 p.m., and as the crowd swelled thanks to improving weather conditions, the Mobile Itinerant Funk Unit was forming their circle, and readying themselves to cause a whole lot of commotion. In what amounted to the first full on jam of the evening (a drum circle that lasted until at least midnight would later erupt at the corner of 9th Ave. & 14thSt.), I began to realize how crazy Heatwave was going to be. Crowds were clearly growing by the minute, and there wasn’t any pretentiousness or restraint to be found amongst festivalgoers. Everyone was there to have a good time, and they weren’t going to let anything stop them.
It was at this point in the evening — with the spirt of MIFU and a three-beer buzz flowing through my body — that I completely gave in to Heatwave’scharm. Maintaining a music festival for three-decades is almost impossible to do these days, and getting people to fork over their hard earned money should be no easy task, but somehow WMNF pieced together (like they do every year) a lineup that attracted free-spirited, music-loving souls to come celebrate all that is right with the world: Rhythm, melody, and common belief that music and the people who create it really do make this world — for all its ills and maladies — a really great place to live.
It was also this point of the evening that served as a reminder of the fact that there is no way one human can catch every band at Heatwave. The six and seven o’clock hours brought a bevy of choices as The Only Sons, Flat Earth Society, Swamp Logic, Rebekah Pulley, Jubal’s Kin, Set and Setting, and Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys all had sets either beginning or ending. That’s where having great folks like Nicole Kibert, Kelley Jackson, and gtdmouse on your team is invaluable. Here are some links to their amazing photos:
Gtdmouse walked across the street to see Those Darlins play at Crowbar, but the rest of our group could not resist the gravitational pull of Andy Bean and The Councilman, who are better known as Two Man Gentlemen Band. These two have spent years paying their dues, and their polished stage show was in full effect as they hypnotized the Cuban Club Cantina withtheir update of old time music (they play stand up bass and tenor guitar for Heaven’s sake!), which is set to lyrics with contemporary themes. While they brought out crowd favorites like “Fancy Beer” and “William Howard Taft,” it was nice to see that the boys — who stopped by New World last October — had pretty much revamped their entire set while maintaining all their wit and charm.
After witnessing a full hour on Two Man music, the crowd didn’t have far to walk to go see Carolina Chocolate Drops play a very packed El Pasaje Plaza. Kelley Jackson and gtdmouse both posted up early to capture some great shots of the band while every other photographer at the event paid a price for not jumping the gun. Still, even from where I stood on Ninth Avenue (catching the set amidst the smell of pulled pork from Skipper’s Smokehouse and corndogs from some random food tent) it was easy to tell that the audience were being held captivated by the show unfolding before them.
Put it this way: I looked back as I walked away to catch some other shows, and all I could hear was some kind of beatbox-hodel hybrid. Have a look at at some great shots (including this one shot off an onstage puddle’s reflection) below:
Unbeknownst to each other, Nicole and I both jumped the Chocolate Drops’ ship in search of less crowded venues. I’m not sure what Nicole found when she shot Florida Night Heat playing New World Brewery, but I found equally packed houses at both the Play Courtyard and Orpheum as I stumbled upon Hymn for Her and Peelander-Z, respectively. The Orpheum was especially steamy, but the sweaty conditions were well worth it.
I was initially a bit bummed that I might miss Hymn For Her play since I planned on catching the Chocolate Drops, and while it’s amazing watching Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing deliver foot-stomping Americana while their young daughter — safely outfitted with protective headphones — takes it all in, it couldn’t possibly compare to the Peelander-Z deflowering I was soon to receive just a few blocks west.
Sure, it was my first Peelander-Z show, and sure, I don’t really go to “punk rock” shows anyway, but holy shit was it amazing. The J-Punks’ whole aesthetic could never really be summed up in words (or photos), but I’m positive that their set — which included “U.S.A.!” chants, audience members playing band members’ instruments, mutant bowling, and lots and pots and pans — was my favorite of the night.
I would have jumped off of my speaker perch if had I been just a few a few years older with a lower health insurance deductible on Saturday night — and every other middle-aged fogey in the building probably felt the same.
Another great thing about the lineup at Heatwave is that there is still so much going on at other venues at any given time, and despite the pull of huge acts like the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Cracker — who together occupied the main stage at El Pasaje Plaza for almost four hours — there were still plenty of great bands to be seen if you didn’t want to fight crowds.
Case in point: The Pauses, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Chico Mann, Miss Tess & The Bon Ton Parade, and Two Cow Garage all played sets in the later of the hours of the night, and while hands on clocks may have been moving towards midnight, things were really just getting started.
We’re all sure that Damon Fowler — who we truly all dearly love — played an awesome set filled with what are arguably some of the best blues licks and solos to ever come out of the Bay area, but for some reason everyone from Suburban Apologist ended up at Crowbar for an epic midnight set by Austin, Tex.-based up-and-comers, Bright Light Social Hour, who we interviewed earlier in the week.
We couldn’t get bassist/singer Jack O’Brien to say one single disparaging thing during our email exchange, but that’s apparently because he saves all of his aggression for the stage where (as evidenced by Nicole’s picture below) he absolutely murders each and every second. BrokenmoldEntertainment’s Sean O’Brien (no relation) told me that he knew this band had something special from the day he saw them play two gigs — a free show at The Hub and a New World set where only 20 bodies showed up — with the same intensity that they displayed on Saturday.
• BRIGHT LIGHT SOCIAL HOUR AT CROWBAR GALLERIES BY:
In many ways the band’s set epitomizes why Heatwave has been able to survive for the past 30 years. It is a music festival curated by music lovers who have roots that run deep within many facets of the community, and while many of the older faces who founded the station in September 1979 will inevitably pass the torch to the younger generation, it’s bands like Bright Light Social Hour that remind fans of every generation that a passion for good music will always trump the silly politics and minor, annoying details that seemingly consume our daily lives.
So thanks to Florida’s first ever community radio station for putting it on once again; and here’s to hoping that, as our disposable incomes grow (or don’t grow), we can always find a few dimes, dollars, or even hours to give back to a station that (as evidenced by the good times had by all on Saturday) is extremely vital to the health and overall happiness of the community that it serves — now more than ever.