Suwanee Springfest (concert review)

(originally published at

Suwannee Springfest, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL- 3/20-23

For its 18th edition, Springfest, the annual cornucopia of Americana, bluegrass and roots music in woodsy, moss-fest

ooned Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, seemed to attract a larger group of younger listeners than in previous years. At least, that’s what it felt like when festival favorites the Avett Brothers – who impressed Live Oak crowds long before Scott and Seth ascended to arena tours – packed the Amphitheater for two hours’ worth of stomping acoustic-electric music that had fans pushing to the front and singing along with every word of every song.

The North Carolina-born siblings and their four bandmates again demonstrated infectious high-energy joie de vivre, showcasing some material from the last two years’ “Magpie and the Dandelion” and “The Carpenter” releases. They also turned in stirring versions of the title track from “I and Love and You” and that 2009 album’s “Kick Drum Heart” and “Laundry Room,” as well as a moving “Amazing Grace.” There were also rowdy covers of Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and traditional mountain song “Old Joe Clark” – the last two with a little help from Sam Bush, on fiddle.

The old guard and the younger crowd, though, on stage and off, handily mixed and matched in nearly 70 performances spread across four stages, with some acts playing twice. The Punch Brothers, whose leader, singer and mandolin wizard Chris Thile, has played the fest with Nickel Creek, turned in another of the weekend’s most impressive performances. The quintet excelled with airtight multipart harmonies, imaginative arrangements and locked-in acoustic synchronicity on “This Girl,” “New York City,” Seldom Scene favorite “Through the Bottom of the Glass,” a Debussy piece and, on the encore, a stunning, extended a cappella version of Dominic Behan’s “The Auld Triangle.”

This year’s Springfest was rangier than in the past, with a program encompassing the top-shelf bluegrass of Steep Canyon Rangers; the stomping country rock of Willie Sugarcapps, featuring singers-songwriters-instrumentalists Will Kimbrough and Grayson Capps; the laidback grooves of fest favorites Donna the Buffalo; the jaw-dropping mandolin work of Sam Bush, and his covers of Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, and Little Feat; and the songwriting brilliance and rugged twang-edged roots rock of Jason Isbell. Isbell’s bracing set included “Decoration Day,” “Traveling Alone,” “Stockholm,” and “Cover Me Up,” and shut down with a slamming “Super 8.”

Also making strong impressions were Tallahassee family group The New ‘76ers, featuring the Southern-fried soulful singing of Kelly Goddard; Asheville, N.C. newfangled string band Town Mountain, which dipped into jamgrass; Greensboro, N.C.’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival, its brass-edged rock ‘n’ roll played by young musicians perpetually in motion; prolific singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale; and Beartoe, with the Central Florida group’s three female backup singers echoing and engaging in call-and-response with front man Beartoe Aguilar on swampy blues and gospel-tinted rave-ups.

Springfest, Straight Ahead — Americana, Folk, Bluegrass, Country, More

A quick reminder: Suwannee Springfest, the annual extravaganza of Americana, folk, bluegrass, country, altcountry, and other related genres, returns to the Spirit of the Suwannee Park in Live Oak (north Florida).

I’ll be there for the 18th edition of the acoustic-oriented fest, with my family in tow. We’re really looking forward to seeing the Avett Brothers, the Punch Brothers, Jason Isbell, the Del McCoury Band, Donna the Buffalo, Steep Canyon Rangers, Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush, and a multi-genre supergroup, the Southern Soul Assembly, with J.J. Grey (Mofro), Anders Osborne, Luther Dickinson, and Marc Broussard.

The fest officially starts today and continues until about 8 p..m. on Sunday, with the majority of the headliners slated late afternoon or evening on Friday and Saturday.

Complete details are HERE.

Tampa Bay Area Music Calendar (An Entirely Subjective and Selective Listing)

(Feel free to send concert info, including corrections/updates. This list is not intended to be comprehensive.)

  • Donna the Buffalo, Jan. 7-8, Skipper’s
  • Byron Stripling and the Florida Orchestra: Louis Armstrong tribute, Jan. 7-9 (Straz Center, Mahaffey Theater, Ruth Eckerd Hall, respectively)
  • Michael Ross Quartet, Jan. 9, Palladium Theater
  • Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Jan. 13, Crowbar
  • Marcia Ball, Jan. 14, Skipper’s
  • Mofro, Jan. 15 (w/Daryl Hance) and 16 (w/Damon Fowler), Skipper’s
  • Infinite Groove Orchestra (CD release show), Jan. 15, The Local 662,  St. Petersburg
  • Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Jan. 15, New World Brewery
  • Galactic, Jan. 20, Ritz
  • Drive-By Truckers, Jan. 21, Ritz
  • Terrance Simien with the Gumbo Boogie Band, Jan. 21, Skipper’s
  • SPC Jazz Festival: Helios Jazz Orchestra with Denise Moore, Jan. 27, SPC Music Center
  • SPC Jazz Fest: Alex Berti Trio, Jan. 28, SPC Music Center
  • McCormick Marimba Festival, Jan. 28-29, USF Music Recital Hall, Tampa
  • SPC Jazz Fest: Ronnie Burrage Trio, Jan. 29.  SPC Music Center
  • Robin Trower with Sean Chambers Band, Jan. 29, Jannus Live
  • Pinetop Perkins & Willie “Big Eyes” Smith with Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Feb. 4, Skipper’s
  • Diana Krall, Feb. 4, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Yonder Mountain String Band, Feb. 5, Jannus Live
  • Dark Star Orchestra, Feb. 12, Straz Center
  • Willie Nelson, Feb. 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Whitney James, Feb. 19, Palladium
  • Arturo Sandoval, Feb. 24, Ritz Ybor
  • Ira Sullivan, Feb. 27, HCC Performing Arts Building, Ybor
  • Old 97’s with Those Darlins, March 2, Skipper’s
  • G. Love and Special Sauce, March 12, Jannus Live
  • The Avett Brothers, March 25, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Acoustic Africa, April 10, Straz Center



Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association

Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater

Crowbar, 1812 17th St. N., Ybor City (Tampa); (813) 241-8600

Dali Museum, 1000 Third Street S., St. Petersburg; (727) 823-2767

EMIT series; (727) 341-3463

Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 893-7134

Hillsborough Community College Performing Arts Theater, Palm Avenue and 14th St., Ybor City

Jannus Live, 1st Avenue N. & 2nd Street N., St. Petersburg; (727) 565-0550

La Grande Hall @ Yamaha Piano, 6710 Ulmerton Road #101, Clearwater

Mahaffey Theater @ Progress Energy Center for the Arts, 400 First Street S., St. Petersburg; (727) 892-5798

Marriott Hotel, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd., St. Petersburg

Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg; (727) 896-2667

Musicology, 2576 Sunset Point Road, Clearwater; (727) 723-1000

New World Brewery, 1313 E. Eighth Avenue, Ybor City, Tampa; (727) 248-4969

The Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College, 253 Fifth Avenue. N., St. Petersburg; (727) 822-3590

The Ritz Theatre, 1503 E. Seventh Avenue, Ybor City (Tampa); (813) 247-2555

Royal Theater, 1011 22nd St. Petersburg; (727) 327-6556

Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 791-7400

Sacred Grounds Coffee House, 4819 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 983-0837

Skipper’s Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa; (813) 971-0666

The Studio @620, 620 First Ave. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 895-6620

Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa; (813) 229-7827

Tampa Bay Blues Festival, Vinoy Waterfront Park, downtown St. Petersburg; (727) 502-5000

Tampa Jazz Club

USF Monday Night Jazz Series



Vincent Sims and the Sidewinders: A Tribute to Blue Note – Aug. 13, Palladium, 8 p.m.

Sunday Jazz at the Royal Theater: Ron Gregg Trio featuring Billy Pillucere and Richard “Stretch” Bruyn with Jeremy Carter – Aug. 15, Royal Theater, 4 to 8 p.m. (open mic for musicians and vocalists)

Natalie Merchant – August 24, Ruth Eckerd Hall

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers + Joe Cocker – Sept. 16, St. Pete Times Forum

Hammond B3 Summer Spectacular: Joe Crown Trio with Walter Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste + John Gros + Dave McCracken: – Aug. 21, Palladium, 8 p.m.

Kings of Leon + The Black Keys + The Whigs – Sept. 18, USF Sun Dome

Rush – Oct. 1, Ford Amphitheatre

Clearwater Jazz Holiday (lineup TBA) – October 14-17, Coachman Park

Ybor Jazz Fest – Nov. 3-7, HCC, Ybor City

Roger Waters: The Wall – Nov. 16, St. Pete Times Forum


Bonnaroo’s Killer Lineup: Phish, Wilco, David Byrne, King Sunny Ade, Bruce Springsteen, Al Green, Gov’t Mule

Some of the country’s big ‘n’ eclectic rock/jam festivals, like Langerado in South Florida, are calling it quits this year. Or, at least, taking a break until 2010.

Bonnaroo, though, is standing strong, with a recently announced lineup that includes a huge gift to fans of a certain highly revered jamband.

Yep, Phish, reuniting in March to play three dates in Virginia, is headed to Bonnaroo, June 11-14 in Manchester, Tennessee.

Trey and Co., slated to play two shows – count ’em – at the music-and-camping fest, are at the top of the bill, along with a long list of acts boasting serious music muscle.

The lineup includes Wilco, David Byrne, Wilco, the Rev. Al Green, Elvis Costello (solo), and the seriously over-exposed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. More: Gov’t Mule, Erykah Badu, TV on the Radio, Band of Horses, Ben Harper, Merle Haggard, moe, Bela Fleck & Toumani Diabate, Galactic, Booker T & the Drive-by Truckers, David Grisman, Lucinda Williams, Gomez, Femi Kuti, Alejandro Escovedo, Cherryholmes, the Steeldrivers, and – yes – Nigerian juju star King Sunny Ade. More TBA.

By any measure, it’s a killer bill.

Fakin’ It at the Super Bowl: Jennifer Hudson, Faith Hill

As it turns out, Jennifer Hudson didn’t sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. And Faith Hill didn’t sing “America the Beautiful” at that  overrated, overlong festival of media hype, Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.84271141MH012_Super_Bowl_XL

Hudson and Hill faked it – moved their mouths to pre-recorded vocals and instrumentals. Or, if they did sing, their mics were turned off.

The R&B and country divas, rather than offering genuine performances for a television audience of 90 million or so, instead pre-recorded their vocals at Morrisound Studios, near USF in Tampa (hey, something I have in common with pop stars).

For all the details, check out today’s 1A story in the St. Petersburg Times.

Rickey Minor, of bogus music-competition show “American Idol,” arranged the recordings – let’s not call them performances. He told ABC, “There’s too many variables to go live.”

The singers have an excuse, of sorts: The NFL reportedly has required pregame “performers” to pre-record their “performances,” going back to 1993.

Still, with all the hype and glitz and the millions spent to pay the pre-game talent, and the cost per ticket to get into the thing … these performers feel okay “faking it”? Show some respect, people.

If they wanted total control over their performance, with no chance of even the tiniest risk – that’s artistic bravery, folks! – why not just sing at a studio in L.A. or Nashville, and beam it “live” to the Super Bowl?

At least that type of performance would be live and in the moment, if not necessarily on site.

Okay, I’m officially putting on my “I’m so shocked” face and moving on. When pop music meets television, this sort of thing seems to happen more often than not. And most viewers/listeners, apparently, couldn’t care less.

But next year at this time, if I hear one of the network TV morning-show goons have a heart-to-heart with one of the pre-game “performers” regarding whether he or she is feeling nervous about singing in front of millions and blah blah blah, then please permit me to puke.

Suwannee Springfest: Lineup Announced

Suwannee Springfest regulars Donna the Buffalo, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, Guy Clark, and the Duhks are headed back to Live Oak next year to play the 13th annual edition of the festival.

Also on the bill for the Americana-oriented festival, which always presents a high-caliber mix of country, altcountry, bluegrass, folk, roots rock  and related rootsy styles: the Emmitt/Nershi Band, Darol Anger & Mike Marshall, Darrell Scott, The Gourds, The Travelin’ McCourys, The Lee Boys, Josh Pinkham, Amy LaVere, Amanda Shaw, Roy Book Binder, Shannon Whitworth, and the Dedringers.

The 09 fest, March 26-29 at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, will include performances by more than 40 artists on four stages, said fest head honcho Randy Judy.

Discounted tickets are on sale now. For all the details, go to the fest site.

Bootsy Collins — Making Music to Support the Soldiers

Funk/R&B bass monster Bootsy Collins (Parliament/Funkadelic, James Brown, etc.) recently volunteered his time and talent to put together a recording, the Fallen Soldiers Memorial CD, designed to fund the Fallen Soldiers Memorial Museum.

Collins, as he recounts in the January issue of Bass Player magazine, grew excited about contributing to the cause after befriending a man, Keith Maupin, whose son, Matt, was killed while serving in Iraq. The bassist decided to help raise funds for Cincinnati’s Yellow Ribbon Support Center.

And then he opted to to make an even bigger effort.

“That’s when my eyes and heart were opened to what is really going on,” the Cincinatti native told Bass Player. “I had been hung up on the War issue like most creative people. Then, when I separated the War from the Soldier and from the Families, I began to see the people who are being killed and hurt. These are people just like you and me.”

The museum’s purpose, as was explained to Collins: “This would be a place where soldiers’  families could go to talk and help heal, relate to people who have the same experiences, and reflect over the material things that tte Museum has collected on behalf of the family. This special place would honor all the fallen soldiers and bring together those who have let go of their sons and duaghters to face that ultimate sacrifice.”

The upshot: Collins, through his Bootzilla Productions, Fallen Soldiers Memorial CDtapped Charlie Daniels, George Duke, Blair Carmen and other artists for the project.

The album was officially released on Thanksgiving Day, and reportedly is available online through Bootsy Collins, the Yellow Ribbon Support Center (see links above), iTunes and several retail outlets. There’s talk of a related DVD to come in February.