New Moves and Grooves in Florida: Langerado and Beyond
The aroma of patchouli and dirt rises up from the ground as thousands of Birkenstocks and bare feet tread down the smoldering gravel path. Like kids on the way to the fair, young and old alike, perspire in the Florida heat, each waiting eagerly with ticket in hand. The rhythm of a chanting drum beckons from a grove of oak trees.. The mesmerizing hum of palm on hide calls all limbs to attention. Hands start clapping. Feet start stomping. The party has begun.
Scenes like this are typical at Florida jamband festivals, the up and coming venue of choice for many music lovers down South. In the past, Florida has been left out of the loop. Jambands rarely, if ever, made the trek down to the Sunshine State. Jam enthusiasts often found themselves driving for hours or even flying across country just to see their favorite bands in action. But, this has all changed. Thanks to a few devoted fans turned concert promoters, music festivals are sprouting up all over Florida – a phenomena allowing many Tampa-Bay jam fans to get their music fix closer to home.
South Florida’s Langerado is a great example of a festival experiencing rapid growth. Brown Coffee Productions and South Florida Jams, Langerado’s promoters, have played a crucial role in drawing jam-bands to the area.
Over the past five years, South Florida Jams has either produced or promoted approximately 250 shows featuring dozens of musical acts that fall under the jam-band umbrella. In 2003, they teamed up with Mark Brown’s Brown Coffee Productions to begin putting on the Langerado Music Festival.
South Florida Jams President, Ethan Schwartz explains, "Mark has ten years prior history producing events like this and thought it would be a successful event, given the time frame and the burgeoning jam-band music scene in the United States," Schwartz said. "In March we will be presenting the third installment of Langerado, featuring over 25 national touring acts spread out over two days."
Postcard-like flyers and word-of-mouth have largely contributed to Langerado’s success.
"The first year we had over 3,500 people out in Fort Lauderdale," Schwartz said. "The second year over 4,500 in Hollywood. And this year we are hoping to attract upwards of 10,000 people per day."
The third annual Langerado Music Festival will be held at Markham Park in Sunrise, Florida on March 12 and 13. The first two Langerado festivals were only one day. This will be the first time that the festival is expanding to two. And the timing couldn’t be better for many college students, whose Spring Break coincides with that weekend.
Schwartz thinks that South Florida Jams has been instrumental in bringing the jam scene back to Florida.
"In the early ’90s there was a lot of this music coming down here, but then it started to fizzle out. We have worked closely with many clubs and promoters in the state to convince bands, agents and managers, that South Florida, and Florida in general is a viable market," Schwartz said. "Whereas it used to be seen as a dead end, now bands realize they can come and do a week of shows throughout Florida in several markets. Considering the weather in the rest of the country, most bands love to be in Florida during the winter months."
Melissa Clark, a 34-year-old fan out of Saint Petersburg, has watched Tampa Bay’s jamband niche grow tremendously since she moved to this area in 1991.
"I think it’s growing because people were tired of what Florida had to offer. I mean there’s the beach and there’s the singles scene," Clark said. "And if you don’t look good in a bikini what the hell else are you going to do?"
"When I moved here, I was at the height of my Grateful Deadness. I’d probably already had like 70 shows under my belt -Northeast," Clark said. "I figured that Florida would be a pretty cool scene because it never snowed, so there would be music year-round, not so. It was very hard to find a scene."
Clark says that when Magnolia-Fest came about in the late ’90s, Florida’s festival scene started to grow.
"When Jerry Garcia died, to me that is when the jamband scene took off running," Clark said. "And then Phish exploded and that brought all the young’ins out. Bands started playing venues two, three nights in a row. When you start doing a show two nights in a row, you form a scene because people gotta stay and come back the next day."
Clark says that people are attracted to the scene not only for the music, but because it is a great place to make new friends.
"You immediately all have one thing in common; You all know you love the music, so it’s easy to start a conversation with anybody," Clark said. "I think it’s such a great way for young people to find an identity. People find themselves. It’s okay to let your freak fly. It’s okay to be gay. It’s okay to not be gay. It’s okay to be 15. It’s okay to be an old Deadhead who has a lot of experience. Nobody really pre-judges you. And if you have a confidence issue, you leave it at the door. It’s a natural high, and that’s why I love it."
This music appeals to a diverse group of people because it encompasses so many distinct styles. One of the more well known musicians playing at Langerado is Keller Williams, a literal one-man band, who describes his music as "solo-acoustic-jazz-funk-reggae-techno-grass."
"I think the jam scene is created by its fans and the people who attend the shows," Williams said. "The music of the jam scene is not one particular style of music. I mean in the jam scene, you have bluegrass, funk, jazz, rock, techno, you know all wrapped into one genre."
Williams compares jumping from one brand of music to the next as a kind of disease.
"I think all the bands have Attention Deficit Disorder, in the sense that they’re going from genre to genre and trying to entertain themselves while they’re on stage," Williams said. "The audience is absorbing that and has come to expect those different styles of music in the course of a show."
Cindy Lou, a 37-year-old Gulfport resident, agrees.
"It’s real eclectic. There is a fusion of style and I love to dance to it," Lou said. "The energy bounces back and forth between the dancers and fans and the musicians. You’ve got fire-spinners, vendors, activists, – people from all walks of life just coming together with the love of the music. It’s almost like a form of meditation, like you’re closer to God, a spiritual experience. It’s a very peaceful scene."
As a musician, Williams is also aware of the special bond that exists between him and his fans while performing.
"I do feel something, that is impossible to explain, on stage," Williams said. "There is a certain feeling when I’m connecting with an audience."
Like Clark, Williams also got turned on to jam music while touring as a fan with the Grateful Dead.
"There was this amazing comradery. People took care of each other. And there was a huge party of course," Williams said. "It was kind of like this traveling circus. ’87, ’88 and ’89 were the last years of the parking lot family."
Williams believes that while following the Dead, he gained valuable survival experience that is still with him today.
"All of a sudden, the tides turned," Williams said. "Instead of traveling to go see a show, I was traveling to go play a show. And I had already been seasoned in the way of the road as far as finding cheap showers and safe places to sleep. That was all easy to me, when it came time to actually do it for my own livelihood."
Williams emphasizes that the Dead’s tunes were the most significant aspect of the old scene.
"Most importantly, 100 percent more important than the traveling was the music," Williams said. "That was why I was traveling in the first place. It wasn’t for the party. It wasn’t for the family. It was for the music, because I truly loved the songs and at that time it was the soundtrack to my life."
Being all about the music seems to be a requirement in the jamband scene. While many mainstream artists seek fame, fortune and platinum singles, jam artists often see the improvement of their craft as their No.1 priority. Without the strings of a big music label, jambands are able to tap into a pool of creativity that is rarely seen in the mainstream arena.
Robert Walter, of Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, values permanence over temporary popularity.
"The kind of music that we’re playing isn’t gonna be on the radio most likely, and you’re not gonna have a hit song, and you’re not gonna become a rock star. It’s more about being able to continue getting better at what you do, to create something that lasts for years, rather than to have one hit record," Walter said. "Overall, my main goal is to have some longevity in my career.
Walter, who describes his music as "soul-jazz," is looking forward to playing at Langerado for the first time.
"A lot of my friends played Langerado," Walter said. "Everybody said it was like one of the best festivals last year.
Although Walter says he really enjoys festivals for their collaboration opportunities, he is most at home in the club.
"The music, at least that I play, which is based on jazz, was sort of born in nightclubs. It’s made for that. It makes a lot of sense to be seen in a small room where you are real close to the band, where you can see the interaction between players," Walter said. "The great thing about festivals for me is that all the musicians can kind of come together. You learn things from your friends."
Another band who will playing not only at Langerado for the first time, but in Florida for the first time is the DJ Williams Projekt, a group of five that describe their music as "a soulful ensemble of jazz on a melodic R&B vibe, laced with a groove down hip hop back beat." Williams’ influences range from Herbie Hancock to Digable Planets. Williams was born in New Jersey and raised in Virginia, but he also has lived in Europe and West Africa, where his parents are from.
I feel very privileged to have traveled when I was younger," Williams said. "It not only made me who I am today, but also opened me up to different kinds of music as a child, which contributes a lot to how I play today. I always preach the rhythm."
Williams says that when the band was asked to play at Langerado they were thrilled.
"Honestly, it wasn’t really even about making a decision. The opportunity arose and we jumped right on the bandwagon. I think we are the least known act on the bill and to me this is just the beginning of a very beautiful year," Williams said. The most important thing to me though is to just get down there and have a good time."
New Monsoon and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra are two more bands scheduled to reveal their magic at Langerado. Like the DJ Williams Projekt, these bands also have an ethnic, worldly element to their music.
Rajiv Parikh plays the tabla, a classical northern Indian drum, for New Monsoon. Parikh grew up on the West Coast grooving to bands that his father listened to, like Santana and the Rolling Stones.
"I grew up in California, in the Bay Area. My father moved to the U.S. in the late-sixties, and so to kind of integrate himself in this culture, he started listening to rock music," Parikh said. "As my parents got more and more settled, they got back into Indian music. So, one day my Mom brought home a CD, a classical Indian CD, with a tabla player."
Parikh says the rest is history.
Last year, New Monsoon came through the Sunshine State twice. Parikh says that the success of past Florida tours led the band to sign onto the Langerado bill.
"Both times that we hit the state, we had a really incredible turnout at all of our shows, from Miami, to Fort Lauderdale, to Tampa, to Orlando. We even played Ybor City once," Parikh said. "We were really amazed at how enthusiastic the fans were. The type of response that we got was just really great."
Martin Perna, the baritone sax player for the 13 member Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, says the band signed on to play at Langerado because of the sweet lineup. Perna hopes to bring music with a message to the thousands expected at the festival. The band’s music has roots in Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti created the music and described it as a fusion between jazz and Yoruba/West African traditional music.
"Many of us have grown up on jazz, funk, soul, and other music so you hear those accents, but we can be very orthodox when it comes to afrobeat," Perna said.
Pena says that the band has many goals for the future.
"We would like to keep making records, see more countries, share the
music and educate more people about afrobeat music," Perna said. "The music is a political music, and we would like to see people who are privileged enough to attend these festivals take the same energy and resources to work for more justice in the U.S."
With more and more people forking out money to see a show, Clark says that there is a negative side to the increasing popularity of the jam scene.
"My concern, always as it was with the Dead and the jamband scene, is does it become too popular. My worst fear is to turn on the radio and hear it. As much as I would love it, I don’t want to start hearing it on every station," Clark said. "And as much as I love everybody, if I don’t adore you, I’m not going to turn you on to my music because I don’t want a ticket to go to somebody else, so that the people I love are sold out."
Clark remembers the early days, when she had no trouble getting in to see shows at Jannus Landing, in her home of Saint Petersburg
"Jannus Landing used to just get crap. Now Jannus Landing is the best venue in my opinion. I remember seeing Ratdog and it was half-full. Fifty, 60 people got turned away last time that Ratdog was here," Clark said. "We went to go see P-Funk, two people in front of me and I was denied a ticket. I couldn’t believe it, never was it sold out at a Jannus show. I mean that’s great – good for them, not so good for me. So, as the bands get bigger a lot more planning has to be involved."
Ted Freed is one of the people in charge of planning shows in the Tampa Bay area. Freed is the owner of Rising Jupiter, a Clearwater-based company that promotes live music by providing band management, financial management, booking services, CD duplication and live recording for artists.
Freed believes that the local jam scene is expanding because of the fans and the work of local promoters like himself.
"Part of the reason is exposure of talented bands to discerning listeners," Freedman said.
Freed possesses a degree in accounting and has played music for over 40 years.
"The combination of my passion for music and desire to help talented, humble musicians achieve their goals, accompanied by my business background, enables me to relate with musicians while offering expertise in areas typically not pursued by musicians," Freedman said.
In mid-May, Freed will host Uphonia, a music festival at Spanish Moss Farm in Quincy. He is expecting upwards of 3,000 people.
Cindy Lou has already bought her ticket to Uphonia and is really considering purchasing a ticket for Langerado. Lou is hopeful for the future of the Florida’s jam scene.
"The concert promoters are bringing local bands and national touring bands together allowing the local bands to get more exposure. It’s awesome," Lou said. "It’s all about the family and unity. It’s so good to be us in the here and now. Music brings people together. I think the sky is the limit."