Orange Blossom Jamboree - A Musical Family Reunion

May 16-19 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville, FL

By John Phillips.  Photos by John Phillips/Festy Shots Photography

The family got together for the 4th annual Orange Blossom Jamboree May 16-19 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville, FL.  This festival is a family affair in so many ways.  It’s a showcase for the broad and diverse talent from across the state of Florida and a chance for them to jam with each other that rarely occurs.  It’s a small, intimate festival that is very family friendly.  And hardly anyone comes there as a stranger, and they certainly don’t leave as one.  The family welcomes all to party, jam and share the love that abounds throughout the campground.

Organized by Russ and Toby Bowers, OBJ provided them an opportunity to promote their home state and for Russ to reconnect with his passion for music.  Russ said “It started when I began to get an itch to be involved in music again.  I used to be a full time musician in a band, but had to give it up to spend more time with my family instead of being on the road all the time.  I’d done something similar with my former band, so I approached my wife Toby with the idea and she thought it would be great.  Plus we’ve always had a real passion for the State of Florida.  We’d been talking about different projects to support the State of Florida, like tourist guides and even a promotional video.”  And so OBJ was born, and it’s been a huge success, becoming more popular each year.  “The bands love coming here; they’re usually on the road and don’t sync up often so they take the opportunity to sit in with each other.  And it’s tough when you have to tell a band “Hey, we just don’t have space for you this year.”, but it’s a fairly small venue and we try and get a good mixture of acts through each year.”

Brass Legacy kicked off the festival on the Sunshine Stage.  This duo of Adam Brass on vocals and Sean Maloney on guitar and vocals delivered a mixture of reggae and ska-tinged sounds that got the crowd moving, even out in the hot Florida sun.  Laura Shepherd from St. Petersburg followed on the Citrus Stage.  This well-traveled, beautiful soul with an angelic voice delighted the crowd with her mandolin and heartfelt renditions of traditional Americana and original tunes.  The band Currentz out of Palm Harbor ignited the crowd with their energetic dub/reggae and funk infused grooves.  The band features Brandan Lewis on guitar and lead vocals, Eric Layana on drums, and Justin Pearl Morakis on bass, supported by Ben Plott on guitar and Dave Gerulat (formerly of Cope) on percussion.  The interplay between Morakis and Plott was spectacular as the band wound through an hour of mostly original tunes.  Bath Salt Zombies from Flagler Beach brought some voodoo creole sounds that had everybody moving, jumping and shaking.  The current lineup (together since October 2012) includes  Graham Woodard on guitar, Zane Bowman on banjo, theremin and cigar box guitar, Tucker Cobb on acoustic bass guitar and Bill Zachary on drums.  Their cover of Doctor John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” was outstanding.

The group Tangled Mangos describe themselves as a “funky reggae island life band.”  Hailing from Bradenton Beach, the core members of Kyle Shell on guitar and vocals, Dan Ryan on keyboards and Mike Cunningham on percussion definitely left everyone feeling happy.  They were joined by Bless Ed on djiembe and trumpet and Dave Gerulat on percussion.  After a short breather, The Cornerstoners from Miami stormed the Citrus Stage with their unique brand of rock/funk/hip-hop fusion.  With MC Michelangelo speaking truth, Alana Dym on drums, Chris Valente on guitar and Shawn Saul on bass, they laid down some cosmic grooves and trippy riffs.  Fort Lauderdale’s Michael Maytin delivered a great acoustic set with a message of positivity and love.  Next up was Dunedin’s Shoeless Soul, who describe their music as feel good “Prozac Pop”.  There’s definitely a reggae and jazz swing feel to the tunes laid down by Rene Schlegel on guitar and vocals, Sladjan Vidic on drums and Justin Pearl Morakis on bass, and they were a definite crowd favorite.  Then talk about a transition: Tallahassee’s Greenhouse Lounge rolled in with their dub bass, electronica beats and breakbeat dynamics to shake things loose.  A fixture on the festival scene, this trio of Dave McSweeney on bass, Zach Weinert on guitar and programming and Scotty Zwang on percussion got the crowd jumpin and groovin.

Now in darkness, the Sunshine Stage took on a whole new persona as the Juanjamon Band brought in some funky ass grooves.  Fronted by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Juan Montero of Cope, the band also includes some meteoric guitar riffs provided by Andre Mack.  To make things even crazier, Dennis Stadelman of Cope added an additional layer of sonic pleasure with his axe.  The crowd boogied hard into the darkness.  As Juanjamon wrapped up their set, everyone headed back for the hyper metamorphosis that was soon to occur.  

The headlining act began the set as Charlie Dandelion, the nomadic, mysterious and eclectic St. Pete supergroup that derive their special powers from a secret dandelion tea recipe.  Front man De Quesenberry (aka Animal) led his band of merry leprechauns (Sean Hartley on guitar, Chris Sgammatto on sax, Theodore Jenkins on bass, Adam Mann on drums, and Reina Collins and Robyn Alleman on vocals) through nearly an hour of Dandelion Funk and Leprechaun Rock, including a cover of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.  Suddenly, a mysterious lady in green jumped on the stage, cavorting madly behind Animal.  The next thing you know, a whole line of partiers in various types of monkey garb filed in to the sounds of “Monkeys” (aka Dance, You Monkeys, Dance).  They danced wildly, stirring up some sort of cosmic dust that enveloped the stage, obscuring everyone’s view.  When the dust settled, there sat Animal in front of his keyboards surrounded by The Funky Seeds!  Joining Quesenberry, Hartley, Sgammato and Alleman were Steve Scarcliff on acoustic guitar, J Sideway on bass, Patty Schwing on drums, Sara Phillips on trombone, and Bob Feckner on trumpet (along with Jenkins who dropped the bass and picked up a horn).  It’s debatable whether the seed or the flower came first, but there was no debating that the second hour was just as good as the first.  Their “plant driven funk” sprouted and quickly surrounded the festival crowd, inducing a full on boogiefest.  As I headed back to camp I drifted off to the sounds of Ramblegrass strumming me to sleep.

Day two began (at least for me) with the Infinite Groove Orchestra, a grooving jazz ensemble featuring Jeremy Powell on sax and melodica, Joshua Formanek on guitar, Jon Shea on bass and Adam Volpe on drums.  They were followed by Between Bluffs, a four-piece Americana/Roots band that includes Jerrod Simpson on guitar, Brad Myers on guitar & mandolin, Justin Davis on upright bass, and Joseph Russik on drums.  At first glance you think bluegrass, but their style is much broader and more diverse, and their lyrics are powerful and thought provoking.  Next up was The Funky Nuggets, one of the most fun bands I’ve heard in quite some time.  This Palm Beach group served up funky, jazzy fusion that had everyone on their feet.  Fronted by Frankie Sensimilla on guitar, the band also includes Nico Swarley on bass, Ryan Kearns on sax, Nikolas Dee on keyboards and Chris Lopez on drums.  Rick Krasowski of Ancient Sun also made a guest appearance.  Besides this live set, they also played a live silent disco that evening.

The Orlando-based band funkUs was scheduled to perform next, but had to cancel due to a family emergency.  While I was disappointed (I’d been looking forward to hearing them for the first time), the replacement couldn’t have been any better.  Come Back Alice, a funky, soulful rock ensemble from Sarasota, rocked everybody from the tops of their heads to the soles of their feet.  Tony Tyler handles the lead vocals, along with guitar, piano and harmonica.  Dani Jaye is phenomenal on vocals and fiddle, and the rhythm section of John Werner on bass and Dan Rubin on drums provides a solid foundation for the group’s melodic stylings.  With the crowd worked into a frenzy, we all migrated to the Citrus Stage for the Savi Fernandez Band.  Based out of Orlando, this group, featuring Savi Fernandez on guitar and vocals, Nasrulah Rahbari on bass, and Joey Lanna on drums was joined by sax man extraordinaire Christian Ryan.  They moved the fans through an hour of funk/blues-infused reggae that left everyone wanting more.  But, it was a full day of music and it was time for some serious ukulele!  When my daughter first described The Applebutter Express to me, I was skeptical.  But when she popped their CD into the player, I was immediately hooked.  A Tampa-bay favorite featuring Kyle Biss on ukulele and vocals, his wife Shannon Biss on vocals, Joe Trivette on fiddle and Matt DeSear on upright bass draws a huge following of locals fans who get off on their rootsy instrumentation and lively, unique lyrics.  Besides their popular originals (that virtually everyone was singing along to), their cover of “Whipping Post” is one of the most interesting takes on that song I’ve ever heard.  Dennis Stadelman of Cope joined them on banjo for a rousing cover of “Orange Blossom Special” that prominently featured Trivette’s fiddle mastery.

The Tampa-based Uncle John’s Band was next on the schedule.  This Grateful Dead cover band includes Rich Whiteley and Alan Gilman on guitar, Mike Edwards on bass, Art Nelson on keyboards, and Dan DeGregory and Mike Bortz on drums.  They’re in the top tier of Dead cover bands (by my humble estimation) and provided the OBJ crowd with tons of feel-good vibes.  To shift gears in a completely different direction, Orlando’s Beebs and Her Money Makers stormed the Mojo Stage.  Fronted by Michelle Beebs, the band worked the crowd into a lather with their high-energy blend of psychedelic rock, funk, blues and hip-hop.  Wester Joseph’s Stereo Vudu was next up on the Citrus Stage.  Playing his self-styled “vudu rawk”, the music is infused with blues, rock, Afro-Cuban, and world beats that creates a complex and compelling sonic treat for your body and mind.  Based out of Gainesville with Wester Joseph on guitar and vocals, the band also includes Lacy Lou on vocals, Eduardo Arenas Reyes on guitar, Corwin Klein on bass, Lisette Rochelle on keyboards, Ekendra Das on drums, and Robert Glaser on percussion.

It was time for the night’s headliner, and crowd swelled and spilled outside the edges of the pavilion covering the Mojo Stage.  The Tampa-bay band Cope was ready to take the stage, and the crowd was more than ready.  Wildly popular in Central Florida and throughout the state, this band produces a unique blend of styles and influences that makes them hard to categorize.  They’ve been touring heavily throughout the East and Midwest, building an ever-expanding fan base.  With brothers Dennis Stadelman on guitar and banjo and Kenny Stadelman on bass, the group also includes multi-instrumentalist Juan Montero on keyboards and sax, and new acquired drummer Brad Elliot.  Elliot replaced longtime drummer Dave Gerulat in March.  Gerulat sat in with the band on percussion.  They spent two hours taking the crowd on a sonic roller coaster ride, showcasing extended jams on many of their favorites.  You can read more about Cope in my Featured Band interview on Homegrown Music Network at http://www.homegrownmusic.net/news-and-views/featured-artist-cope.  

The Tampa area bluegrass band Free Range Roosters closed out the night with some wonderfully crafted, neo-traditional pickin’, fiddlin’ and singin’.  Featuring Bud Greene on fiddle, his wife Ashlyn Greene on vocals, Paulie Guzzetti on guitar, Jack Collins on guitar, mandolin and harmonica, and Don Cox on upright bass, they had me jumpin’ and shufflin’ in front of the stage.  I danced all the way back to my campsite with their sweet music on my mind.

Determined not to miss any of the early acts, I was up early Saturday morning to get the day started right with Holey Miss Moley.  This new band out of Clermont lays down some of the tightest funk/rock grooves I’ve heard in a while.  The group features Jacob Cox on guitar, keys and vocals, Jason Cole on guitar, Chuck McIntire, Jr. on organ and synth, Kenneth Harvey on bass, and Antonio Morales on drums.  They were joined by Christian Ryan on Sax.  I was really glad I got up early.  The aptly named Dub Dynasty was up next.  This brand new project, fronted by BTrue Ya Heard (formerly of Beebs and Her Money Makers), also includes Zechariah Wolfgramm on guitar, Jake Best on bass, and Jeff Carruth on drums.  They brought some hard-driven, dub/reggae/funk tunes that ensured the party would keep on going.  Serotonic hit the stage next, with their funky, upbeat jazz grooves.  With the energetic and irrepressible Jon Tucker on sax jumping around the stage, it was impossible for anyone in the crowd to stand still.  The band also includes Jordan Garno on guitar, Bryan Lewis on keyboards, Robert Sanger on bass, and Andrew Kilmartin on drums.  

It was time for another radical shift in direction, indicative of the diversity of the Florida music scene.  The band 3 Bucksworth describes themselves as “the bastard child of The Eagles and Aerosmith” and their music as “soul-driven roots rock”.  I heard more Eagles than Aerosmith, and more than a dab of country shadings, but the result was some serious, foot-stompin’ boogie.  Based out of Longwood, the band at OBJ consisted of Chris Hendren on rhythm guitar and vocals, Jose Garcia on lead guitar and vocals, Mark Nielsen on bass and vocals and drummer Rod Woodyard.  OBJ was Woodyard’s last performance with the band as he went on hiatus for awhile.  Up next was the Miami-based rock/funk band Honey Henny Lime.  The former band of festival organizer Russ Bowers, the lineup consists of Soety Lucas on guitar and vocals, her husband Adam Lucas on bass, David Jacobson on guitar and Fred Honey Henny Lime on drums.  Bowers rejoined the band on guitar for nearly half the set, and he picked up right where left off.  The band turned out a rousing set that set the crowd on fire.  Tampa’s Skull and Bone Band took the stage next.  Another fan favorite, their rootsy, Americana and nautical-themed tunes found wide acceptance among the OBJ patrons.  The band is fronted by Troy Youngblood on guitar and vocals, along with Jeramy Martin on guitar, Chris Brown on bass, and the exciting and demonstrative drummer “Mountain” Mike Schuman.

I missed Fusik’s set while conducting an interview with Skull and Bone Band.  When I got back to the Mojo Stage, there was a full-on soul, R&B review just beginning to erupt.  The Legendary JC’s had taken the stage, along with a few friends.  Like around nineteen or twenty!  The band’s frontman, Eugene Snowden, is a living legend and at fifty years of age he jumps around the stage and works the crowd like a man half his age.  And he took advantage of the opportunity to have as many friends join him on stage.  In addition to band regulars Michael Lashinsky on guitar, Craig Cobb on bass, Roland Simmons on guitar, Clay Watson on trombone, and Katie Burkess on vocals, at various times they were joined by Juan Montero and MacKenzie Ann Buzzelli on sax, Matt Lapham and Craig Cobb on bass, Dani Jaye on fiddle, Savi Fernandez and Tony Tyler on guitar, Chuck McIntire Jr. on keyboards, along with others I couldn’t identify by name.  It was the most amazing show I’ve ever seen.

Speaking of legends, Bobby Lee Rodgers is a guitar legend.  A founding member of The Codetalkers, he’s proved his rock and jazz chops over several decades.  When his trio stepped onto the stage at OBJ, the buzz was electric and palpable.  Backed by Matt Lapham on bass and Thomas Damon on drums, Rodgers broke out some stratospheric guitar riffs and showed his jazz virtuosity to the delight of the crowd.  He doesn’t make that many appearances these days, so it’s always a special treat to see him perform.  Shifting back to the Citrus Stage, the Tampa Bay area funk/hip-hop ensemble Green Sunshine announced their arrival on the scene, both literally and metaphorically.  Although they’ve been in existence for some time, they’ve come out of relative obscurity over the last year or two.  This eight-piece band is comprised of Tanisha Wade (Motown Tea), Chad Wade (MC Reason), and Rhyan Reinertsen (MC Optimus Rhyme) on vocals, Sara Phillips (Mama Bone) on trombone, Johnny Nichol (Sunshine Slim) on trumpet and blues harp, Mojoe Wheeler on bass, Justin Boza on guitar and Tom Fels on drums.  They were moved into the prime slot before the Saturday night headliner not too long before the festival, and they worked hard to produce a set that was nearly 60% new material.  Their loyal fans were blown away, especially by their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and songs from their upcoming CD “Interstellar Funk Patrol”.

Saturday night’s headliners, The Heavy Pets, are well known on the festival circuit and tour extensively across the country.  This solid lineup of Jeff Lloyd and Mike Garulli on guitar, Jim Wuest on keyboards, Tony D’Amato on bass and Jaime Newitt on drums were a crowd favorite as they worked through their extensive catalog of jazz/funk and reggae-infused jams.  This Fort Lauderdale-based band gave the crowd two hours of sheer joy, leaving them jazzed for the campsite after-jams and other late night festivities.

The last day of a festival is always a little bittersweet.  The crowd thins as the campground begins to empty out, and the hearty souls remaining don’t have quite as much pep in their step once they roll out of their tents.  No worries; OBJ had just what the doctor ordered.  The Commoners, another Tampa band, jolted everyone out of their hazy stupor with some high energy funk and reggae to get everyone moving.  The band consists of John Demeter on bass, Scott Lyon on guitar, Noel Balint on keyboards and Chris Johnson on drums.  Josh We Know is a part-time ensemble that, at OBJ included Joshua Childers on acoustic guitar, Keali’i Haili on djembe and Georgia Gottschalk on cello.  They played a very rootsy acoustic set that was just right for an early Sunday afternoon breather.  A little later, The Wrenchers provided their interpretations on classic surf music.  This group consists of Greg Morrison on guitar, Stephen Palmer on bass and Sean Hartley (guitarist for Funky Seeds and Charlie Dandelion) taking a turn on the drum kit.  The music had to end eventually, but not before the dynamic reggae/ska/world group Paddington Ambush gave the remaining fans a little jolt of energy.  This Orlando band is fronted by Jason Powell on bass, with Todd Wandel and Roland Simmons on guitar, Clay Watson on keyboards, Will Nestler on sousaphone,  and Robby Copeland on drums.  By the end of their set, we was all irie!

As the family began to melt into the campground, I had a chance to sit down with Russ Bowers.  Throughout the week, I’d seen him all over the place, doing a little of everything from setting up a bubble making machine at the Sunshine Stage to delivering ice to moving amps to helping dig out a busted drain pipe.  He and Toby put their whole beings into the festival each year. “I’m exhausted,” Russ said, “but I’m running on 100% positive energy right now.  It’s a good exhaustion.”  It’s a small, intimate festival, and he “doesn’t expect it to get much bigger than this.  Not because it couldn’t, but this is about as big a crowd as we can handle here.  We like this venue, and the size dictates what we can do, but that fits with our approach.  We don’t have a lot of organization here, we have a lot of cooperation because that’s what it really is with the people here, and we don’t want to lose that.”  And I hope they never do.

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