Major garage-rock festival Field Trip South debuts and revives a subculture; Devendra Banhart arrives to fanfare and flowers 

click to enlarge The Little Richards

Photo by Jen Cray

The Little Richards

Once again, an Orlando connection brings a major-league windfall to town. This time, it was Field Trip South (Feb. 24-25), the two-day mini-festival celebrating all things garage.

THE BEAT

Field Trip South was conceived and organized with flair and authenticity by Hidden Volume Records, the Baltimore label run by Orlando expat and Hate Bombs bassist Scott Sugiuchi. It was full cultural immersion (pop-up shops, DJs, MC) with a musical lineup that was a smart mix of national stars (the Woggles, Subsonics, Southern Culture on the Skids, the Little Richards, et al.) and top indigenous talent (the Hate Bombs, the Woolly Bushmen, the WildTones, Little Sheba and the Shamans, the BellTowers).

San Diego's Little Richards don't have the name recognition of some of the other headliners, but they were probably my biggest draw of the festival because they feature El Vez, a supernova of charisma and electricity who hasn't been back here in perhaps a dozen years (2004, last I saw). Turns out, he's not the only piston in this stacked Little Richard cover band of three guitars, a bunch of singers and absolute commitment. Added up, it was total animal insanity.

With one of the most punk takes on the genre of the entire roster, Atlanta icons Subsonics pounded it out with slop, snot and style. Like the tough, standing drum attack of Buffi Aguero, it's raw, no-fucks-given ferocity that's more concerned with heat than form.

Even though they're from the '90s garage-rock revival, the Hate Bombs are so legendary and storied in Orlando music lore that they might as well be actual original gangsters from the '60s. In the way of underground legends, they're as big they come around here. And even after all these years, they've still got it with a delivery that continues to validate their rabid following. Frontman Dave Ewing still high-kicks like a Rockette and drummer Ken Chiodini is still a screaming eagle.

There is no truer or purer embodiment of the eternity of rock & roll than them. And while young guns like the Woolly Bushmen showed even longtime veterans how it's done, the Hate Bombs showed everyone how it's done.

Let's hope Field Trip South becomes a recurring Orlando tradition. Between the street buzz, great attendance and true belief, it was the wholesale revival of an entire subculture. And in its maiden voyage, Field Trip South became a major garage-rock beacon.

If there's a poster boy for the freak folk movement, Devendra Banhart (Feb. 24, the Beacham) is it. Of the breed of outsiders who mine the fringes of folk music, the wildly lauded artist is one of the cornerstone stars of the modern era.

Depending on where you sit on the continuum, the notion of freak folk will draw anything from pride to a chuckle. It's wide, uneven ground that goes from the revelations of Akron/Family to the ridiculousness of CocoRosie and Faun Fables. Though his wandering career isn't without its share of indulgence, Banhart has managed not to get mired in the kookier trappings of the genre.

At this point, evidenced at this show, he's an accomplished composite of all the seasons of his career thus far. His artistry remains constant, but it's grounded by tropical breezes and occasional neo-hippie wafts. At least a couple stems of daisies got handed past me through the crowd on up to the stage to Banhart. Between his indie cred and Spanish fluency, the man is gold in Orlando.

One of the night's biggest surprises was seeing noted singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon on guitar, which turned out to be a bonus for only Orlando and the next tour date. The individual projects of the rest of Banhart's band constituted the tasting showcase that opened the evening.

Of them, the most distinctive and absorbing was the performance by Welsh artist and Cate Le Bon's partner H. Hawkline. Blending indie and psychedelia, his music is a modern expansion of British folk. Besides the most cohesive and concentrated songs, his expression was a gentle marvel. Though he was solo, Hawkline's exquisite voice was as rich as it was avian, and it lifted the room on wings of effortlessness.

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