Our music columnist gets immersed at the Acre for John Vanderslice 

This Little Underground

click to enlarge ROB BARTLETT
  • Rob Bartlett

For all the celebration that a one-time 10-year anniversary reunion of celebrated local band Precious (Nov. 10, Will's Pub) suggests, the cause was rather heavy. Frontman Steve Garron, a beloved figure in the Orlando music canon, has for years been battling kidney disease and is now trying to get a transplant. Yeah, pretty serious shit. But I much prefer the prospect of rallying to help save a still-viable life over a lost member of the music community. And that's why the reunion happened, and it earned an impressive $4,300. However, Obamacare notwithstanding, this is still America, and it's gonna take much more to fulfill Garron's need. So if you couldn't make it like me, you can donate at stevegarron.com like I did. Good luck, Steve.

The Beat

Indie popsmith John Vanderslice tours through Orlando frequently. But this locally powered show (Nov. 12, the Acre) was very different. It's been a while since anyone around here put on a really special, one-of-a-kind event. Enter scene shaker Dave Plotkin. Although not typically a concert organizer, he is someone who makes things happen, stirs shit up. And his signature efforts in everything are nothing if not creatively elaborate.

From the outset, this wasn't just about putting on a concert; it was about creating an experience. And it began weeks before the show with the tickets. Made from personal photos from Vanderslice's past decade of touring, the artistically handmade souvenir tickets, each unique, were a boldly visual, tactile first step. After leaving Park Ave CDs and beholding mine, this was looking like it could be a full sensory journey. It was.

Live, Vanderslice performed accompanied by drummer Jason Slota, with both doing double duty on instruments. But his set included notable collaborations with local musicians Moon Jelly and Tierney Tough (the Pauses). 

Click to see more photos from John Vanderslice's show.

But, on a balmy evening at the enchanted mise en scène of the Acre (theacreorlando.com), the Floridian aura was just as much a star in this exceptional experience. Enjoying music alfresco in the mild autumn night air just ahead of an advancing cold front, well, that's atmosphere difficult for any club to match.

This setting allowed Vanderslice, with ample local help, to do some unusually engaging things. After the main stage set, the band moved down to the meadow among the crowd for an unplugged campfire-style song in what would've been total darkness if not for all the surrounding cell phone lights. Then Vanderslice directed everyone to the front of the property for the grand finale. Guided by the torches of the circus acrobats from local troupe Fun Dipped Productions – oh, did I mention there were circus acrobats? – the now fully pied-pipered audience migrated en masse, filed into and overspilled an open Florida cracker-style house where local weird-pop band Moon Jelly was set up to back Vanderslice for the most rocking full-band song of the night. Afterwards, there was a dance party in the cozy barn with DJs Nigel and Cub. Talk about your money's worth.

The result of all this event conceptualization was great turnout and real buzz, more than I've seen at any of Vanderslice's many previous Orlando shows. And the sense of connection and immersion was so deep that Vanderslice himself was swimming in it.

Most of the time, accounts in this column have learning points for either musicians or audience. This time, however, it's to show presenters. Performers make events special with their artistry. But on the logistical side of things, it's often more business than art. Just ask John Vanderslice. I did, and this is what he said: 

"The typical show takes place in a bar. Bars are the least life-affirming place on earth. I love alcohol but, god, shows in bars are just plain stupid. Of course there are thoughtful bars, great small rock clubs, etc. But the average bar/show experience is offensive. After touring in Japan, Europe and Australia, I began to feel like bands were being scammed here. Again, not all clubs are a life-denying zone of unhappiness, but enough are."

So, boom, there you have it. But all this led to his effusive praise of this event. So for matching the creativity of the artists in crafting probably this year's best show experience, Plotkin gets maximum credit.


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