Matisyahu, Sage Francis, Molotov, Cole Bros. Circus and more

Thursday • 3

ORLANDO PUPPET FESTIVAL It may seem like cruel irony that Muppet writer Jerry Juhl passed away just weeks after Kermit the Frog's 50th anniversary in show business, but to hard-core puppet appreciators like ourselves, it was yet another reminder that flesh and blood are transient, but felt lives forever. (For the record, we have a hard-core appreciation of puppets, but no public opinion on hard-core puppets.) Filmed retrospectives of Juhl's life and work comprise just part of the itinerary at the Orlando Puppet Festival, a four-day celebration of the manipulable that's taking over a three-block chunk of the downtown core. Screenings of Henson classics and other puppet-related flicks share a weekend with live performances that represent the true state of the art – from kid-friendly forays to the more mature political satire of Paul Zaloom, who presents the world premiere of his The Mother of All Enemies. Meanwhile, workshops, displays and other interactive features will reinforce puppetry's image as a pursuit everybody can have a hand in. (Various times through Sunday at Mad Cow Theatre, DMAC and Orlando Public Library; free-$22; 407-297-8788; for full schedule, visit; for tickets,

MATISYAHU If Chris Rock thinks the world's gone crazy because the best rapper is white, the best golfer is black and the tallest dude in the NBA is Chinese, his head will pop off when he finds out that one of the best new voices in reggae music is an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn. Matisyahu – the 26-year-old artist formerly known as Matthew Miller – used to be That Kid: the dreadlock-sportin', Birkenstock-wearin', Bob Marley-listenin' teenager who dropped out of school to follow Phish around the country. But a spiritual awakening along the way led him back to New York, where he fell in with Hasidim, chopped off his dreads, adopted the Hebrew version of his first name, merged his riddims and nigguns and found a three-piece band (no, they're not called the "Jew-Jah Tribe") to back him up. When we first heard about the guy we were thinking novelty schtick – you know, "No Shiksa No Cry"– but he's fully legit, singing like he's straight from the streets of Kingston (even if his lyrics are straight from the Torah) while his cohorts whip up reggae grooves laced with jam-band psychedelia. Speaking of which, Hasidic law is a little, er, hazy when it comes to smoking the Rasta sacrament, although one thing is expressly forbidden: physical contact with members of the opposite sex. So even though the 6-foot-something Matisyahu looks hella tasty onstage in his beard, black hat and dangling tzitzit, ladies, please – look but don't touch! (with Pigeon John; 9 p.m. at The Social; $15; 407-246-1419)

COLE BROS. CIRCUS There's nothing like the life of a circus performer. You get to pass yourself off as hailing from an exotic Eastern locale, even if you're really an ex-paralegal from Yonkers. And you can turn the most mundane of household experiences into a thrilling center-ring attraction if you're clever and creative enough. Now, we have no ironclad proof that the allegedly Russian "Maya Panfilova" was born Wanda Epstein in Scarsdale, N.Y. – it's more of a gut feeling, really. But we totally dig the concept behind her "Purrrrrfectly Performing Pussycats," a procession of domestic kitties performing stunts that have to be at least as exciting as shooing a 12-year-old tabby off one's furniture. Oh, and this year's Cole Bros. Circus also has lions and human cannonballs and stuff. Because some people are apparently into that sort of thing. (4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club; also 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday; $10-$20; 800-919-6272;

Saturday • 5

FLORIDA'S DYING ROCK FIGHT Here's the kind of battle of the bands we like: one with fake bands. Fifteen bands created solely for this event will climb on stage, play two songs (no covers!) and be drunkenly criticized by a panel of judges. It'll be amateurish, sloppy, loud and exactly what Orlando needs more of. The winner will get a spot on the upcoming Florida's Dying compilation of local trash-rock, so you know that the boozier, raunchier and more asshole-ish your fake band is, the better your odds are of winning. (9 p.m. at Back Booth; $5; 407-999-2570)

Tuesday • 8

SAGE FRANCIS Normally, we would rather stay home and remove our own pubic hair with a roll of masking tape than listen to a white straight-edge vegetarian political rapper from Rhode Island. Every deliciously painful yank of the tape would be a symphony compared to the lame droning of emo hip-hop, except for the overwhelming fact that Sage Francis is for real. He is a battle-hardened, road-tested MC and completely legit spoken-word poet. As the first rapper signed to Epitaph Records, Sage brings wicked beats and scathing, insightful rhymes to his brand of DIY hip-hop, and when he's on stage with an 808, he makes Eminem's arena show seem like the Muppets on Ice. On topics like George W. Bush and globalization, Sage's venomous lyrics will have independent thinkers, libertarians, Green Partiers and crybaby Kerry supporters licking their chops, while the conservative right will cluck disapprovingly (or have absolutely no idea who Sage Francis is). As part of the Tour with, among others, Orlando's own Sol.illaquists of Sound, you will know more "with all the science they be dropping.'" Witty verbal sparring, political potshots and dope beats will prevail, making our heads bob regardless of our meat consumption or political affiliation. (with Sole, Sol.illaquists of Sound; 9 p.m. at The Social; $15-$18; 407-246-1419)

Wednesday • 9

MOLOTOV To gauge how completely awesome Molotov is, you need to know this: They have been praised for their socially conscious lyrics and condemned for using politically incorrect slurs. That right there tells you that this is a band that truly doesn't give a fuck what people think about them. When they played the Latin Grammys and were censored by CBS, they made a decision not to play the Latin Grammys again, rather than modify their message – but they gladly agreed to host this year's MTV Video Music Awards: Latin America. The follow-up to their most sonically daring and thematically abrasive album (Dance and Dense Denso, a disc that made it seem that rap-tinged rock might actually have been a good idea) was an album of covers that, curiously, sounded even more adventurous. Any group – Mexican, American, Chinese, we don't care – that can cover Gil Scott-Heron, The Misfits and Falco on the same album and make it all sound completely natural is a group that deserves your attention. And once they have it, they will kick your ass. (with Circo, Jarabe de Palo; 7 p.m. at Hard Rock Live; $25-$47; 407-351-5483)

BOHEMIANS WINE & CHEESE PARTY Singles mingles and Magic games have their place, but nothing brings Orlando's bright young things together like the chance to hear a good countertenor sing an Italian ode to a prostitute. It's the rationale behind Orlando Opera's "Bohemians" program, in which working professionals ages 21 to 39 get to experience the wonders of opera as a group social activity. This week's gathering begins with a chummy wine-and-cheese reception and flows into an "Opera Through the Looking Glass" preview of Susannah, with cast, conductor and director explaining the content and development of their 2005-2006 season opener. Highbrow? Hah! These kids can't get enough of it. (6 p.m. at Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts; $5; 407-426-1717, ext. 122)

Contributors: Jason Ferguson, Michael Alan Goldberg, John Prinzo, Steve Schneider [email protected]

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