This Little Underground

The sun in this week's galaxy was the Harvest of Hope Fest (March 6-8, St. Johns County Fairgrounds) organized by bedrock Gainesville label No Idea Records and Tampa-based music publication Reax. Another serious music festival in the state? A bonus. One with a noble cause? An imperative. Sort of like Florida's own Farm Aid, this event rolls Steinbeck-style to benefit Harvest of Hope (, an organization that provides emergency services and financial aid to migrant farm workers, an issue of particular relevance to our state.

Boasting more than good intentions, however, the festival was a logistical success with tight organization and good sound. Though well-attended, it felt more like a really nice day in the park than the Armageddon of nightmare sanitation and claustrophobia that plagues other megafestivals. And even taking into account a few high-profile cancellations (casualties of this year's aborted Langerado), the talent was excellent. The tasteful lineup packed heavyweight national acts, well-chosen homegrown acts and impressive genre diversity. All told, the HOH Fest is an instant contender. If it becomes an annual event, Florida's music culture will be the better for it.

Note to other prospective organizers: These types of large-scale magnet events are a really effective way to overcome the general geographic challenges of touring Florida. Just look at the positive ripple effects it had on Orlando's concert calendars.

Other festival notes include big ups to L.A.'s fierce future bangers Health and local electro-shoegazers Viernes for offering a viable experimental alternative to the typical fare at outdoor music events.

The Most Confusing Act award goes to Jacksonville Beach's BLORR, or Bastard Lovechild of Rock & Roll, whose set was an unlikely collision between the kind of badass blues earnestness of the Black Keys and the electro-pop absurdity of Gil Mantera's Party Dream. I still can't reconcile the sight of slide guitar and the gaytastic wardrobe of a male figure skater side-by-side, yet I remain intrigued.

The beat

Even if you stayed in town, Orlando was a buffet of concert goodness that was still open at press time and will spill over into next week's column.

Besides the pleasure of watching fans get folk paladin William Elliott Whitmore very, very drunk onstage (March 6, Back Booth), his opening act, Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers, delivered an astounding performance of robust indie folk that penetrated with a deep, soulful twang. Crain personifies the character and charm of nearly every great modern singer, only with better music and none of the clichés. Like a rustic, earthy Feist, the Choctaw Indian youngster carries a grace, maturity and substance that belies her tender age. Despite the undeniable heft of her voice, the musical craftsmanship doesn't sit contentedly by in the passenger seat. This is the rich, vibrant sound of a full band. Boutique folk imprint Ramseur Records has another star on its hands.

The recent performance of X.O.X.O. (March 4, Will's Pub) impels a re-examination of their case. I've beaten up on these guys pretty well for their name, possibly contributing to them changing its meaning from "hugs and kisses" to simply the letters "X.O.X.O." (at least according to a recent story in Reax). But the reality is that I totally dig this band. Their punky pop — not pop-punk — is immensely winning. They deftly navigate the right side of catchy with a melodic precision that makes them infectious without being cloying. Not an easy thing to do.

Underwhelmer of the week: trip-hop pioneer Tricky (March 5, Club Firestone), mainly because the performance lingered in the no man's land of live music, too drab to truly pop but too energetic to achieve real atmosphere. It was one show where name recognition went a long way to sustain audience interest. Though far more meditative in mien, local electronic opening act Attached Hands was more definitive, crafting intelligent, fine-spun soundscapes that went from cerebral drifts to room-filling, woofer-pushing crests.

If you don't know the gospel of Israel's Monotonix (March 7, Back Booth) yet, then you haven't been reading this column. But rather than cluck my tongue and shake my head at you, I'll say it again: They're good; so good that they will ruin everything else for you. Watch them play and you're suddenly face-to-face with the jarring realization that, beyond Monotonix, there is nothing else.

Absolutely one of the greatest live bands of our time.

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