Now that this year’s Florida Music Festival has wrapped, it’s time to bang the gavel. First, the justified criticism that modern rock clichés are disproportionately represented at FMF persists (Von Ray? Seriously???). Also, headliners notwithstanding, the overall talent pool was lean this year. The thing I missed most was the lack of surprise potential. For the most part, the bands I expected to be good were and the bands that seemed likely to suck did.

Perhaps the biggest blemish this year, however, was a notable drop in participation by the city’s underground buzz bands, a symptom of the rift between the organizers’ mainstream vision and the growing indie community. Luckily, some still played to very well-attended results, like Mike Dunn & the Kings of New England and Thomas Wynn & the Believers.

On that positive note, the good things FMF accomplished this year include competently conducting an organized music festival. (A fundamental but not simple thing that contributes to that festival feel I talk so much about.) Another nice development is the greater attention to roots genres like folk and country.

Now, the superlatives:
Best band overall: All swagger and soul, Atlanta’s Ponderosa is what the next wave of Southern rock sounds like. By injecting the virility that’s so essential to its spirit, they make it a young man’s game again. A close second was fellow Atlantans Death on Two Wheels.

Best performance: DeLand’s Dish showed out BIG TIME by expanding their normal duo setup to an opulent five-piece with horn section. Beyond the added instrumental girth, their sheer execution is what made this the most impassioned, vigorous performance I’ve seen from them yet. Leaning more toward their electrified side kept the voltage high.

Best singer-songwriter: Jacksonville’s Christina Wagner has owned this category for several years, but that’s because she remains miles ahead of her peers. She had an entire room enthralled in a state of shushed awe, a trance pierced only by the most enthused, prolonged applause I heard at the festival. Why no substantial deal of some sort hasn’t been thrown her way isn’t just a mystery, it’s a crime.

Most massive sound: The instrumental post-rock of Jacksonville’s Antarctic brandished impressive throttle punches in loudness that would make even Mono proud.

Most disappointing performance: Not worst performance, mind you. A show by, say, Daughtry wouldn’t evoke any sort of high expectations; thus, no letdown. But Atlanta’s La Chansons disappointed because they didn’t deliver on the ’80s-cheeze absurdity that their songs promise. Check out their video for “Workout Love” (
sons) and you’ll see how glorious they could’ve, and should’ve, been.

Most non-comedic comedy act: Watching the Schmeltz, a local gag band featuring members of the Blue Man Group, appropriate rock music for their painfully obvious, limp-dick stabs at humor killed a small part of my soul.

Oddest sight: The Patrick Nagel–esque picture hanging over the door dividing the main room and side lounge at Voyage looks like a sexy woman … farting. Hilariously weird.

Because it’s the big kid on the block, and likely for other reasons, FMF has historically drawn haters. Besides the underground-minded Anti-Pop Music Festival in autumn, there was the simultaneously running Mako’s Music Festival held by Silent Majority Group in 2006. But perhaps a sign that the culture war in Orlando’s music scene has reached a new zenith this year was the overtly contrarian Fuck Florida Music Festival Festival on May 17, an event organized by the city’s indie counterculture that – besides notable artists like Mumpsy, S.K.I.P., Monikers and Très Bien – featured a crude printed guide that waggishly juxtaposed Axis magazine (FMF’s organizers) with Hitler’s Axis.

Though the Saturday afternoon backyard event had to be moved indoors midstream because of complaints (damned neighbors), there was something pretty sweet about having my face peeled back by the loudness that resulted when a PA and a punk rock band (the awesomely fist-pumping Gatorface) were crammed in a kitchen. It was basically a hipster kegger in a College Park house, but it was significant in that it showed fierce competition and proud diversity. Though FMF’s organizers have never taken too kindly to opposition, these are the signs of a healthy scene, kids. Whichever side of the coin you happen to fall on, you’d have to be pretty fucking provincial to not embrace a cultural terrain that offers choices.

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