This Little Underground: FMF gets more local

Country Covers debuts at Will’s Pub, the Glorious Rebellion

American Party Machine - Photo BY James Dechert
Photo BY James Dechert
American Party Machine

When news got out that I was curating a showcase at this year’s Florida Music Festival (April 24-26), probably more than a few heads around town were haloed with question marks. It would seem puzzling given the differences in ethos and sensibility between me and organizer Axis Magazine, something that’s been well-aired in print if you’ve been on the Orlando music scene long enough. So why join ’em this year? The answer is stupid-simple, and the same reason that’s fueled this column for years: I’ll take any opportunity to point people to good music. And FMF invited me to.

My showcase, however, was but a single component of a promising new pivot that FMF took this year. Through wider local involvement in stage curation, this edition enjoyed a much-needed broadening of spectrum. Some showcases were shaped by sponsors, which all major music festivals – even the “cool” ones – rely on to run. But some, like mine, were the result of community outreach. And the effect was a more native feel.

Increasing both the local and curated factors is the right move for FMF. Speaking as one who’s been attending music festivals in general and FMF in particular for years, balancing the general cattle-call stampede with a more selected aspect is a defining thing. Depending on who’s chosen to curate, it could capitalize on the knowledge and cred of local music minds, thereby adding prestige and upping the fest’s qualitative mean. Besides, only good things can come of an event that reflects the color of our regional music scene with more scope and depth.

Whether this gesture is a one-off experiment or an overture toward a new era for FMF, we’ll have to wait and watch. But it’s encouraging to at last see the longest-running but most conservative Orlando music festival show some genuine curiosity in evolving, something that many believed it couldn’t do. This I can speak to firsthand. For my part, FMF’s organizers deserve maximum credit for, first, entertaining my idea of a big headliner like Roadkill Ghost Choir for my showcase and, second, investing to book a homegrown band that’s on the national cusp. What can I say? In my case, FMF put their money where their mouth is.

Balls to the wall: Photos from This Little Underground stage at FMF

Finally, big thanks to all the artists who played my stage (April 25, the Social): E-Turn & SPS, American Party Machine, Case Work, Good Graeff and Roadkill Ghost Choir. They were carefully considered selections and they repped hard. But special salute goes to American Party Machine for turning it inside out and putting on what I’m pretty confident was by far the festival’s wildest show.

The Beat

Orlando band the Glorious Rebellion held their own on an otherwise all-Austin metal bill alongside Destroyer of Light, Widower and Lions of Tsavo (April 21, Will’s Pub). They wear matching costumes that are a little contrived and make singer-guitarist Billy Myers III look like a negative of Alex from A Clockwork Orange. But don’t give in too much to the presumptions this presentation scheme might trigger because their music isn’t particularly gimmicky or bullshit. It’s dirt-grooved, noise-cranked hard rock that shoots straight and strong.

This recent rash of cover shows has been met with a mix of enthusiasm and exasperation. I understand the latter, but these local shows haven’t been the same river of typical career hackery that commonly runs through. These have been defined by smart locals doing tasteful and often educated selections. And it’s the kind of simple, approachable fun that maybe gets some people out to get their feet wet with legitimate local artists.

The latest entrant is Country Covers, a planned bi-monthly night that Will’s Pub recently debuted (April 24). The name pretty much nutshells what it’s all about. The roster will rotate but opening night’s cast was loaded with notables – from the city’s usual twang-minded suspects like Brian Chodorcoff, Bartender Brian, Johnny Knuckles, Jackson & Forest Rodgers, Sean Holcomb and Wheeler Newman to less obvious ones like the Woolly Bushmen. But the single constant member is the one to watch, and it’s that bottle of Jack onstage. He’s the one who’ll ensure it’ll be the kind of fun night where the wheels may just come off at some glorious point.

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