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Rock and bull 

Florida Music Festival
Wednesday-Saturday, April 21-24
Various times and venues
$10 pass per day

$10 pass per day

Labor organizer Mary Harris Jones once said, "I am not blind to the shortcomings of our own people," and in her spirit, we can acknowledge that Orlando Weekly has its own faults. Besides the obvious (a pathological need to talk about our genitalia), one of those is that we completely overlook a vast and powerful segment of the music scene: commercial rock. Luckily for that earnest, growling sector there is an annual celebration of music's more aesthetically handsome bunch in the form of the Florida Music Festival, the area's looming giant. This year sticks to the script, with conferences and panels with behind-the-scenes Svengalis for names like Collective Soul and Creed, and headline appearances by VH1 house band Parachute, local Christian rockers Anberlin and '90s regional breakouts Less Than Jake.

Yet amid all the anthemic ballads and backward ball caps are some real treats: As always, FMF has saved some slots for top local acts like Peter Baldwin, Bananafish, Not Them, the Ludes and Thomas Wynn & the Believers.

Here are some other gems we dug up to keep you busy while a guy from American Pie (Thomas Ian Nicholas, Friday, April 23) makes sex faces from behind his guitar.

Gringo Star (7 p.m. Thursday, April 22; Wall St. Plaza) These Atlanta British Invasion revivalists' intolerable gimmick is that they run around like madmen during performances swapping out wacky instruments for more wacky instruments, like the kazoo and accordion. But once they settle the hell down and get down to business, Gringo Star's energetic Kinks and Animals-influenced pop is some of the most entertaining and arch stuff coming out of the already explosive Atlanta indie scene right now.

Avi Wisnia (9 p.m. Friday, April 23; Pine St. Live) It's a guarantee that no other act at FMF sounds like Philly's Avi Wisnia, who melds bossa nova stylings with good-time jazz and a twisted vocal that sounds like a Rat Pack crooner with a fat lip. With impeccable credentials that include appearances at SXSW and CMJ and shared bills with the Roots and Au Revoir Simone, it's hard to argue that Wisnia and his bizarre taste has found a niche following. When his original material catches up to the creativity of his reworked versions of songs like "No Scrubs" and "Everything Is Everything," then he'll find his growing following expand rapidly.

Ruby James (8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24; Wall St. Plaza) A one-time Orlando resident, Los Angeles songstress Ruby James writes with her heart and sings from her soul. The flame-haired, smoky-voiced musician was contemplating leaving music altogether just a few years ago until she teamed up with Austin transplant Matt McCormack, of the Rock Bottom Choir, who awakened a new spirit in James. The result, last month's album Happy Now, finds her digging deeper than her past Sheryl Crow-esque strumming, utilizing haunting imagery and grittier blues.

Ha Ha Tonka (9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24; Back Booth) Springfield, Mo., natives Ha Ha Tonka integrate a restless social outlook that takes its cues from Woody Guthrie's poverty cries with a soaring sense of operatic Southern rock that explodes from its Ozarkian desolation and toward triumph. Singer Bian Roberts' quivering testimony provides a beautiful ribbon with which to tie together Ha Ha Tonka's diverse influences.

Murder by Death (10:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24; Back Booth) Midwestern Americana outfit Murder by Death is like a schizophrenic who finally settled on a personality, and it ain't the one he was born with. Their early confusion probably stemmed from their media obsession, pulling the band name from a Neil Simon comedy and writing songs called "Holy Lord, Shawshank Redemption Is Such a Good Movie." As they graduated to stealing their themes from Dante and Homer, Adam Turla's vocal grew into a Johnny Cash-style authority and Sarah Balliet's cello became more integral and appropriate, but they remained firmly in the grasp of the gothic tradition. Until this month's Good Morning, Magpie, that is. Finally embracing the full range of emotions available in the American West, Magpie includes epics of joy and sorrow. Songs like "King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs" feel like they're finally ready to score their own movie.

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