2008 Langerado in review

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They came from all parts of the East Coast.  Music fans, packing into cars in all parts of the country for long drives to Big Cypress, Florida for sun and four days of music at Langerado from March 6-9.

And come they did.  Attendance was reported by the festival organizers to be almost 25,000 each day, witnessing over 90 performances that ranged from rock to hip hop to bluegrass. 

It was one huge festival, with a little something, or rather a lot of everything, to please anyone.


Thursday

I landedat FLL (Fort Lauderdale airport) moments ahead of a severe storm. I found myself happy I did not have weather radar available on the flight. My baggage was held up for an hour as JetBlue appears to care about their employees. Lightning was everywhere and the thunder would knock you down. Yes, we were in Southern Florida.  The forecast did not prepare us for what was coming. Carrying $6000 worth of unprotected Nikon camera gear through the storm was unappealing. Rain on our highway trip was extreme and we had trouble even seeing out of our rented mini-van. We hit the traffic jam about 5 miles from the site around 3pm and made it in after an hour and a half wait, the shortest of anyone with whom I spoke. The difficulty seemed to be enforcing the requirement that no glassware be brought in. Searching an RV apparently takes a while.

Like Carlos Castaneda on Don Juan’s porch, we searched for the best camping spot. The nearest hotel was 47 miles away and the thought of waiting two or three hours in line to re-enter seemed impractical. Our first try was family camping but what we were seeing wasn’t mud. I figure cows had been grazing there only a few days before out arrival. While the cows had been moved, the fire ants had not. My sandal-wearing companion was attacked within moments. Next year; wear shoes, my friends.

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We found the wonderful people from Madison House publicity, (who handle the media for the event,) who directed us to Staff camping. There were no cows and very few ants and showers. We figured, correctly, that the staffers will be too tired to spend all night raising hell and keeping us awake.

Did I mention it was raining? 1.6 inches within a single hour and it didn’t rain the whole hour. The storm swirled and as it seemed to be leaving, it turned its fury back on us, repeatedly. I donned my new poncho, which started to tear moments into its first use. No problem, as it was stolen later than evening.

We found a break in the weather, set up our tents (remind me to bring tent stakes next time) and arranged the minivan for sleeping if the weather returnsed.

After unpacking, it was off to the festival. Staff parking was a good ½ mile away but we were fortunate enough to catch rides with those who had golf carts. The white ones will pick you up, but not the green ones, we learned.

The Palominos, the SonicBids winner, took to the Sunset Stage as the rain abated. There were three main stages and two smaller ones; the bands playing the Chickee Stage had a harder time getting the casual listener, as walking to the stage was difficult, what with all the water and mud. Still the intrepid traveler and fan did make it down for some exciting shows.

 The first main artist was Les Claypool. His band – Mike Dillon, Skerik and Paulo Baldi – kept the crowd pleased and the excitement high. 

Next on tap was The New Deal. My seatmate on the flight down recommended them.  I really enjoyed their sound – much in the vein of Lotus and STS9.  No guitar, but their keyboard player, ironically, is nicknamed “Guitar.” The faithful braved the swamp-like walk and the crowd responded enthusiastically.

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I skipped Dark Star Orchestra and made my way to the Swamp Stage where PGroove was be playing. Perpetual Groove has been trying to break out of their regional band spot into national prominence over the past year. They can play any town in Georgia or the Carolinas and sell out every night, but they are not so well known out West.  They came out and played a solid set. Their song selection was not quite what they usually do for festivals with all the big rock songs and intense jams. They opened with the new “Gorilla Monsoon,” and covered “Diggin’ in the Dirt” by Peter Gabriel and “Atlantis” by Donovan. The band drew quite a crowd, even playing opposite the ever popular Dark Star Orchestra. After their final song the crowd chanted for several minutes for an encore, which sadly, they did not get.

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Friday

Friday arrived with a wonderful party cloudy-to-sunny day. The temperature rose quickly and everyone was dressed for the weather. This later produced some painful sunburn. Still, we are talking Spring Break here, and how will anyone know you had fun if you return home without the evidence on your arms, shoulders and face?

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I stopped by the School of Rock All-Stars, who covered songs from the early 70s. I think it is a bit odd that Led Zeppelin is more popular now than they were when I bought Led Zeppelin II at the age of 14. Anyway, it was fun to hear them

Sam Bush and company put on a fine afternoon show, and the small crowd sang along to every song. Sam has been a staple in the bluegrass world since he played in the seminal bluegrass/rock fusion group New Grass Revival with Bela Fleck.

Next was a stop at the Wailers. They played the old favorites from the 70s, with an especially stirring rendition of “No Woman, No Cry.” I walked over to the Chickee Hut to see New Mastersounds, who filled the slot originally scheduled for Vampire Weekend (who skipped the festival at the last minute to appear on Saturday Night Live.)  Many bands from England take the Southern Blues and hand it back to us, changed. These guys brought it back whole, alive and definitely kicking. Their set was filled with solid, solid playing that was always perfectly together – they never missed a beat.

After, I ran to the G.Love and Special Sauce performance. White boy soul, with a tip of the hat to hip hop, I’m thinking? I thoroughly enjoyed what I got to see of the show. There were several great covers, and many kudos are owed to the bassist for his performance. Next was the pop/rock group from the 90s, 311, who gave maybe the most energetic performance of the festival.

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OK, I admit it, I was not prepared for !!! (often pronounced ChkChkChk, although for your UNIX operators it should be BangBangBang). If Lotus and Queen had a love child, and this child took dance lessons from Richard Simmons and Grace Jones, !!! would be the result. This band was so much fun, so danceable, so …so “what the hell was that”? These guys never stopped grinding it out. Nic, the male vocalist, was a show unto himself, and at one point dove into the photo pit to greet his fans. This man was born to perform.  The infectious rhythms of this group forced one to start dancing. Their bassist, Justin (I don’t think these folks have last names) set an intense pace, which the rest just tried to keep up. Many there told me it was their best surprise of the festival.

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Now, the Beasties Boys have been making music for over 20 years and have gone from straight rap to all instrumental, keeping the same energy alive that makes their music so …well, so damn fun. The crowd was huge and very responsive to the band. These guys gave us a great show and showed why they are such great performers.

The weather radar showed an incoming cold front and tornado warnings not too far to the north, so the staff prepared for the incoming storm. The cold front slowed enough for Umphrey’s McGee to take the stage at midnight and complete their set. Umphrey’s can come out as a jazz band or as a rock band and tonight we got the jazz ensemble, and they offered up long slow jams.  They moved from “JaJunk” to “Huggins” to “40’s Theme,” and eventually broke out “Wappy Sprayberry” which has been revived after a four year hiatus. ”The Floor,” a new addition to the UM repertoire, was also played during the first set.  The ended the second set with a return to “JaJunk” and finished the encore by completing “Bridgeless” from the first set.

Sound Tribe Sector 9 was able to get through most of their time before the crowd was warned of the impending storm. The warning was not far enough in advance, though, and the weather came with a fury. I spent about 30 minutes trying to hold my tent up against the 40-knot winds at 4 am.

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Saturday

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Saturday surfaced as a clear and windy day.

I catch a few minutes of the Wood Brothers and head to hear the Avett Brothers, who I haven’t heard in years. The announcement comes a few minutes later – the band is trapped on the road into the festival. No one takes their slot and I head to hear Arrested Development. Their positive message, unique in the hip hop and rap genre, resonated with many. The performance was very spirited and they played mostly new songs, but some of the old material. As they were breaking into a Sly and the Family Stone cover, they asked the audience who remembered that band. Very few seemed to. Has it been that long?

I’ve been a fan of Ben Folds since his days in Winston-Salem. It was a good performance to an enthusiastic crowd, which featured a spirited version of Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Then I move onto Thievery Corporation, the indie/electronica band. Every band needs a woman dancing in various Hindu poses during the instrumentals songs. This was my second time catching their show, seeing them previously at the ECHO project near Atlanta this fall. They are growing on me. This group incorporates a number of influences into their music. Still it would be great if they improvised a bit more.

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Next up (have you noticed yet that the music never stops at Langerado?) I head to Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood. Possibly the greatest collection of talent on any stage of the weekend, these guys just jam. Adding John Scofield was such a great choice. Most of their selections were from the Out Louder recording. Silky smooth, deeply grooving, incredibly melodious, this band basically combines the rhythms of jazz with tempos of rock.

R.E.M. started at 9:30pm as the last of the major acts on tap for tonight. R.E.M kind of fell off my map after Automatic For The People. I’d been a fan for about 10 years at that point. This evening the band pulls out their strongest material from their entire catalogue but the crowd did not seem to know much of their early work, prior to Green. Relentless touring over the past 23 years has crafted a quiet, introspective group into an energetic live act, and tonight’s show demonstrated that. Michael Stipe came out wearing an Obama t-shirt, which he stripped off and threw into the crowd after a couple of songs. Mike Mills and Peter Buck played with great enthusiasm, and a good time was had by all. Then sat-bisco.jpgwe all headed off to, either find warmer clothes, or straight to the Sunset Stage for the Disco Biscuits. The temperature was cooling fast and eventually dropped below 50 degrees. I make my way down front wishing that this festival had more than two vendors selling coffee.

The Disco Biscuits start a few minutes late. The acts generally started and stopped on time and I offer kudos to all the stage hands. It was getting cold, but once the band starts we forget all that. Opening with the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band,” the band turns it up for us. They gave a solid performance, and returning to reprise “Sgt Pepper’s” to end the second set.” Guests during their set included Matisyahu and Murph from STS9. The show’s encore concluded with “Helicopters.” By then it was cold, like 47 degrees, cold.

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Sunday 

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Sunday started with Will Hoge and Jonah Smith, both acoustic sets and easy for early in a day that will warm up nicely in to the upper 70’s.

We are treated to a rocking afternoon, starting with the Funky Meters. These boys have been bringing the funk since the 60s and have perfected their craft. Next was Keller Williams solo, or mostly so, and then a Grace Potter jam session. I’ve seen Grace four times recently and she is improving her act. She displays a strong stage presence and really plays to the crowd. We don’t get enough of that in the jam band scene.

Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule get started immediately afterwards. His set drew from all eras of Mule, with originals mostly from Dose; covers dotted the setlist, with a “Hunger Strike > Dear Mr. Fantasy > Hunger Strike” thrown in.  Next I drop by Ani Difranco show and find Keller Williams sitting in the photo pit listening. It’s always nice to see the musicians checking out each other’s shows.

I find food and overall, the food choices are pretty good. A variety is available from dozens of stands on the way from one stage to another. I sit with people from all over the East Coast and the consensus is very positive of the festival, in spite of fire ants, rain, cold and sunburn.

sun-phil.jpg As the sun sets on the last night of the festival, some have had to head home, but Phil Lesh drew most of the remaining attendees to his stage. Phil and Frieds started with “Sugar Magnolia” and everyone in the crowd sang along.  Another highlight was “Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower” to end the first set. In the second, we were treated to “Unbroken Chain” and “The Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion >Viola Lee Blues.”  This relatively new Phil and Friends lineup is getting better and seems to follow Phil’s lead more than the previous versions; maybe that’s what Phil is going for.

I did left Phil briefly to see The National down at the Chickee Hut. Any of those who left Phil to see this band were serious fans. Their playing reminded me a bit of that great Australian band, The Church. The band plays with a lot of emotion and sang about loss and heartache.

Despite a few problems (a long line to get in that first day, a little weather, and sheer exhaustion) there just couldn’t be a better way to leave to the cold rain and snow and head to sunny Florida for four great days of music. The festival was very well run and there were not the horror stories that we have all experienced at other festivals.  I couldn’t begin to cover all I wanted.  All in all, the scene was very cool, we had our favorite bands there, and were happy to discover new music.

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