Attempting to cover two giant music fests happening on either side of the Bay on the same date — Plan B in Ybor City and Don’t Stop St. Petersburg in downtown St. Pete — proved to be a challenge. As the Music Editor and a person invested in the local music scene, I felt compelled to attend both fests spawned from the now-deceased and once-beloved Antiwarpt, but I also wanted to see if the scene is, indeed, capable of supporting two music events of this magnitude at once. So I asked for some help from a few generous CL Staffers to be reporters on the ground at each of the two fests (Arielle Stevenson for Don’t Stop and Julie Garisto for Plan B), and fill in anywhere that I was unable. I also reached out to some photographers to capture a visual record at both fests, too; Drunkcameraguy, Brian Mahar, Phil Bardi and Danny Veintimilla. We managed a balancing act of music appreciation, saw more than 20 bands all told, and while the attendance numbers aren’t in yet, both fests seemed to have enjoyed their own respective successes. Which left many of us pondering if either, both or neither would be back again next year.
Here’s a record of our experiences, thoughts, and overall impressions, in short(ish)...
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 4:15 p.m., The Real Clash, Local 662 (Leilani) Walking up to a 600 Block that’s been closed-off always builds a sense of heady anticipation, especially on this day, when the first few things we see include a mobile hanging over Central Avenue, its colorful fabric streamers twisting and turning in the breeze, and the giant double-decker Tropicool bus that’s parked across from State Theatre, both flanking and closing off that particular end of the block. The Tropi team serves gourmet sorbet popsicles from the bottom deck (tastebud-bursting flavors like mango-passion fruit, ultimate brownie and blueberry lemonade), and patrons dot the seats of the bus’ open air top deck, licking ‘cicles and taking in a bird’s eye view of the party from their elevated perch. Vendors and booths featuring local businesses and nonprofits are set up in the middle of the closed-off street and along its edges, and the milling groups include families that have descended on the 600 Block to enjoy the free daytime party.
We start at Local 662 with The Real Clash. The backstory appealed to me: A group of undergrads in St. Pete College’s MIRA (Music Industry/Recording Arts) program — which is dedicated to developing “real world” skills for its student musicians — take an elective music course that eventually transforms them into a bonafide hip hop group.
I worry it’s one of those sounds-good-on-paper-doesn’t-work-in-reality type things, but we’re immediately captivated upon entering the Local’s cool dark confines. The Real Clash’s exuberance is undeniable and infectious, and the full band’s instrumentals tight and funky-grooving as built on guitar, bass, drums, percs, keys and a turntables/laptop combo. These dance-inducing sounds back the verse-slinging and flowing of leading rappers/lyricists Jay “Jay Acolyte” Wilson, Rashad “Shadcore” Harrell and sultry-voiced vocalist/Real Clash hype gal Eliana “Voxx” Blanchard.
The nine-member ensemble lay it down like pros, exhibit the sort of fiery chemistry and dynamic stage presence that some vet bands have trouble achieving, and pair the upbeat good time vibes of their music with intelligent verses and hooky refrains. The ensemble’s anthemic “Effigy” is a perfect close to the set; a track that comments on hip hop clichés and posturing, and being true yourself no matter what your background. The chorus — “This what hip hop looks like, thought it was all thugged out like Suge Night? All I need is a beat and a good mic, putting stereotypes to bed like, ‘Good Night!’” — stays with me long after I leave.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 4:45 p.m., Euglossine, Fubar (Leilani) The schedule is already running behind and we arrive to find Euglossine finishing up a sound-check rather than MSNRA starting their set. The only info I have about the trio is A) It’s the project of one dude, Gainesville producer/multi-instrumentalist/composer Tristan Whitehill, who plays with other dudes, and B) They are associated with MSNRA and Levek (another Gainesville act that I like but have to miss later due to my attempt at straddling the Bay).
Tristan Whitehill has good taste in kicks, Euro-retro squared-toed leather monk strap-style loafers with oversized buckles. Whitehill plays guitar and works a stack of synthesizers, Jason Gottfried has a similar synth rig paired with bass, and drummer Ryan O' Malley keeps a steady driving or fluidly drifting pace, their instrumentals sliding in and out of luxuriously melodic and sometimes darkly hallucinogenic sonic aesthetics all driven and embellished by synths — psychedelic tropicalia, ’70s soft rock, post-disco funk, ambient jazz, indie prog pop, and sci fi futuristic electro with light New Age-y, Kraut-y and hip hop flavor.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 5:05 p.m. Ajeva, Local 662 (Leilani) The bassist and percussionist from The Real Clash play bass and drums in Ajeva. I know this because said bassist insisted I come see his other band, and if Real Clash hadn’t been so good, I probably wouldn’t have. The singer has good pipes and can belt out a strong melody but my initial impression of the St. Pete outfit is ‘just another reggae rock band,’ which changes pretty quickly as they keep the energy pumping and hit on ska, dub, blues and aggro heavy funk rock territory ala Rage Against the Machine. The most interesting part of the set is a mostly instruments-free jam, during which the drummer shows off his beatboxing chops and loops them into a jam filled out by vocal scats and utterings from the lead singer, percs texture, and various other odd sonic accoutrements.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 5:32 p.m., RedFeather, 600 Block Main Stage (Leilani) We’ve had good luck with acts that are complete unknowns so far, and RedFeather hasn’t started yet, so we bustle over to Sake Bomb to see Granata … but he’s not on and we do love us some RedFeather, so we return to the 600 Block and enjoy the first half of the quartet’s powerful, mountain-hewn, lightly progressive indie roots rock, Mark Etherington’s haunting howls and tribal calls echoing down Central Avenue in a way that gives me chills.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 5:45 p.m., MSNRA, Fubar (Leilani) Another Gainesville act featuring Euglossine’s Tristan Whitehill; he’s the producer, bassist and synths man of the eight-member progressive hip hop group, which is fronted by four vocalists/emcees — two ladies and two men who rhyme, sing and back each other over production that is hip hop on its face, trip hop on its back, and somewhere in the experimental, Afro-beat, electro-funkadelic on its side. The group’s look is as eclectic as their sound.
@Plan B, 7:30 p.m., Florida Night Heat (Julie) Our time at Plan B is limited, sandwiched between family obligations before and after the event that cause us to arrive later than intended and keep us from staying as late as we want because of a morning date. We make the best of our five-hour tenure. On arrival, we bolt to Crowbar to see a band we haven’t caught in far too long, Florida Night Heat. We filter into a 100-plus crowd that engulfs the stage as guitarist Jensen Kistler, bassist Andre Jones and drummer Chris Wood deliver high-energy instrumental-rock performance. Their meandering melodies and propulsive beats blend into a sacred instrumental rite that summons the gods of rock ’n’ roll. During the finale, Kistler and Jones jump down in the crowd and jam with kids young and old in one of my favorite moments of the festival.
@Plan B, 8:06 p.m., Early Forms, The Social Club (Julie) It’s great to see the all-star band in stellar form. The members represent favorites that’ve played throughout both the Tampa and St. Pete scenes over the past many years — Vinnie Cosentino, who I met as young’un in 1999, playing in Lukali and later the brilliant power trio Palantine; cerebral pop guru Alastair St. Hill of Gentlemen Please and the erstwhile Incredible Crisis; drum animal Andy Stern of Feral Babies and INJ/SYS; and local newcomer John Smith. Their ’90s-kissed upbeat but ornate rock is infectiously pogo-able, and some drunk folks flail and kick Skipperdome-style in front of the stage. Entertaining show from CL’s 2013 Best of the Bay winner for Best Rock Supergroup.
@Plan B, 8:30 p.m., Sleepy Vikings, Crowbar (Julie) Bittersweet and amazing final performance from a longtime favorite that’s gone through massive changes both personally and professionally. I interviewed original members Julian Connor and Sandi Streppone when they formed Giddy-up, Helicopter! (their exclamation point, not mine). The Plan B finale leaves me with that frustrated but elated feeling — you know, when you’re thrilled that you witnessed a fleeting sensation but disappointed that it ended right when it was getting so good? The experience makes me think about Dumbwaiters, another band that attracted a swarm of fans and disbanded on the brink of national-level success. SV — with Jensen Kistler contributing his expert licks, and Ryann Slauson back on drums — wows us with a big, lush, harmonious sound that’s both comfortingly warm and soul-stirringly haunting; a duality that’s rare and truly unique to Sleepy Vikings. They will be missed.
@Plan B, 8:50 p.m., Alias Punch, Market on 7th (Leilani) We have to check in at Crowbar, so we can’t actually go into New World to enjoy the wildly exciting sounds coming from the Mrenc set, but I do take a minute and file it away as something to definitely catch in the future. We arrive right as Sleepy Vikings take the stage to a packed Crowbar, to play their official last show ever, soak up the tangible energy and pure unadulterated happiness in the air, and after a few songs, make our way to Market on 7th for a completely different vibe: Alias Punch. The Orlando trio, in contrast to Sleepy Vikings, plays to a nearly empty room, so there’s far too few people around to appreciate their wicked dry humor and on-stage shenanigans, strong yet offhand musicianship, and overall quirky-brash style of rocking out, their sound a conglomeration of post-punk revival, surf and doo wop-styled art rock, sneering New Wave punk, and cock-strutting shred-and-riff-fueled heavy metal.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 9 p.m., Polyenso, 600 Block Mainstage (Arielle) We arrive on the 600 Block just in time to catch the end of Polyneso (formerly Oceana). The street is shut down and bustling with folks just arriving for the evening session of Don’t Stop. Polyneso’s lovely chill indie rock instrumentals billow through the street. There are food trucks, faces familiar and strange, and a crisp breeze keeping everyone cool.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 9:15 p.m., Amerigo Gazaway, State Theatre (Arielle) Cruising into the State, we’re able to grab a quick chat with Sons of Hippies, who’d played a hour or so before. Jonas Canales and Katherine Kelley of SOH are stoked to inform us they’ll be doing several dates with Mike Doughty. Just then, Amerigo Gazaway of Gummy Soul fame winds up his tables. He’s the son of jazz trumpeter Gary “El Buho” Gazaway. As a fellow jazz-child and huge fan of Fela Soul, his Fela Kuti and De La Soul mashup, I was really looking forward to this set. But the State wasn’t really the right venue for his sounds, and it ended up feeling like a pass-through lounge instead of a dance space. Certainly his mix of 1960s soul and hip-hop was dance-worthy, but a dude sitting on stage spinning records without the dance atmosphere just didn’t pan out.
@Plan B, 9:10 p.m., Luxury Mane, 1930 Grande Room (Julie) We encounter some scheduling confusion at this point wrought by the Roosevelt 2.0 closing, which shifted time slots forward and relocated bands to a mysterious venue on the far side of Ybor. So we cut our swath through Seventh Avenue’s nightlife jungle, passing a man dressed up as a leprechaun, tourists posing for photos with a giant albino Boa snake and a dozen or so shorties in short skirts. We expect to see Funny Bunny, but they wouldn’t perform until much later. Instead we’re treated to Billy Summer’s new band Luxury Mane, which picks up where the Semis leave off, melding power pop and dreamy psychedelic atmospherics, with more emphasis on the latter. Between the Sleepy Vikings finale and the relocation clusterfuck, the St. Pete trio doesn't get the crowd they deserves but give the handful in attendance a sweetly rockin’ respite from the hubbub of La Setima.
@Plan B, 9:19 p.m., Luxury Mane, Social Club Fail, Food, 7th Avenue Sideshow (Leilani) We do a lot of running around after Alias Punch: a detour to check out Billy Summer’s newish band, Luxury Mane, his retro bright threads standing out in trippy contrast to the bare white walls of the big event space; a fast walk to the venue we think is The Social Club (we don’t look at the map, and it’s not), followed by a faster rush to the real Social Club to try and catch Cats in the Basement (we don’t); and finally, a more leisurely trudge back to Market on 7th, to kick back for a brief rest, pizza fuel-up and a little indie blues and soul love from Booker and Norton. Leaving satiated (in our stomachs and in our hearts), we stumble into a bonafide Ybor sideshow: the aforementioned snake tamer with two fat albino Boas draped around his neck, a square basket to his left piled with more big snakes all curled and coiled around each other, a similarly S&M-styled sidekick to the snake tamer who's holding a rather large (unidentified species of) lizard, and, inexplicably, a dude in a Tron suit, complete with spring stilts, glowing outfit and helmet. It’s almost like the setup for a bad joke.
@Plan B, 9:50 p.m., Booker & Norton, Market on 7th (Julie) What a great duo, but you all knew that. Singer-guitarist Benjamin Booker has a sexy-soulful voice that’s all too rare in our area, and drummer Max Norton attacks the skins with both frenzied abandon and expert precision — one moment pummeling, the other pulling off drumstick twirls. The little pizza joint-rock bar is packed, and several musicians are in attendance. Booker thanks Brokenmold’s Sean O’Brien for putting the fest together, and Andre Jones of Florida Night Heat bellows back, “OH-BRY-EN!” just like the camel from the Geico Hump Day commercial.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 10 p.m., The Disasternauts, The Bends (Arielle) When we stroll up to the Bends, we find one of the Disasternauts members sporting his ape-garb while seated at a table out front. There’s still time before the set starts, so drinks are in order; two frozen strawberry daiquiris served up by Bends’ bar maven Victoria Rozzi arrive topped with bright red cherries. We grab a spot next to the pinball machine as the Disasternauts take the stage in Planet of the Apes masks and orange "space suits." Everyone is buzzed and the narrow bar belly booms with the sound of electric guitars firing off surf riff after surf riff. Reminds me of a more Florida-centric Red Elvises. It’s loud and groovy, but a little too aggressive for my daiquiri. We escape the ever growing crowd, guzzle our grown-up Slurpees and wander back to the 600 block.
@Plan B, 10:05 p.m., The Wholetones, Dirty Shame (Julie) The Naples-based bluegrass-tinged ensemble offers a pleasant, twangy contrast to the hipster rock elsewhere. The gig at Dirty Shame is a special one as it featured new mandolin player Brett Kirchdorfer in his first gig with the band — a most welcome addition.
@Plan B, 10:20 p.m., Auto? Automatic??, The Social Club (Julie) My energy is starting to wane a little, so the sinewy rhythms and meditative guitars of instrumental post-rock band A?A?? proved to be both soothing and invigorating. Some friends we passed on the way to The Social warned us the band was too boring, but we dug the understated vibe. If you take into consideration that founder/guitarist Brian Larsen switched punctuation in the band’s name from !-!! to ?-?? a few years ago, you start to get his questioning, curious and enterprising approach. For music lovers, that spirit of exploration is never boring — especially when pulled off with Larsen’s mastery.
@Plan B, 10:41 p.m., The Dewars (1930 Grande Room) The Dewars are St. Augustine-based twin brothers who purvey an appealing blend of folk music and ’60s psych pop with a Brit Invasion vibe, and they sing in sweetly melodic yet slightly droning harmonies; reminiscent of The Kinks, with vocals kind of like the Byrds. They are charmingly awkward, which they seem to work into their droll songwriting, stage banter, and overall performance style. One brother plays acoustic bass and bass-drum, the other a hollow-body guitar and smaller kick-drum, both keeping the rhythm throughout their quirky tunes. Their performance is given an even more surreal quality because of the temporary multi-colored lights rig set up in the back of the room that flickers on the bare white walls and against the brothers, and makes weird trippy-colored shadows behind their heads.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 10:45 p.m., Black Taxi, 600 Block Main Stage (Arielle) Black Taxi is one of those bands that come to Tampa on a fairly regular basis. Which is why I didn’t slate them high on my festival to-do list, but I should have. Especially considering I’ve never actually seen them. The Brooklyn indie rock band took over the Main stage on the 600 Block around 9:45 p.m. We arrived just in time for the end of a set that was definitely a highlight of the night. Their new album Chiaroscuro is packed with synthy-dance-driven Tears for Fears/Depeche Mode grooves with a dash of Killers-like vocals and stage presence. Most of these songs could be on the soundtrack for the stylized Gosling action flick like Drive (perhaps a sequel?). Especially when “Can’t Stop Shaking” begins; it’s distractingly good.
@Plan B, 11 p.m., Dear + Glorious Physician, New World Brewery (Julie) Back together for the first time in five years, the Gainesville sibling act is indeed a blast from the past. Dressed once again in their signature all-white, the (still) young-and-sexy Von Trapp-looking wunderkinds delivered A Sound of Music far and away from the alpine purity of Rogers and Hammerstein. D&GP invoke the moody undertones of Joy Division while heaping assertive co-ed vocals, shimmering guitar/keyboards and angular rhythms — imported from a long-lost land where post-hardcore and prog rock spawned pretty blond babies who grow up to rock socks off and snub homogeneity. New World is packed for the rare appearance; definitely one of the high points of the fest.
@Don’t Stop St. Pete, 11 p.m., Murder by Death, State Theatre (Arielle) Murder by Death is arguably the band most folks in attendance seemed to be most stoked about. I knew very little about them coming into this show. What struck me first was Adam Turla’s vocals, deep and rich, just my cup of tea. Like a Southern Gypsy version of Gogol Bordello, Murder by Death is rootsy, American, folksy, with punk undertones and a healthy shot of whiskey. Cellist Sarah Balliet’s strums and plucks paired with Okkervil River former horn player and keyboardist Scott Brackett’s wide range of instrumentation (from Theremin to accordion) contributed really nice complexity to the sonic textures. It one of those rare shows where everyone was feeling the good vibes; the crowd’s attention was irresistibly glued to the band, and the musicians fed off their adulation and gave it back in spades via an earnest, lush and energetic performance.
@Plan B, 11:28 p.m., YoungBlood Brass Band, Crowbar (Leilani) The high octane, six-horn blast of brass-driven funk and groove music from YoungBlood Brass Band gets me bobbing and swaying from the get-go, and though I only catch the last few songs of their set, I’m left grinning from ear to ear.
@Plan B, 11:45 p.m., Funny Bunny, Market on 7th (Julie) A couple of years ago, multi-instrumentalist Aaron Lepley cheated on his longtime November Foxtrot Whiskey bandmate Damon Dougherty to jam with his life-mate Kim Stein-Lepley. After a lark and a dabble, the spheres have converged and Lepley consented to allow drummer Damon Doughterty to dip his expert chocolate in his and Ms. Kim’s sultry peanut butter, and the confection they’ve created is mighty tasty — a swirl of traditional rock and experimental psychedelia. Stein Lepley’s vocal prowess harks back to badass rock chicks like Siouxisie Sioux and Deborah Harry, but she reins it in expertly, knowing when to simmer and when to sizzle. The trio’s show is a fun way for us to cap off our night. We enjoy the lovely ladies wearing paper bunny ears, hopping about to the hypnotic poppy sounds of a new-old Tampa band. Funny bunnies, indeed.
@Plan B, 11:46 p.m., The So So Glos, The Social Club (Leilani) As much as I love Saskatchewan, I want to check out sneery Brooklyn act The So So Glos (a band I haven’t seen) more. We arrive at the tail end of their set and are treated to a trainwreck of DIY punk hilarity when half of the dozen or so people left start making their way out, leaving the room nearly empty … at which point singer/bassist/frontman Alex Levine (who’s wearing a Village People-style police cap) decides that he’s leaving too, throws down his bass, and jumps off the stage, darting off in the same direction as the group that left. “Don’t worry, we’re pretty sure it’s all a farce,” says one of the guitarists dryly. Then it becomes clear that Levine is trying to persuade the party of leavers to stay, and is insistent enough that they follow him back into the club. “You don’t want to see the Care Bears! You want to finish out this set with us, come on!” he exclaims as he bounds back onto the stage.
To ensure that the group of formerly Sunbears!-bound revelers stick around, he pulls at least four of the ones who’d tried to leave up onto the stage, gives them a cursory lesson on how to sing the chorus of the song So So Glos are about to play, then launches into it straightaway; and yes, the forced volunteers are rather terrible at following directions, but everyone has a good laugh. The party vibe continues into the next song, which finds Levine playing slower and slower and dipping lower and lower, until he slips from the stage and ends up playing half-slumped on the club’s floor, surrounded by most of the remaining people and barely plucking the strings, until suddenly he’s showing a rando kid how to play the notes he's slowly stopped playing on his own, until he's actually handing off his bass to the kid ... and the kid takes and plays like he’s now the unofficial fifth member of the band. Granted, he only had to play, like, three notes while Alex devotes all his energy into howling, but still. (There’s video of this somewhere, and I am determined to find it.) The entertainment value was priceless.
@Plan B, 12:15 a.m. Sunbears!, New World Brewery (Leilani) My feet are like two blocks of cement, my lower back is a ball of warm pain radiating in spikes down my legs, but I feel compelled to make one last stop, for a quick taste of vibrant visual excess and psychedelic pop explosions ala Flaming lips. Another full show and a clue as to why So So Glos was so empty: all the kids were busy getting dazzled by the Sunbears!, their vibe in complete opposition to what the So So Glos were giving off.
I have the best intentions of hitting Don’t Stop St. Pete as I make my way back into the ‘burg, but my husband lost a contact and my body hurts, so we have to go home no matter what decision I make. Once we get there, my tired old bones take me right to the couch, where I vegg out and feel an overall sense of satisfaction, despite the pain; I didn’t see one thing I disliked today, at either fest, and that in itself is no small accomplishment…
@Plan B, 12:50 a.m., Greymarket, Market on 7th (Drunkcameraguy.com) Hey Chuck E. Cheese, this is how pros really rock a pizza parlor. Mike Gargiulo beats the snot out of his drums while Cave McCoy bounds around the joint, hopping on the pool table during one song and diving off the stage onto his knees during another, all the while never missing a beat. The guys mentioned on the Facebook event that they won't be playing another live show for a while, so I'm glad I can be here for this one, since the two-piece is easily one of my favorite local bands. Later, I ask Mike if they're taking a break from playing to work on another album and he hints at the possibility, so I guess I can accept a hiatus, as long as it's not for too long...