By Brent Michael, Rock At Night Tampa Correspondent
The great thing about living in the Tampa Bay area is, on any given weekend there’s always some kind of festival going on where you can see multiple bands – great bands – for free or minimal cost! ($5 for this one, though I know a few snuck in.) The not-so-great thing is, when they’re outside, it’s freaking hot, like Africa hot, and muggy, where the sweat pours out your body so fast that you can drink and drink (water, of course) and there’s no need for pit stops! This festival was both inside and out, but with the constant traffic, it was almost as hot inside as out.
But what’s a little sweat when the tunes are great? First, let’s give credit to The Black Honkeys, and I hear especially to Brother Phil, who were instrumental in putting this Fest together – as well as opening and closing it! They’ve been the area’s premier classic Motown, funk, soul, and rock and roll band for as long as I can remember, packing venues wherever they go. And guaranteed to get the crowd up and dancing, whether it’s outdoors and hot or even in a theater setting, people dance in their seats or the aisles.
I missed the first band on the inside stage, Lie Low. My loss, but someone else’s mistake – I went to the wrong entrance at the Neptune and was told it wasn’t open yet! Sigh.
The next band I saw was a three-piece outfit with the moniker The Stone City. If you get a chance to see them, make the best of it, because they don’t seem to play out very often. Since 2011 they’ve only done about 50 live shows, and two albums. The Stone City is a unique blend of old school blues – think “Muddy Waters/John Lee Hooker” and timeless rock & roll like “The Black Crowes/The Rolling Stones/Lenny Kravitz”. Band members of The Stone City are Geoff Abraham on Vocals/Guitar, Mark Busto on Drums and Jeff McDonald on Bass/Vocals. And their sound is both familiar and unique, like it should be!
Slipping inside, I was just in time to catch a few numbers in Geri X‘s set. Geri X is a Bulgarian-born singer-songwriter whose music shows influences of several genres including folk, psychedelic rock, Americana, and post-rock. She has garnered a sizable fan base and critical acclaim in the Tampa Bay music scene. Winning Creative Loafing‘s Best Singer Songwriter five times, in 2011 Geri X was named “Best of Indie” in the Bulgarian edition of Rolling Stone’s “Best of Rock,” “Woman of Indie 2013” of IRM, as well as playing Summerfest, Verge, Joshua Tree, Steel Bridge Song Festival, Folk Fest, Girls Out Loud. to name a few. Geri is an artist with a singular sound you have not heard before.
Back outside, MWE (Musicians With Experience) was warming up the crowd (like it wasn’t hot enough – I couldn’t resist!) with their Original / Old School Funk rhythms getting the crowd on their feet despite the eat and shaking a tail feather or two! The band lists Kenny Green, Delbert Payne, Stephanie Roberts, John Seda and Serge’ Chaloff McCoy as band members, but my friend John Seda was missing, and I counted six people on stage, so you figure it out! Nevertheless, everyone including the band was enjoying themselves!
Back inside, Johnny Mile and the Kilometers were kicking ass with their blend of blue-collar rock. Raw and dirty, their sound brings back the best of the grunge era, surf rock, sixties blues, even a tinge of psychedelic. Band members Chris Cardon, Gino Capone, and Tyler Stoelting were wailing guitars, thump-slapping bass, and perky drums, the sound was at once rough and melodic, primal yet evolved.
Back outside, it was time for rocking hard with The Greg Billings Band. Legendary for his work with Stranger and Damn the Torpedos, Greg Billings (Lead vocals) is joined by Tom King (Bass guitar, also formerly of Stranger), George Harris (Guitar and vocals, who has worked in the studio with such notables as Rick Derringer, Cheap Trick, and the members of Paul McCartney’s band), Rob Stoney (Keyboards, vocals and harmonica, Nashville touring artist from the Warren Brothers Band), Mark Busto (Drums and vocals, also plays with MWE, double duty at this Fest!), and Kyle Ashley (Guitar, formerly of Damn the Torpedos). As you can see by the crowd response, the place was packed now, and Greg kept them rocking and rolling for the full set!
Back inside, Four Star Riot‘s set was beginning, and I squeezed my way to the stage for some close-ups. It wasn’t easy, the place was packed solid, but I made it just in time for their introduction by Brother Phil. Then it was a solid 40 minutes of power pop/rock, not bubblegum but pop for rockers who hate pop, and rock for people who think you can’t dance to rock. Steve Alex fronts the band and contributes sound from his well-worn guitar, Mike Chilton provides the beat, Aaron Akers handles the bassline, and Finn Walling leads with his guitar. All four members contribute vocals. The band has serious international buzz thanks to placing songs on ESPN, MTV, and in the record-breaking film Deadpool in 2016. They’ve opened for major artists like Bon Jovi, Maroon 5, Train, Lit, Jimmy Eat World, Living Colour, Eve6, Rusted Root, and the Smithereens, to name a few!
They are also no strangers to festivals, having performed at SXSW, 97X Next Big Thing, 98Rock Livestock, WMNF Heatwave, FMF, and other festivals. The group has also garnered multiple awards and kudos from the hometown press, and national ink in outlets like Music Connection and Relix. Their latest album, Daylight, was just released to rave reviews on June 16th. Give it a listen, and I’m sure you’ll want to follow them on Facebook!
In the heat of the night, Shevonne and the Force had stripped down to the bare essentials – or at least, Shevonne had – to bring us back to R&B, Soul, Reggae, Pop, and Funk! Having appeared on America’s Got Talent & American Idol, she and her band were determined to prove they were more than just a festival-filler band, and prove it they did! Mixing original tunes and remakes of old school faves, the crowd was asking for more when they finished.
But it’s hard to be disappointed when The Black Honkeys are taking the stage again, inside Neptune, where the AC was struggling mightily to keep up with the new influx of warm air and body heat! The full band consists of Brother Phil (Vocals), Nicole Simone “Miss Groovalicious” ( Vocals), Greg Czinke (Guitar/vocals), Wil “DA THRILL” Harris (Bass), Steve Tanner (Drums), John Dash Dixon (Funky Keyboards), and “The EBONY & IVORY HORN SECTION” – Terry Clark (Trumpet), Scott Myers (Trombone), Billy Summer (Funky Guitar #2). Billy got squeezed out, I don’t think the stage could have held one more person! Regardless, the did their usual awesome job and kept the party going!
Tell me, where else can you experience all that for a measly $5?
When not in custody, I've been involved with music, photography, and writing my entire life. Ever since I was a young boy and played those silver tunes, I've had the beat, but being a drummer didn't suit me so I became a lead singer, which lasted a few years. Settling down, sort of, I translated my knowledge of audio and glib tongue into mobile emcee work, and my training as a photographer and videographer into a living in the wedding, party, bar/bat mitzvah, and entertainment industry. During this time I also managed to bamboozle my way into a master's degree in writing, worked for a couple of magazines (yes, I took photos for a nudist magazine!), have photographed hotels, done commercial work (shot the cover of Tablet and Capsule magazine), published a few articles, hosted some public access shows (a couple times in drag, but that's another story), and generally made a nuisance of myself until I landed here.