Langerado Music Festival, March 9-11, Sunrise, FLAfter the apocalypse finally happens, and New York is completely submerged underwater and the hipsters have overtaken jam nation’s final festival stronghold, Langerado will likely be the only multi-band gathering left standing. Which is fine with me, because by that time, I will either be sealed off in a Cuban missile crisis-like bomb shelter or stowed away in a Miami retirement home with Langerado less than an hour away from both my front door and sure-to-be-overbearing wife.
Langerado has several major advantages over other festivals, many of which stem from its date and location. First off, it takes place in March, which makes it the unofficial kick-off to festival season (a mutant season which stretches a full seven months, but that is the subject for another blog all together). Second, Langerado takes place in Florida in March, which gives it a much needed Girls Gone Wild spring break feeling of liberation. It also takes place near a city and encourages “hotel camping” and, if I’ve learned one thing from my time on tour, it’s that running water generally enhances everybody’s mood (no offense to you port-a-pottie huggers out there).
Perhaps most importantly, more than any festival of its size or stature, Langerado has learned to adapt to current trends while still staying true to its core. For old-school jammers there is the holy trinity of Trey Anastasio, Widespread Panic and moe. For new-school indie rockers, there are blog favorites such as Cat Power, Band of Horses and the Hold Steady. And, for old-school jammers who fashion themselves new-school indie rockers, there is the post-jam triple entente of The Slip, Apollo Sunshine and My Morning Jacket (the latter of whom is perhaps the only band to hold dual citizenship on both sides of the Coachella/Bonnaroo border).
Like any good festival, Langerado also dips its toes into other genres, whether it is roots-reggae (Toots and the Maytals), hip-hop (Blackalicious) (classic-rock (Los Lobos), acid-jazz (MMW), organic-pop (O.A.R.), ska-punk (Pepper), roots-tonic (Matisyahu), retro-soul (Sharon Jones), jazz-funk (Soulive) or pretty much any other genre you can think of with both a dedicated following and a hyphenated name. But, much like its older cousins, Bonnaroo and Coachella, Langerado is just as much about absorbing the experience as it is about absorbing as much music as possible. In a single day one could register to vote (thanks to HeadCount), win VIP passes by sporting a Florida Marlins jersey (thanks to Major League Baseball) and spend $4 for, seriously, the best pizza I’ve seen in a festival setting (thanks to Shakedown Street inflation). And, no, its not the heat or something your friend told you to eat, that actually is Jim James waving from the sky from a hot air balloon.
In reality each day of Langerado could have stood as its own festival. Day one featured the Florida debut of northeast roots-rockers Assembly of Dust, the jam-circuit debut of current indie darlings/Weezer disciples the Hold Steady and the Langerado afternoon debut of nocturnal livetronica princes Lotus, who were faced with the difficult task of adapting its trademark “untz untz” sound for a crowd still digesting their eggs (luckily the group’s set swallowed better than the previous nights’ veggie burrito). Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings also offered a spirited mix of funk covers and retro-soul staples, including the party favorite “How Do You Let a Good Man Down?” Meanwhile, the North Mississippi Allstars invited local pedal steel heroes the Lee Boys onstage for a jam, while the Flecktones earned the weekend Warren Haynes award, sending Victor Wooten to jam with Assembly of Dust on “Filter” and Jeff Coffin to sit in with the new version of New Monsoon for “Velvet Pouch.” Proof that lightning does indeed strike twice, the Heavy Pets scored a chance to play at Langerado for the second year in a row thanks to Sonicbids.
But, for most, Langerado’s first day was all about the evening’s veteran performers: former Pavement guitarist Stephen Malkmus and erstwhile Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio. Since the early 1990s, Pavement and Phish have led parallel lives. Pavement revived indie-rock around the same time Phish ignited the second generation jamband movement. Phish is known primarily for its live work, but used the studio to show off its songwriting skills. In contrast, Pavement peaked on album, but still used the live stage to stretch its songs into the unknown. In 1999, Phish covered Pavement; two years later Malkmus referenced Anastasio in a song. Both groups cultivated dedicated followings with their DYI attitude and ended with a Y2K meltdown. Heck, last summer Anastasio debuted his new band with Phish bassist Mike Gordon the very same day, and at the very same Bonnaroo, where Stephen Malkmus reunited with Pavement bassist Mark Ibold. So, it makes sense that the strange bedfellows narrowly avoided each other the first day of Langerado, with Malkmus finishing his set with the Jicks 15 minutes before Anastasio took the stage with his current solo band. Unfortunately, while the performers delivered tight sets of music, both ultimately fell short with their song selection, failing to offer Pavement/Phish standbys or solo chestnuts like Malkmus’ “Freeze the Saints” or Anastasio’s “Goodbye Head.”
No matter, the Disco Biscuits delivered, by all accounts, one of the weekend’s most consistent performances later that night at the nearby Revolution Hall, which featured a reworked version of Frank Zappa’s “Pygmy Twilight” and a well-received take on their own “House Dog Party Favor” (even if a handful of festival tweakers did roll over my new shoes, pun somewhat intended). MOFRO also hosted the weekend’s biggest jam session at the Culture Room, with Luther Dickinson, Sharon Jones, Ivan Neville and a good chunk of Galactic stopping by throughout the evening.
Saturday boasted one of the strongest single-day lineups in recent memory. Apollo Sunshine opened the weekend’s mainstage festivities, offering weird noise jams like “Magnolia” and “Today is the Day,” as well as a fraternal jab at fellow festival performer O.A.R. Though he didn’t really go anywhere, JJ Grey earned the festival’s comeback award, rolling in with a new, horn-bolstered version of MOFRO, a new set of personal songs and a new onstage confidence which allowed the Florida native to move from being a guitarist to a true frontman, commanding a five-digit crowd. The Slip, or The SLIP as they are now called (apparently capitalizing one’s name is the rage in 2007), played a number of key Eisenhower tracks including “Airplane/Primitive.” Saturday afternoon also found Medeski Martin and Wood, thankfully, in festival mode, delivering a funky set reminiscent of their Shack-Man prime and Michael Franti and Spearhead in a playful mood, meshing a Sesame Street medley into a Sublime tribute (how you feeling Big Bird?). Meanwhile, on the Everglades Stage, the Greyboy Allstars’ reunion tour rolled into its third year (if, like me, your calendar runs from Langerado-Vegoose) and Toubab Krewe showed off the small arsenal of new instruments they picked up during their recent trip to Mali. Perhaps even more exciting, the members of Perpetual Groove were officially anointed “rock stars” when the group’s first stage diver ran onstage during a particularly arena-rock moment.
Not to fluff Relix’s Cold Turkey podcast too much, but we also had a pretty jam-packed day of “hurry-up and waiting.” In the afternoon, Apollo Sunshine played a series of humorous covers for us in the media tent, with one particularly eager fan—The Slip’s Brad Barr—joining for a rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” Later, the Disco Biscuits duo of Jon Gutwillig and Allen Aucion performed acoustic versions of both their “The Very Moon” and Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song.”
The night ended with contemporaneous performances by the Disco Biscuits and My Morning Jacket. After a few hours of strategic planning, I decided to catch the first half of My Morning Jacket’s performance, which opened with 2003’s “One Big Holiday” and featured standout tracks like “The Way That He Sings” and “Golden,” and the second half of the Disco Biscuits’ set, which featured favorites like “42” and “M.E.M.P.H.I.S.”
At one point I wandered into the vendor field and heard the bleed from My Morning Jacket’s “Lowdown” and the Disco Biscuits’ “Little Shimmy in a Conga Line” and remembered why festivals are such unique experiences. Later in the evening Matisyahu wandered down a similar path and, after hearing the Disco Biscuits for the first time, wandered onstage to beatbox during “Orch Theme.” He also delivered a Jewish Peace prayer which was a pretty cool way to celebrate the end of the Jewish Sabbath, Havdalah, if I do say so myself.
According to the official festival handbook, Sunday is roots and reggae day and Langerado proved no different. After some Miami vice from the Spam Allstars and some Sublime-style ska-punk from Pepper, longtime friends Taj Mahal and Los Lobos pinpointed the exact spot rock and the blues meet. Taj Mahal also joined Los Lobos for a blues medley which segued out of an equally enjoyable tribute to the Grateful Dead. Matisyahu and Toots Hibbert both played for sprawling crowds, with the latter singer inviting out a Cohen, a descendent of the Jewish high priests, to bless the crowd. Langerado also booked an impressive indie-rock lineup in the Everglades Tent featuring Band of Horses, Cat Power, Explosions in the Sky, the New Pornographers and dance DJ Girl Talk (if you squinted your eyes just right you could even see Williamsburg, NY in the distance). Explosions in the Sky walked away with perhaps the most new fans, finding a comfortable halfway house between the Benevento/Russo Duo and Sigur Ros.Fittingly, Widespread Panic, a band that has headlined more festivals than any other artist on the bill, closed out Langerado with a solid two-hour mainstage set. Widespread Panic’s performance doubled as the first night of the group’s spring tour and relied heavily on road staples like “Space Wrangler.” Now seven months into his tenure with the group, guitarist Jimmy Herring is finally able to leave his thumbprint on the group’s trademark southern psycadelia without stirring the group away from its proven sound. Though most fans got through an almost too long drums-and-space segment, for some reason, near riot emerged when the group decided not to encore, with fans screaming things like, no joke, “I am going to burn this place down like Woodstock ’99!” Langerado dealt with the ordeal quite well, however, letting some Beatles music pump through the PA take fans into the night.
So, even though New York and Florida now seem to share the same winter weather, I guess I’ve kind of accepted the apocalypse because at least it means a trip to Langerado will be that much easier. Who knows, perhaps by then Pavement and Phish will be headlining, the Disco Biscuits and My Morning Jacket will be collaborating and pizza will be, err, $12 a slice. I guess the only way to tell is by heading back next year.