Floydfest Part 3: More with the funk and dancing!

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So I’m still behind on Floydfest, but I thought I’d get a few more musicians out there that broadly fit into funk, or are at least music you might move your hips and your feet to.
As I’ve said, the bluegrass festival has certainly expanded its repertoire in recent years to appeal to a larger and perhaps younger demographic. This has meant by night they have really gone all in on the groove. Saturday, in fact, featured a wide variety of musicians whose music is rooted in the backbeat. It was a good night for fans of reggae, latin music, hip-hop, Louisiana blues, and just good old fashioned go-go funk.

And of course the traditional sounds of Mali courtesy of Toubab Krewe. The Krewe, not to be confused with the oft-banned 2 Live Crew, have become regulars at Floydfest, not only as featured performers but as workshop leaders, happy to teach African drumming for anyone willing to give it a shot. They are not only talented performers, but smart teachers who enjoy their craft and enjoy sharing it.

Krewe picked up the music of Mali after numerous trips to Africa, and have found ways to blend together Malian music with the sounds of a New York funk-rock band and the rootsy blend of Asheville, North Carolina. Their show featured some heavy guitar solos, some solos from the kora courtesy of Justin Perkins, and even a few traditional bluegrass tunes with a guest fiddle player, Rayna Gellert (including a heartfelt tribute to the late bluegrass master Doc Watson). Rest assured, this was not your mother’s Malian music. I caught them for their Saturday afternoon show which was certainly fun, but perhaps a little sluggish at first. Hell, Saturday afternoon might as well be breakfast time at a music festival. Nonetheless, they kept the energy up, and cameos from conga player and salsa band leader Pedrito Martinez who would heat up the dance tent later that day.

The Krewe’s most recent studio album is magnificent, and contains some fantastic compositions. Though as with many such bands, live is really where they are in their element, so perhaps their 2008 release, Live at the Orange Peel might be a worthwhile first get. The jams are strong and high energy, while the cameo from spoken word artist Umar Bin Hassan  is mostly enjoyable (though the tribute to all of Jimi Hendrix’s songs may have been a little much), and adds a profound touch to the arrangements.

Surprisingly, no video up for 2012’s Floydfest, but here’s the full concert of their 2009 appearance in seven parts.

The biggest names on the night, though, were undoubtedly Michael Franti and Spearhead and Matisyahu. I can tell you both put on great shows, but not shows I had any particular passion for, I’ll be honest. No disrespect to either musician or their fanbases (who came out in force for both shows), but they were not what I came to see at this particular festival. Plus I crashed hard right around Matisyahu’s set. These music festivals will get to you if you don’t pace yourself.
Before either came on, though, we heard a great set in the late afternoon from salsa/reggae masters Locos Por Juana. Their blend of Caribbean music styles went down well with a crowd that was now ready to get moving. That night, we got a real highlight and were treated to the ambassador’s L.A. funk and salsa, Ozomatli. Ozomatli have made huge names for themselves worldwide as purveyors of all the sounds of the streets of the City of Angels. This was a band that effectively synthesized everything that instrumental music is right now. It’s music that moves, makes you move, and features the finest in horns, drums and rhythm guitars. The crowd was loud, enthusiastic, and totally okay with being late for the Michael Franti show, especially when every musician got down off the stage and marched and danced in the pit with us. No video from Floydfest available, but here’s a solid video from a few years ago of their hit, “Saturday Night.”

So I saw Franti and passed out during Matisyahu (before you say anything, I have slept through many things), then hit a second wind, and was on to catch Big Tony and Trouble Funk.
(No relation, by the way, to the Simpsons character.) Big Tony has never gotten the mainstream success he deserved, but has been a fixture in D.C. go-go funk for years, and has set up a pretty solid model by which many funk bands have gone for years. Tony’s band takes few breaks, performs relatively few songs, and just keeps the jams coming, with a little bit of MC’ing and amping up the crowd along the way. It’s straightforward, stripped of any of the space-age pretensions of George Clinton or nods to current pop songs that you might here a New Orleans brass band pull off. But it’s music that will get you up onto the floor the whole way through.

Here’s a clip from their 30th (!) Anniversary Show back in 2009.

The real surprise and highlight of the night, though, was reserved for those who were willing to stay up late to hear it. Orgone put on perhaps the loosest and downright coolest show of the funkiest night of the festival. If Tony was just straight up funk, Ozomatli was linked with reggae and salsa, then Orgone represents the jazzier side and soulful of funk music, leaving plenty of room for solos and improvisation on the lead instruments while never sacrificing the backbeat. If you were awake you were in for the treat down at the Global Village, a nook far away from the mainstage and nestled among the tents in one of Floydfest’s sprawling fields. Add in a few sultry turns from lead vocalist Fanny Franklin on originals and covers (most famously their twist on Funky Nassau) and you have a terrific concert while more than half the festival was sound asleep.  You had a couple options (we’ll stick to the legal ones) out here: dance among the crowd, get on top of the green dragon that spat fire out of its mouth (totally real), sit at the bonfire, or maybe just relax in one of the hammocks, courtesy of a professional hammock-maker. Though spots were limited. And if you were lucky to have set up your tent close enough, you could let these grooves nestle into your dreams.

Check this out from a festival you might have heard of, Bonnaroo 2012.

One last highlight for ya! Sunday is generally reserved for bluegrass music, and we’ll get to the highlights from a day filled with mandolins, banjos, and fiddles. There was one outlier, though: gospel funk from the dance tent courtesy of the Mighty Wonders!

It seems only logical that gospel and funk might meet. After all, the passion of the gospel church inspired soul music. Funk music at its core is soul music with a more insistent backbeat. It only makes sense that some bold musicians who realize that the line between the secular music and the Lord’s music is quite thin would link the two genres and make something spiritual. The difference, perhaps, is that while funk at its core is often about sex, gospel funk is about honest passion that comes from a higher place.

The Mighty Wonders clearly get that. Established in North Carolina back in 1956, the band has gone through a wild number of incarnations, and it’s even difficult to clearly distinguish one lineup from the other. The “New” Mighty Wonders have moved to Baltimore, and have infused this old music (which has touches of the Blind Boys of Alabama in their vocal melodies) with funky guitars and horns, not to mention a healthy dose of the Hammond B-3 Organ. And with respect to Ricky Scaggs and the Kentucky Thunder (most of whose set I missed to see this group in action), this was a much more thunderous show, and sent a lot of us to church in the best possible way.

Here’s one of their great showstoppers, Build Me a House.

It was a good final blast for funk and all of its siblings and cousins at Floydfest and a great way to wear out your feet and make you wish you brought a second pair of sandals. There will be more, and we’ll try to transition to the rootsier music of the festival. Peace!

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