Monday, August 18, 2014

Concert review: WMNF Groovefest 5 at Skipper's Smokehouse, Tampa

A look back at the Saturday fest; photos included.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 10:18 PM

click to enlarge Holey Miss Moley - ANDY WARRENER
  • Andy Warrener
  • Holey Miss Moley
I pumped WMNF on my way to Groovefest 5 and the Saturday Soulful Soiree proved the perfect warm-up to the station's event, which found me arriving in the midst of a set by Holey Miss Moley. The impressive multi-piece Clermont-based ensemble was laying down thick layers of funk marked by the howling solos of alto saxx player Christian Ryan (also of Orlando-based reggae group I-Resolution). Lead guitarist Jacob Cox — whom I'd seen on stage with Come Back Alice the last time I visited the Skipperdome — looked right at home on stage with the group, vocalist Danny Clemmons held the crowd captivated with his presence and energy (dude can really wail), and the Reverend Funky D (who plays in a few other groups and leads The Funky Seeds) delivered a dose of some ol' time religion as he went off on keys in hyper-funky, choppy-sticky passages ranging from instrumentals showcasing each individual artists' talents like "Nagatuk" to vocals-fueled numbers ala "Ain't No Use," "Ja Jam" and "Sho' 'Nuff."

"We love the vibe and reception we get here, we love playing here," Clemmons said later.

There weren't even 10 minutes of dead time before Boxcar Hollow — already set up on a small pocket stage in the back corner of the venue — kicked off an acoustic set as the crew readied the main stage for The Lee Boys. Boxcar Hollow has a roots rock/Americana sound with a Grateful Dead/Phishy-jam vibe. On this night, the foursome had stripped down to two players, lead guitarist Matt Weiss joined by bandmate Jack Pieroth on five-string electric bass as he serenaded the crowd with original material and select covers, including one of the most interesting re-imaginings of KC and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" that I'd ever heard.

click to enlarge Chris Johnson, The Lee Boys - ANDY WARRENER
  • Andy Warrener
  • Chris Johnson, The Lee Boys
My anticipation was already peaking as the roadies rolled out the pedal steel, and the gospel vibe and funk flavor started in earnest when The Lee Boys hit the stage and kicked off with "Going to Glory." Just as I started wondering how the highly skilled South Florida family band would incorporate pedal steel into the mix to make it into their self-st, Chris Johnson delivered a wild solo and showed me, The Lee Boys bouncing seamlessly through breathtaking tempo changes and seamless transitions between original offerings like "Feel the Music" and covers ala The Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There," as led by charismatic singer Keith Lee.  

Keith Lee shouts and wails with the passion you'd likely see if he was taking it to church, and it makes sense since the "sacred steel" group — which also includes brothers Derrick and Alvin Lee on backup vocals and rhythm guitar respectively, and nephews Earl Walker (drums), Little Allen Cordy (bass) and Roosevelt Collier (pedal steel) — originally formed at The House of God Church outside of Miami; Keith's late brother Glenn was once the reverend there and helped him found the Lee Boys. Johnson filled in for Collier admirably and if I hadn't talked to the group after the show, I'd never have known that Johnson was his replacement, since he didn't play like a stand-in with all those wicked solos.

When Lee Boys started Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," Little Allen stepped up to the mic and started belting out the lyrics while plucking away on bass, the group eventually transitioning into George Clinton & P-Funk's "We Want the Funk," and then into a touching and soulful original, "Testify," as hundreds of hands reached into the sky in praise.

click to enlarge Keith Lee, The Lee Boys - ANDY WARRENER
  • Andy Warrener
  • Keith Lee, The Lee Boys
An original blues offering, "Don't Let the Devil Ride" and then Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" was the perfect one-two punch to close out the show, but it was still just 11:30 p.m. and Skipper's owner Tom White was able to coax a fantastic finish out of the group.

The event started at 2 p.m., so it came as no surprise to see the crowd had thinned by that time. However, as the Lee Boys hit the stage to encore with "Let it Shine" and closed the night with an original tune, "Everything's Gonna Be Okay," bodies swarmed to pack the floor again and danced through to the end.

WMNF's In the Groove jamband radio show host Thor Bendickson did a great job pulling all of the artists together for the event, which also included Shoeless Soul, Rich Whiteley, Shane Meade and the Sound, JT Brown, Earth Bombs Mars, Oak Hay, High Cotton and Tangled Mangos. A new set of stage lights was installed just two weeks ago and added a nice sheen of vibrant brightness to the evening, though a Skipper's show rarely disappoints nor does WMNF. When the venue and the station team up, you can bet it's going to be special, and this night was no exception.

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