Best Of 2021

Teenage Bottlerocket at VFW Post 39/ SPoT

After it was announced in May, everyone felt some kind of way about this show. Tickets for the June gig at St. Pete’s VFW Post 39 were just $18 if you were vaxxed, and $999 if you weren’t. Leadfoot Promotions’ Paul Williams said he just wanted to keep his friends and the band safe while driving money to one of the South’s oldest VFW halls, but literally every outlet from the Washington Post and seemingly every news station in the U.S. wrote about it, and the global attention led VFW elders to back out, leaving Williams with no choice but to move it to the Skatepark of Tampa where, well, no one took him up on the $999 no-vaxx offer, leaving a bunch of 5G’d-up punks to have some fun on their own. @leadfootpromotions on Facebook

Michael Ross

By and large, bass players don’t get as much love as they deserve, so it’s high time we honor Ross. He’s been a fixture on the Tampa Bay jazz scene since 1977, when he arrived from Pennsylvania as a freshman music student at USF. He’s provided rhythmically agile, harmonically savvy bass work—not to mention stirring solos—for an array of bands, most notably Liquid Bebop, which he led in the 1980s. Ross willingly schleps his big, shapely, wooden instrument from gig to gig and plays his ass off—and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude. He hasn’t owned an electric bass since 1978. The acoustic bassist has lived in Sarasota for quite some time, but still performs intermittently north of the Skyway. Keep an eye out for his duo shows with vocalist Fred Johnson. They’re something to behold.

Jay Electronica

The show was announced less than a month before it was supposed to happen, so maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised when Jay Electronica’s Tampa debut got postponed. It wasn’t COVID that got the legendary rapper, however. Nope, Jay had to bail on Tampa after doors were already open at Crowbar because none other than Kanye West needed Electronica to finish his latest album, Donda. Electronica’s first show in Tampa is now set for Oct. 9, and every Tampa hip-hop head really hopes 'ye stays busy doing something else that night. @djsandman813 on Instagram


Seeing a Bay area band gain national attention is less of an anomaly than it’s ever been, but Glove is certainly Tampa’s best export in a really long time. Just ask the Lollapalooza crowd that got to see and hear a sound that’s been called everything from krauty, to primitive, to both proto and post-punk. Photos of the band in Chicago landed in Rolling Stone, and if you’ve still never experienced Glove in person, then you’ll want to see the band play a hometown set at Gasparilla Music Festival

Skipper’s Smokehouse

Almost one year ago, Tampa learned that its iconic oak-covered safe haven for hippies, Skipper’s Smokehouse, would become the Bay area music scene’s first big pandemic venue casualty. The last show went down on Sept. 27, and the place stayed closed as potential buyers made offers for months… but none of the proposals made sense, so Cricket Larson, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Skipper’s Smokehouse, put on a new hat (“head bottle washer,” she jokes) to renovate the digs, menu and nearly everything about the venue in preparation for a summer opening that’s now in full effect—music and all.

Chuck Owen & Jazz Surge ‘Within Us’

Owen, a conductor, arranger and 2021 BOTB-winner for Best Composer, released his seventh album with the 20-piece Jazz Surge big band this year. It kills—brimming with a vivid array of colors (including violin and dobro) and shifting dynamics. The music manages to be at once challenging and eminently listenable, showcasing a seamless stream of grabby melodies and solos (and going easy on the brassy bombast that so often beleaguers big band music). For his ensemble’s 25th anniversary, Owen looked back and considered some of the outfit’s milestones. To that end, he concocted a heady re-imagining of Miles Davis’ “Milestones” to go along with seven compelling originals.

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La Lucha ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’

This popular trio—pianist John O’Leary, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman—that got together in 2007 at USF music school, doesn’t abide by jazz rules or orthodoxies. That’s evident throughout the 13-track Everybody Wants to Rule the World, in which the threesome augments its lineup with guest artists, most notably multi-reed player Ken Peplowski, who produced the sessions. La Lucha has a penchant for Latin grooves, but also tosses in the synth-driven funk original “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Rather than rely on jazz standards, La Lucha favors interpreting the ‘80s pop music of its youth, including a dreamy, stellar version of the title track (long a staple of its live gigs). The trio almost manages to make something of the treacly Patrick Swayze ballad, “She’s Like the Wind.” They reach back even further for a touching rendition of the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder).”

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Fred Johnson/Andre Weiss ‘Duo’

Vocalist Johnson, long a Bay area treasure, cut this unpretentiously soulful and swinging album in Nashville with guitarist Weiss. The 9-track program features straightforward versions of decades-old standards—“All of Me,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Stormy Weather” and the like—save for one original, the simmering confessional “Unconditional Love,” the record’s standout track. The spare instrumentation showcases Johnson’s remarkably powerful, pliable and rangy pipes. At age 70, Johnson’s vocal prowess is a marvel.

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In 2020, no death rattled Tampa’s local hip-hop scene more than the late-September passing of percussionist, producer and rapper Kenan Jamal Hercules. The Jefferson High grab left behind his wife Tiffiny, 38, two sons she had from a previous relationship (Amari, 14, and Gianni, 12) and their three-year-old daughter Kelani. He also left behind a body of work that included his 'Stand For Something,' which continues to inspire his fans and friend to be righteous about the things that you believe in, even when the world is dark around you.

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Psych Montano and Albert J. “Mansion Music”

When two of Tampa Bay’s best MCs come together for an album, you know it’s going to be good. But Psych Montano and Albert J.’s “Mansion Music”—released through local label Wave Theory—is beyond that. It’s got the beats, the rhymes, and the life. From the party jam “Feelin’ Alright” to the sexy cosmos of “Jenga,” the album proves two is better than one. @psychmontano and @albert_j_robinson on Instagram.

See all the winners from Best of the Bay 2021