Big Guava Music Festival returns to the Florida State Fairgrounds with all types of alternative sounds

CL presents a shortlist of must-sees performing at the second annual event

click to enlarge Pixies are among the headliners at the second annual Big Guava Music Festival - Jay Blakesberg
Jay Blakesberg
Pixies are among the headliners at the second annual Big Guava Music Festival

You could pretty much lock every Big Guava act inside a heart-shaped “alternative” box and call it a day. But that’d be oversimplifying the fest’s broad scope, which is reflective of what’s happening in music today: a cross-pollination of genres prompted as much by the way we’re introduced to and consume music as by technological advances in music-making and the breaking of creative boundaries that once held so many artists back. Consequently, the Big Guava lineup is a mixed bag of acts you’ve heard on 97X, read about at, and likely know and remember with bittersweet nostalgia from your younger, fresher years.

This second edition of the fest has been scaled back to two days and 34 acts, but the atmosphere is the same, as is the layout: stages situated at the fairgrounds’ four corners, anchored by the amphitheater and connected by a midway studded with thrill rides; beer gardens pouring craft brews; food trucks serving everything from organic coffee to barbecue; and booths featuring vendors and organizations hawking goods and information.

But it’s really all about the music, and I’m here to help you navigate through the confusingly blurred genre lines, offering suggestions about the acts you should be peeping beyond the Pixies and Strokes.

Get your pop-tronic dance on…

click to enlarge Michael Angelakos, Passion Pit - Steven Brahms
Steven Brahms
Michael Angelakos, Passion Pit

Everybody seems to be experimenting with technology. The far-reaching effect is more electronics-powered music, and the Big Guava bill is ripe with it. Robert DeLong dropped a few Billboard Alternative Songs charters, most recently “Long Way Down” with its glitch-hopping rhythms and warped-and-pitch-shifted vocal tracks, while in “Global Concepts,” Delong’s delivery has a more tender quality that’s cut and skewed against moombahton beats and percussive textures. (Friday, 4:50 p.m.). Passion Pit hits bright, exuberant dance-pop notes as piloted by visionary singer, songwriter and sole permanent member Michael Angelakos, who’s joined by a full band in a live setting (Friday, 7:45 p.m.).

Psychedelic pop-makers from Athens, Ga., Reptar push out pulsing and bopping jams marked by lush Afro-flecked percussion, bolstered by vibrant brass, and flavored with charming Talking Heads-style keyboards and guitar (Saturday, 1:25 p.m.). LA-bred Classixx is ostensibly a house music DJ/production duo with nu-disco persuasions, its 2013 debut Hanging Gardens embraced by hipsters far and wide, and earning nods from Rolling Stone and among others (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.).

…or perhaps some alt-hop ‘n’ groove?
Technically, this category could be an extension of the last, as every artist featured here works in electro realms. But they skew to hip-hop and groove-hawking production qualities, and prove more unconventional (and less mainstream-friendly)  in their respective styles. Two 20-something alt-pop songstresses from the school of Lana Del Rey sexiness take the stage on Saturday — Zella Day has high, dulcet vocals and twinkling upbeat tunes with lush low-end fuzz marked by Spaghetti western-vibing in “Hypnotic,” the lead single off her forthcoming debut (2:35 p.m.), while Banks leans to more minimalist, down-tempo production, her sultry intones slinking and sliding amid PBR&B and trip-hop sounds (6:10 p.m.).

A few of the hardest buzzing stars in alt-hip-hop right now are also repped on Saturday — Action Bronson, a sumo wrestler-sized Albanian chef-cum-rapper who hits hard with cheeky pop culture absurdity (3 p.m.), and Run the Jewels, the super duo made up of El-P and Killer Mike, who’ve dropped two stellar albums in two years that are dirty-clever, inventive, and just plain fun (4:30 p.m.). Another Saturday highlight, English electro singer-songwriter James Blake, has a soulful falsetto and took home the UK’s Mercury Music Prize for his 2013 sophomore LP Overgrown, which draws on elements of electronica, post-dubstep, PBR&B, soul and trip-hop (7:45 p.m.).

Roots, what?

click to enlarge Jenny Lewis - Autumn de Wilde
Autumn de Wilde
Jenny Lewis

Mumford and Sons prompted renewed interest in folk and Americana-influenced sounds, which is likely why you’re hearing artists like Milky Chance (5:30 p.m., Friday) on mainstream airwaves. The German duo doesn’t craft straightforward roots music, however, instead relying on a mix of drum machine beats, acoustic guitar and sweetly yearning two-part vocal harmonies you’ve probably heard in ear-wormy radio single “Stolen Dance.” Jenny Lewis started her musical tenure fronting Rilo Kiley but has established herself as a noteworthy singer-songwriter in her own right, drawling and swaying through three solo LPs (Saturday, 6:45 p.m.). Third and latest The Voyager has warm ’70s AM folk-rock appeal and was produced by another Big Guava performer with heavier alt-country and rock ‘n’ roll persuasions: Ryan Adams, who is as creative and prolific as he is notoriously hot-headed, with 14 full-lengths to his credit. (Saturday, 8:15 p.m.).

Shut up and rock out.

The following acts don’t share much in common other than practicing high-quality, atypical indie rock ‘n’ roll. Ex Cops' hazy, shoegaze-y instrumentals are shaded in New Wave and art-rock hues and marked by cooing masculine-feminine vocals (Friday, 6:15 p.m.). Toronto’s influential dance-punk/noise duo Death From Above 1979 leads on Saturday; their muscular, riff-raging 2014 sophomore album The Physical World — which came more a decade after they delivered an acclaimed first album, then broke up — evokes Queens of the Stone Age while standing strongly on its own confident, cock-strutting merits (5 p.m.). Cali outfit Cold War Kids may have waned in popularity since dropping the urgent insta-classic “Hang Me Up to Dry,” but issued a rather well-crafted LP in 2014, Hold My Home, that finds their driving, emotive, lightly blues-fused sound augmented by the tight beats of Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer (5:20 p.m.). Another Saturday highlight, NYC avant-rock favorite TV on the Radio, hits hard with funk-groove bombast and a mix of poignant, activist and intellectual subject matter (6:30 p.m.).

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