Concert review: WMNF 30th Birthday Bash at the Ritz (Paul Thorn, Amanda Shires and others, with lots of pics).

[image-1]Have Gun Will Travel took their places on the Main and readied the audience for the big night ahead. The five-piece included stand up bass, viola, drums, and electric, acoustic and lap steel guitars. HGWT are an indie-folk rock band by reputation, their music flavored with country and rockabilly influences. The vocals were simple and melodic and surprisingly strong. The storytelling was relevant, real and heartfelt, and every member rocked their instruments, even something so simple as beating on an empty, upside-down popcorn tin.


Keeping with the flow we moved on to Sarasota Slim (pictured below), made up of a group of older gentlemen who played loud and proud. The crowd loved it and the Royal Room was packed. You could barely make your way in and out. Slim was very bluesy with hints of rock, the trio -- made up of guitar, bass and drummer -- eventually inviting a harmonica player onstage to further rile up the rapt audience. With only two bands down, it was apparent the music of the evening had really risen to the occasion.


[image-2]In the Rivoli Room was a performer I was particularly interested in giving a listen: Suite Caroline. This little 12-year-old could belt out something fierce! A voice like that on someone so young was impressive, but her stage presence was even more so.  Suite Caroline told us that one of her band members was, in fact, her guitar teacher. “How cute is that?” I heard one woman say to her friend, who responded, “I know!” Someone else commented, “She is so much older than her years.” As if in answer, Suite Caroline explained that her next song was about the little bumps in the road, and how life was not always easy. “She’s 12, what would she know about it?” someone else said. But the overall reaction of the crowd to this crazy talented and strong-voiced kid was positive. Not only was she adorable but she could sing and play the guitar like nobody’s business. You could see her passion for and love of music as she played. The room was mesmerized, and so was I! We moved back towards Main Stage after hearing her perform a song called “LOL” and were hyped up for the rest of the night.


[image-3]The Legendary JC’s came out after a quick “You put the ‘U’ in Community radio” announcement from a WMNF rep to a crowd even thicker than just an hour prior, and all seemed rearing and ready to go. The 8-member band came armed with a two-piece horn section (sax and trombone), guitar, drums, harmonica, and bass, and the music  was soulful indeed with a funkified twist. Lead singer Eugene Snowden must have channeled a little bit of James Brown because his stage presence and performance was amazing and engaging. The man could not stand still and was constantly leaving the stage to invade the audience, at one point giving one woman a hug and another a huge kiss on the cheek. Everyone was dancing and the band's huge instrumental opening really intensified the positive vibes that were flowing around the room and the whole room was moving throughout.


[image-4]Amanda Shires and her Roaring Fiddle had begun in the Rivoli Room and we headed there next. The room was packed. We could barely see the stage but Amanda Shires’ sweet and sultry voiced carried well above the crowd, and she definitely roared on her fiddle. She had a folk way of story telling, but brought an indie rock feel to many of her songs. Back by guitar and drums, she captivated the audience. She had the cute face to match her cute voice, which was soft yet strong and definitely had something to say. At one point, she commented “I hear 30’s a big year…” and the crowd laughed as I heard someone behind me say “She’s 25!”


[image-5]Across the hall, Knock Down Drag Out bellowed out pure rockabilly. These guys had great energy, with even better outfits to boot! A few fancy cowboy or western shirts, outrageously slicked-back hair, a black-and-white-spotted faux fur-lined jacket, the lead singer himself adorned in super tight leopard pants and matching black shirt with little leopard diamonds. Not only did the music rock -- it was loud and made you want to dance -- but the band was fun and dynamic, their stage presence outstanding. Knock Down Drag Out marked the midway point of the evening; the place was packed and the drinks were flowing by that point!


Tribal Style followed Shires. This 6-piece consisted of bass, keyboard, electric guitar, saxophone, drums and percussion (bongos and congas and the like). Smooth and vibrant reggae with simple basslines and great vocals. We were grooving to the beats when a woman approached my concert buddy and told her “You dance to reggae like you have chewing gum on the bottom of your feet. Watch!” So we did, for a bit at least. Everyone else was swaying to the island beats and enjoying the vibe.


[image-6]Paul Thorn followed on the Main and he performed some soulful blues-rock. WMNF had cut the cake so we grabbed a piece before it was gone and enjoyed the sugar-high and chocolatey goodness while digging  on Thorn's music. The dance floor was packed but we found a spot in the back to take it all in. Paul Thorn and his guitar were backed by ensemble bass, another guitar, keyboard and drums. Thorn was a big crowd pleaser, the audience was anything but tired at that point and continued in earnest.


We'd become near-experts at maneuvering from one stage to the next, and next up was Barely Pink (pictured below). This 4-piece of dueling guitars, a drummer and a bass player had quite the following and the ladies loved them. They played some very loud, high energy rock ‘n’ roll, the frontman's soft, high voice complimented by the other guitar player’s harmonies. Everyone was dancing and the room filled in quickly. Barley Pink was the hardest rock act of the evening and the fans in the Royal Room ate it all up like the WMNF birthday cake!


The last to play the Rivoli Room, Ray Olan and The Jazz Ole Band, performed pop-salsa that really made us move. The players jammed on guitar, keyboard, bongos/congas, steel drums, cymbals and the lead singer had a cowbell and a few other instruments like maracas to keep the Latin grooves fresh. This was the point in the evening when [image-7]everyone, including myself and my concert buddy, were really dancing. The beats were great; the perfect sounds to end the evening in the Rivoli Room, which transformed from dancing with some space, to dancing and getting to know your neighbor quite well. Although most of the lyrics were in Spanish, the feel was still there, as was the energy so it didn’t hinder the music.


The final act of the night, keyboard-drums-guitar trio Nervous Turkey, took the stage. At this point someone we'd met a few times throughout the night joined us and  described Nervous Turkey, as “awesome” and said we just hadtold us we had no idea what we were in for. This blues-roots band blew us away and played the perfect finale. At one point, Best of the Bay-winning frontman Ernie Locke, with his old-school microphone, sang a very Marilyn Monroe-esque version of “Happy Birthday” to WMNF, his voice powerful with a deep, grainy tone, and he rocked the harmonica in a few songs too. Certain aspects of the trio's set were like something out of a sermon, and the red lights created great ambiance. Nervous Turkey really got the crowd going, and finished the night strong for WMNF’s epic birthday bash.


WMNF is now 30 years old. Although most don’t age well, WMNF did it proud! Every performer brought their all to ring it in right. Here’s to another 30, WMNF! Bring it!


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WMNF supporters


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All photos by Sam Goresh.

WMNF celebrated its 30th birthday in a big way this past Saturday September 12, at the Ritz Ybor. My mission, and I chose to accept it, was three rooms, 12 bands, and about six hours worth of music: GO!

The schedule included a line-up of amazing talent and I wanted to hear it all, or as much as I could of each band, at least. The Ritz Ybor was divided into three stage areas. The Main Stage featured Have Gun, Will Travel, then the Legendary JC’s and Paul Thorn (pictured), with Nervous Turkey closing out the night. Sarasota Slim kicked things off in the Royal Room, and sets by Knock Down Drag Out and Barley Pink rounded things out (Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers were supposed to play here but their performance was canceled at the last minute). Suite Caroline opened the music in the Rivoli Room, and Amanda Shires and her Roaring Fiddle, Tribal Style and Ray Olan and the Jazz Ole Band followed. After I was given the unofficial tour of the venue by my Tampa-native concert buddy, we sat down and came up with a game plan to ensure that we caught them all.

The overall atmosphere was fun, festive and generally awesome. Smiling faces and crazy outfits abounded, and the Ritz was decked out with birthday banners, signs, and celebratory glitz and glamour, not to mention a giant birthday cake drooled over for half the night by those of us with a sweet tooth. I spotted a few familiar faces from my GrooveFest experience, proving that WMNF certainly has its faithful supporters and is 30 years strong because of them. (More photos + a photo gallery after the jump)

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