Happy 20th anniversary, Tropical Heatwave!! Your future may be cloudy — some say the Cuban Club will be infeasible next year, what with Ybor becoming about as bohemian as Winona Ryder is these days. All the more reason to attend this year, I say. And there will always be those folks who whine, Heatwave hasn't been good in years. You should have been there when Bo Diddley/Sun Ra/Sebadoh/The Blacks played! But those people are missing out — WMNF-88.5 FM's annual eclectic music festival is the official kickoff of summer, Tampa-style. It's not like those comfy, open-air numbers that take place all over Europe; Tropical Heatwave jams thousands of music-lovers of almost every persuasion into two courtyards and one labyrinthine building, preparing us for the hot months that lie ahead. Its six stages also give us a nice, fat music fix, so we can survive those same months, when the extreme weather keeps most tours far, far away from here.
This year's event features the usual slew of alt-country outlaws, one reggae legend, Heatwave's first foray into IDM, a roving guy in a gorilla suit (I hope it's air-conditioned, like the one Tom Hanks wore in Hook) and more singer/songwriters than you can shake a Bob Dylan songbook at. So dress light, bring water, and open your mind. I'll see you there (unless you see me first, of course).
Cuban Club Patio
The Strangeways Sarasota's Strangeways offer energetic doses of both ska and reggae, about evenly split. The sextet has two CDs out, one on the venerable Moon/Ska label and one on their own Prime 8 imprint.
The Prodigals Though they bandy about the term jig-punk, the Prodigals don't quite fit. The group skirts the traditional sounds of The Chieftains but doesn't quite hit the rollicking Celt-rock of that other New York-based band, Black 47. The question remains: Is it good? Answer: Oh, hells yes. Finely crafted Celtic tunes with a singer that doesn't sound like Shane MacGowan.
Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men If Alvin had never done anything beyond The Blasters, he'd deserve a vigorous nod from American music historians. That band was one of the linchpins of the early '80s roots-punk scene that has left a lingering imprint on rock 'n' roll. These days, the singer/guitarist/songwriter is much more the eclectic, factoring the pantheon of Americana into his earthy style. And yes, he'll still get down and blow out some kickin' rockabilly. On his current album, last year's Public Domain (High Tone) he lovingly recast a compendium of antiquated folk, country and blues. Alvin will perform with his seasoned backing quartet of multi-instrumentalists.
North Mississippi All-Stars Sons of renowned Memphis musician/producer Jim Dickinson, Luther (guitar) and Cody (drums) Dickinson form the core of these blues-drenched All-Stars from the hill country of northern Mississippi. Influenced by local legends like Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside, but also by the Allman Brothers and other more contemporary artists, the band updates the hypnotic sounds of the region, which tends to favor repeated riffs over the 12-bar pattern of the Chicago style. The group debuted in Tampa Bay at Skipper's last year, and turned a big crowd on its ear. Luther is one of the most exciting blues-based guitar slingers to come along since Stevie Ray Vaughan.
El Pasaje Plaza
Michael Hill's Blues Mob Hill's social commentary has kept him from the center ring on the blues tour circuit, but his issue-heavy lyrics have precedence in the songs of Leadbelly and Mance Lipscomb. The Bronx-based guitarist and vocalist played with Little Richard, Archie Bell and Harry Belafonte in the '70s, and in the mid-'80s established the Black Rock Coalition with Living Colour's Vernon Reid. Hill brings with him a fiery, rock-tinged trio playing keyboards, bass and drums.
King Chango This is precisely the kind of band that wins out at Heatwave: intensely danceable and bursting at the seams. And with a horn section. The New York group takes its name from the god of music in the Afro-Caribbean Santeria religion. Edgy and intense, King Chango melds hard salsa, dancehall chants, dub, Afro-groove and more into a feverish party flava. If you're looking to break a Heatwave sweat, be stagefront for these cats.
Sam Rivers and the Rivbea Orchestra You wanna talk about back in the day? In the early '70s, Sam Rivers ran Studio Rivbea, ground zero for the loft scene that defined avant-jazz in New York and around the world. Although best known for his work in the outre world, Rivers gigged and collaborated with Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Witherspoon and others from a wide musical palette. Now 70, the saxophonist/ flutist lives in Orlando. He leads his Rivbea Orchestra through a gutbucket blend of jazz, funk and world music. If the crowd is in the right mood, this set could evoke one of the Heatwave's all-time best: the Sun Ra Arkestra show in the '80s.