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.
The Abyssinians No word yet on which version of the legendary reggae vocal group this is. In the late '70s, The Abyssinians split into two separate tribes, one led by brothers Lynford and Donald Manning, another led by Bernard Collins. That original trio is partially responsible for the proliferation of roots reggae's close harmony singing style, as well as for replacing the American soul influence with a more spiritual force.
Cuban Club Cantina
The Gita This popular local quintet has been pigeonholed as something of a jam band, when in fact, they're a tight, jazzy aggregation of funk-rockers, led by singer/guitarist Joran Oppelt and burnished with the flowing locks and riffs of saxophonist/flutist Joe Terrana.
Melissa Ferrick This Boston-based singer/songwriter got her big break after serving as last-minute replacement for Morrissey's opening act. Mozzer dug Ferrick so much that he invited her to open for him on the rest of the tour. That tour led to a deal with Atlantic, which led to critical success but low sales, which yielded three studio albums, one live collection and a whole lot of bitter songs about the record industry. Ferrick has a low, warm, elastic voice (kinda like Ani DiFranco's, only smoother) a charismatic stage presence and a penchant for sincere interpretations of oddball covers.
Split Lip Rayfield If the Blue Rags did it for you last year, be sure to check out their less reverent cousins, Split Lip Rayfield. The drumless Kansas quartet's psychograss goes way past insurgent. Their ringing, four-part vocal harmonies and mandolin and banjo work will catch the breath in your chest, as will the apparatus that ties it all together — the appropriately named Stitchgiver, a single-string, stand-up bass born of a Ford gas tank. The redneck Rube Goldberg device keeps the sound on track with a wild, rhythmic tension, and these boys are wild live. Other than River City High, the punkest thing at this year's Heatwave.
Blectum From Blechdom This coed duo — Kevin Blechdom and Blevin Blectum — represent Tropical Heatwave's first foray into IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). Lots of experimental acts aren't much to look at, but B from B comes straight outta Oakland with humor, costumes and shenanigans to go with their breakbeats and inventive samples. They met at Mills College, and played together for the first time by accident: When Blechdom was supposed to fade out his music to make room for Blectum, the two overlapped and, like those great old Reese's commercials, they discovered that they were two great tastes that taste great together. Inspired by animals with funny names (snauses, mallards and bee-grubs), B from B uses laptops, samplers, pedals, keyboards, and vocals.
River City High The Richmond quartet has been making the Tampa Bay area such a frequent stop these days, you'd think they were lobbying for Heatwave's Token Punk Band slot. With the intense dynamics you expect from the post-hardcore/emo camp and a tunefulness that nudges up against power-pop, the band should give the cantina a good workout, regardless of their agenda.
Dumbwaiters Brian Repetto and his band of merry music snobs have been at it for about six years; the sounds that eddy through DW's repeating themes have evolved from angular guitar rock, through dub and into a more new wavey, rhythmic affair. Echoes of Eno, Bowie and krautrock still remain, but the loose-limbed train that is Dumbwaiters has become its own unpredictable animal. Not only was their Titles one of the Planet's top local releases in 2000, that thing just can't get off the playlists at such prestigious underground radio stations as New York's WNYU and WFMU.
Cuban Club Ballroom
Kelly Hogan And The Pine Valley Cosmonauts If you had the good fortune to listen to college and underground radio 'round these parts in the very early '90s, you probably heard Kelly Hogan's crystalline tones on songs by The Jody Grind. That Atlanta quartet was one of the Southeast's finest alt-rock exports, blending jazz and country in with their tuneful garage musings. Sadly, the band's promising career ended when a van accident killed two members. After a stint in the Rock*a*Teens, Hogan relocated to Chicago and became a star of the Bloodshot Records roster. Last year's Beneath the Country Underdog, paired the twangy chanteuse with the raucous Pine Valley Cosmonauts, which comprises folks from The Waco Brothers, The Mekons and The Bottle Rockets.
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire Violinist/songwriter/songwriter Bird used to flee from contemporary pop music, as not to taint his sound with modern influences. Instead, he and his band Bowl of Fire reconstructed decades-old genres: classical, swing, Celtic, tango and more. In '99, Bird broke down and bought The Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin, and, little by little, the rock started to seep in. His metamorphosis can be heard on the recently released The Swimming Hour (Rykodisc), which is at turns catchy and thinky, experimental and quaint, stately and low-down. The influences have been integrated into a personalized style, an impressive new voice in the underground pop scene.
Magic Red and The Voodoo Tribe Savoy Brown's Pete McMahon called the blues-rock playing of guitarist Magic Red cutting-edge blues for the Year 2000! Well, now it's 2001, and we get to see how far they've come.
The Paul Thorn Band Tupelo, Miss.'s Paul Thorn took career turns as skydiver and prizefighter — even going a couple of nationally televised rounds with Roberto Duran — before settling down as a rootsy singer/songwriter. His band bulks up the man's funky, R&B-inflected tunes. His wry, confessional music has been compared to that of Chris Whitley and Freedy Johnston.
Cherokee Club/La Femme Buvette
Fallopian Tubes They're easily one of the longest-standing Bay area bands — an all-female outfit that brings subversive humor and social commentary into a rockin' blues sound. These women place a foremost emphasis on entertaining.
The Irritable Tribe Of Poets Drummer Jonathan Priest calls the Irritable Tribe's sound multi-ethnic improvisational music. The all-star local coalition isn't beholden to jazz or worldbeat or blues or nothin', and 75 percent of what they do is improvised. Guest spoken-word artists add beatnik vocal flava.
Wally Pleasant With his good cheekbones and thatch of malleable hair, East Lansing, Michigan-based Wally Pleasant coulda been an indie-rock heartthrob. But instead, he chose to be a sarcastic, acoustic jokester who sings songs about malicious kids' show hosts and post-graduate syndrome, and hangs out with Dr. Demento. He will write and record a song for your special occasion, says his web site, which also says that his live shows are like escaping to a planet where everyone is nice. Someone get that man a shot of tequila — this is Heatwave!!
11 p.m.-12:15 a.m.
James Intveld Los Angeles native Intveld rocked Heatwave two years ago with his rockabilly-tinged, retro country. The crooner and multi-instrumentalist supplied the singing voice for Johnny Depp's character in John Waters' Cry Baby, as well as writing hits for Rosie Flores and sitting in with The Blasters (on guitar) and bluesman Lester Butler (on drums).
Howie Day Singer/songwriter Day started playing in local clubs and college coffeehouses in his hometown of Orono, Maine, at 15; now 20, his reputation has grown via fans across the world who act as reps, trading their services as publicists for free merch and show tickets. His singing evokes Jeff Buckley, but his loops and impressive guitar playing are all his own.
The Unrequited Loves If you think that Mike O'Neill's surly demeanor is a reflection of his band's sound, The Unrequited Loves will prove you wrong. O'Neill has what may be the greatest collection of garage-rock vinyl in the Tampa Bay area, and it shows in the sound his trio makes. Rounded out by bassist Keith Bartlett and superdrummer Ed Lowery, The Unrequited Loves comprise members of some of Tampa's most beloved bands, including Monday Mornings and Magadog.
Cuban Club Landing
Blue Plate Special Eddie Rosicky (Bohemian Swingers, Lounge Cat) and company blend their diverse influences into a funky stew of bluegrass, funk and lounge.
Brian Busto This is the progressive house jock's second Heatwave.
DJ Rane Named for a maker of DJ mixers, Jodi Hollander, a.k.a. Rane, combines old school rhythms with fresher-than-thou drum 'n' bass.
Courtney K Gainesville's Courtney K specializes in two-step and house.
8-Track Gorilla Born and bred in Athens, Ga., the 8-Track Gorilla is a man in a gorilla suit, singing karaoke to a portable 8-track player. Daddy, I'm frightened. Can I have some more tequila?
—All entries by Stefanie Kalem unless otherwise indicated