Featured Image Courtesy of Matt Nestor
Review By: Matt Nestor
Saturday 5/21, Electric Factory
When Ardmore Music Hall’s Live From The Lot festival was moved down inside the Electric Factory due to Saturday’s unfriendly weather, fans were thrust into a dark, time warp of sorts. Thankfully the musicians and festival promoters had their watches set straight, because 12 hours is a long time to stay in any building, let alone a dark concert venue. If not for the overcast sky outside occasionally peeking through breaks in the industrial drapes blanketing the walls, daytime and nighttime would have been indistinguishable. But inside, only one thing mattered: the show must go on, and on, and on.
It all began at 1:02 p.m. with The Phonies, a young seven-piece Philly band, who won Ardmore Music Hall’s battle of the bands – dubbed Spot On The Lot – to earn this spot…at the Electric Factory. They were the first band to ever play on a side stage inside the Electric Factory. This smaller stage located toward the back of the dance floor provided a nice little nook for The Phonies’ interesting blend of rock, funk and jazz elements. The band even teetered on the fringe of ska music with its potent horn section and upbeat grooves. They wrapped up the first set of the weekend with an artfully crafted cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”
Brooklyn’s Pimps Of Joytime funked up the main stage shortly after, with a set that began with some “Junxta Funk” and eventually melded into soul and even some electronica. The five-piece outfit led by guitarist Brian Jay, did well to blend the old and the new over the course of their hour-long set on the larger Prince Stage. Although Pimps Of Joytime finished up around 3:00, Jay’s day was just beginning. He later sat in with Superhuman Happiness, and participated in the late-night Everyone Orchestra show. More on those performances in a bit.
Back on the smaller stage, dubbed the Bowie Stage, Charlie Hunter began one of the festival’s jazziest sets. Hunter plays a custom eight-string guitar, which allows him to simultaneously play bass and guitar on the same instrument. If you hadn’t known this, you would have spent half the set trying to figure out who was playing bass. Hunter borrowed drummer Larnell Lewis, Saxophonist Chris Bullock, and Trumpeter Justin Stanton from Snarky Puppy for the set, creating a sort of mellow, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants lounge vibe that was perfect for the smaller stage.
By 4:00, supergroup Foundation Of Funk, had hopped on the big stage to play the music of legendary New Orleans funk band The Meters. The original Meters rhythm section with Zigaboo Modeliste on drums and George Porter Jr. on bass anchored the group, while Eric Krasno and Neal Evans of Soulive rounded out the group. The group navigated through an extended take on the Meters’ hit “Cissy Strut” before delving deeper with some rocking, even psychedelic grooves on “Ain’t No Use.”
The Electric Factory was really starting fill up by the time Foundation Of Funk’s set came to a raucous conclusion around 5:00. For those who had already been inside for four hours saying “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” the time had finally arrived. For those just arriving, and filling the upstairs seating, the night was beginning all the same. Superhuman Happiness began their set on the small stage seconds after FoF finished on the main stage, injecting an upbeat electro-pop sound into the room. Marco Benevento and Pimps Of Joytime’s Brian Jay sat in later in the set, marking the first real improvised collaboration of the day.
The Revivalists rocked the happy hour set on the main stage, starting with guitarist Zack Feinberg’s solo welcome to the crowd. When the other six Revivalists joined him on stage, the audience built to a wild roar that never seemed to dissipate during the band’s 75-minute set. From raucous southern rock with wailing solos from pedal steel guitarist Ed Williams, to easygoing balladry, the energy in the building was the most jubilant it had been all day. Toward the end of the set, singer David Shaw claimed the remainder of the show would be the band ever played. With no other Revivalists shows to compare this one to, I can’t say for sure if the band delivered on their frontman’s promise. But, the conclusion was indeed fiery, and included a take on the band’s hit “Wish I Knew You.”
With the Electric Factory buzzing, the atmosphere was ripe for keyboard wizard Marco Benevento to come in and own the small stage. While other artists surely commanded the crowd’s attention on the Bowie Stage, no one had a 360-degree sea of eager ears like Benevento and his rhythm section: bassist Dave Dreiwitz and drummer Andrew Borger. The trio rollicked through Benevento’s dreamscape tunes, and pulled out a surprise when Marco announced they would play the entire B-side of his new record released April 1, The Story Of Fred Short. Benevento’s set, the last on the only side stage in Electric Factory history, deserves consideration for the finest of the two-day festival.
Alas, Live From The Lot was not a competition. But if it was, Snarky Puppy would certainly have a claim in the best-of-the-fest title. And, if they weren’t the best, they were at least the busiest. Several artists invited members of Snarky Puppy to sit in for jams. And, they were the only band to play on both days of the festival.
Their Saturday night set began at 8:45 and raged for nearly two hours. Bassist and bandleader Michael League, calls the shots on stage, which is easier said then done considering the nine-piece band’s many layers of sound. On one end, there’s horn-heavy, boisterous jazz-fusion. But on the other, there’s a melodic, intricate Weather Report vibe. The precision, dynamics and overall musicianship is truly remarkable, so I imagine it’s quite easy for Snarky Puppy to get other musicians to sit in during their sets. On Saturday, Charlie Hunter joined the band on a regular 6-string guitar, while Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman from the Trey Anastasio Band hopped up for a disco-funk jam. There would be more Snarky collaborations on Sunday. But before then, was the late-night after party with Everyone Orchestra.
Between the end of Snarky Puppy’s set and the start of the Everyone Orchestra show, Benevento kept the energy alive with a wildly successful DJ set. Before long, the Everyone Orchestra was on stage playing with its all star cast of Aron Magner, Tom Hamilton, Brian Jay, Rob Mercurio, Johnny Kimock, Zigaboo Modeliste, David Shaw, Hartswick, Cressman, and Benevento. At the front of the stage was conductor Matt Butler who called all the shots with wild hand gyrations. All 10 musicians stared intently at Butler, waiting for their queues. It was a fundamental exercise in group improvisation shepherded by Butler – a perfect way to wrap up 12 hours of diverse music whose underlying spirit was always rooted in improvisation.
At 1:03 a.m., the lights came on and the delirious patrons escaped the time warp. The rain hadn’t stopped.
Sunday 5/22, Ardmore Music Hall
Day two of Live From The Lot was sure to be a brighter affair than Saturday’s indoor festivities, so long as the rainclouds steered clear of Ardmore. To be honest, I doubt anyone would have minded if it had rained out in the parking lot behind Ardmore Music Hall. Just to hear live music outside was a treat.
But first, there was one more indoor show: Steve Kimock’s Grateful Dead Brunch inside the Ardmore Music Hall. The show began a little before 11:30, and Steve hadn’t yet had his coffee. They might have been the only ones happy to stay indoors. Surely Steve’s son, drummer Johnny Kimock was weary too, having played at Electric Factory until 1:00 a.m. with Everyone Orchestra the night before. But neither seemed any worse for wear. They eased into the show with a languid jazzy jam that segued into the Dead’s “Crazy Fingers.” Leslie Mendelson took lead vocals, while upright bassist Anders Alfelt locked in the groove with the younger Kimock. Steve Kimock eventually got his coffee and the group played some more upbeat blues numbers, like “Deep Elem Blues,” “Sugaree” and “High Heeled Sneakers.” Overall, it was the perfect set to listen to before noon, especially with another long day of music ahead. Mendelson’s stunning vocals on “Waiting For A Miracle” wrapped up the brunch show around 12:45.
Outside in the parking lot, up and coming Philly band Darla kicked off their set on the smaller Bowie Stage at exactly 1:00. The eight-piece band played a variety of laid back instrumental funk that also managed to be incredibly tight and progressive. It was the young group’s last show with its alto saxophonist Jake Fabian and the boys made sure it was a scorcher, rocking a totally badass cover of “Whipping Post.”
Snarky Puppy was back at it again on the main, Prince Stage shortly before 2:00. They came out of the gates firing as guitarist Chris McQueen and violinist Zach Brock traded fiery licks. When played through a distortion pedal, Brock’s violin drove the band into Mahavishnu Orchestra territory. But, ever dynamic, Snarky Puppy was capable of a far more subdued sound which swelled and swelled in intricate progressions.The band invited fellow Brooklynite Eric Krasno to the stage late in the set just long enough to lay waste to the track with one of his gnarly guitar solos.
After Snarky Puppy’s 90-minute set, Philly band Swift Technique wasted no time getting into their brand of bombastic funk over on the smaller stage. Vocalists Chelsea ViaCava and Nik Greeley ensured the energy never lulled. The 9-piece band expertly navigated a timely cover of Prince’s “Dance Music Sex Romance,” although they were on the Bowie Stage, not the Prince Stage. Alas, the cover was a hit and got the crowd fired up for all the funk that was yet to come.
The Greyboy Allstars carried the funk torch back on the main stage, as the Karl Denson-led group played a thoroughly uplifting set. Watching Denson’s saxophone and flute work, it’s easy to see why he’s so revered in the funk and soul circuits. He suggested to the crowd that they yell “Ard-more!” instead of “D-Fense!” at Eagles games next season. Something tells me this won’t stick, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a Greyboy Allstars halftime show.
The theme of this middle afternoon stretch (and perhaps the entire festival) was funk. High & Mighty Brass Band did what brass bands tend to do: play wildly entertaining, high-energy music. But the Brooklyn-based 10-piece wasn’t so one-dimensional. They worked in elements of rock and fusion, and even put their mark on some pop and hip hop tunes, like Ginuwine’s 90’s hit “Pony,” and Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle.”
The Sunday headliner Soulive was primed to take over the energized crowd when they banged out their first notes a few minutes after 7:00. Following a ripping opener, the trio of guitarist Eric Krasno and brothers Neal and Alan Evans, played an untitled new song written the day B.B King passed away in May 2015. Krasno’s guitar work incorporated King’s Memphis Blues influence within the context of Soulive’s bluesy-jazz sound. Always good for an interesting cover, Soulive then busted out The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” before inviting the Snarky Puppy horns, Karl Denson and Nigel Hall to the stage for a rendition of “Too Much.” Hall led the jam with his voice – no small feat. He threw in a tease of legendary hip hop tune “They Reminisce Over You” and engaged in some scintillating call and respond with Krasno’s guitar. A lengthy funk encore was the perfect coda for this celebration of funk and soul, and the communities based around those genres.
Other than a few raindrops here and there, Live From The Lot had subverted Mother Nature’s wrath. Saturday’s festival-goers had earned this tranquil day by the Ardmore train station, where it was not too hot, not too cold, just damn cool.
Let us know what you thought of this year’s Live On The Lot in the comments below!