Music festivals conjure up visions of Woodstock and Monterrey Pop, tales of Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, and vaguely lucid memories of Voodoo and Langerado (oh how I miss Langerado). Rhythm Foundation each year does its part to contribute to the music festival quilt of America with its own very distinctive, very intimate Heineken TransAtlantic Music Festival. Combing the world for innovative musicians, they have for years fashioned a program that meshes with Miami’s diverse music appetite. This year marks the 13th year for TransAtlantic, a two-day affair set for this Friday and Saturday at the North Beach Bandshell on 73rd and Collins Ave. I’ve been attending this festival for years, since before my kids were born (they are 9 and 7 now) and always come away with good memories. Past performers include Aterciopelados, Sidestepper, Jorge Drexler, Seu Jorge, Amadou and Mariam, and Zero 7.
Here’s a preview of this year’s intriguing lineup.
Performing on Friday April 10th:
In this age of fusion, sampling and copycat acts, it is a real pleasure when purity shines through. Puerto Candelaria at its core is a Cumbia band from Medellin, Colombia, and they celebrate their ancestral roots with a dose of theatric, surreal flair that reminds one of the magical realism found in a Garcia Marquez passage.
This New York instrumental band first performed at TransAtlantic in 2009, and they don’t travel light. Eleven members, lots of horns and percussions. Their music sounds like extended reflections on retro cop show theme songs. No wonder they have been described as a “70s Psychedelic” band. I like the 70s. I like psychedelic. And I grew up on Starsky & Hutch so I’m looking forward to hearing them blast away on Friday night.
On tap for Saturday April 11th:
French born. Chilean roots. The daughter of exiles from the Pinochet regime, Ms. Tijoux embodies the gulf between the developed and the developing world with a hip hop bravado that pops like Missy Elliott and crackles like Lauryn Hill. Her “1977” track (the year she was born) was featured in a Breaking Bad episode. (Remember the Mike & Jesse day-long money pick up sequence?) She made NPR’s 2012 list of Best Latin Alternative Music of the Year in 2012 (“Las Cosas Por Su Nombre”) and has continued to be featured there. She is a star and she’ll be tearing it down on Saturday night.
Brother and sister duos worth there place are rare in music. The Carpenters? Pass. The White Stripes? You had us fooled for a while. Wild Belle is a brother-sister music act from Chicago that draws from reggae and paisley pop. Brother Eliot is the instrumentalist (he usually bounces between the piano and the saxophone) while sister Natalie delivers vocals with a subdued Bond girl quality to her. Their music is shag carpet cool.
Finally, each night will also feature a local band: MY DEER on Friday night and BLUE JAY on Saturday. Both are newcomers to the local indie scene. This is another fine thing Rhythm Foundation does well. No matter where the transatlantic flights take them, they never forget their roots.
For more info, visit this link.
Just follow the fingers.
So says the man wearing sunglasses. He points ahead as we pull into Virginia Key Beach Park in Key Biscayne, Florida for the 4th Annual GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance. It is Saturday afternoon, day 3 of this four-day festival.
We follow the fingers, each one like the last one, magic wands ushering us towards the parking lot to settle among the cars, trucks, vans, jeeps, and campers. We are six today: me, my wife, my two sons, my friend, his daughter.
We get our tickets at the entrance and that’s it, there is no more finger-pointing. There is no more direction from others. We are on our own.
As we walk down the main trail towards the festival, our eager shadows lurch forward on the dust ahead of our feet. A breeze slips past the mangroves and onto our faces. We are, after all, on a beach, and we are open to wind, and sun and sand and sea.
The trail is lined by tents on either side. There is disorder in the frames and colors and shapes of the tents and yet there is symmetry; They are here and now.
There are people on blankets.
There are people on camping chairs.
There are people drumming.
The first festival music I hear is traditional Cuban music by Los Consortes at the first stage called the Zen Village. It is nostalgic and comforting to me and a reminder that we are a flare shot’s distance from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.
We don’t linger here. We are hungry.
We find pizza. We find beer.
As roadies begin to set up at the main stage, the guy next to me explains bluegrass music to his wife.
A man with sunflowers dangling from his straw hat spins an umbrella over his head.
Another man wearing a Viking helmet conquers a little spot near the stage.
When Donna the Buffalo is finally introduced, there are roars of elation from the crowd.
The woman sitting next to me takes repeated photos of the band. She tells me she is the cousin of singer Tara Nevins. Tara also plays the classic fiddle, the accordion, guitar, the electric fiddle, while, song after song, guitarist Jeb Puryear keeps an element of zydeco strumming.
There is dancing.
The sun begins its long descent behind the crowd and the trees.
I slip out the back of the stage to find a restroom and I’m immediately drawn to a steady beat-thumping taking place at the aptly named Dance Tent. San Francisco-based MC Yogi is leading a prayer-like electronica ritual, a balancing act that combines Hare Krishna and Ultra Music Fest.
MC Yogi makes women sweat, men bare their chest.
There are smiles and laughter.
There is euphoria.
We are dry. We are salty.
We find Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Sweet Cream and Cookies ice cream at a Ben & Jerry’s cart. The kids get ice cream on their shirts and fudge on their cheeks.
Across lonely picnic tables, the Zen Village is hosting Miami singer Sindy Rush, an attractive blonde vocalist that looks like 80s metal queen Lita Ford. A guy behind me yells “Sindy, you’re hot” during a break and she says thank you in a very casual and courteous way like she’s heard this before.
Sindy is hot. And there is smoke. And lights. And when there is apparent confusion before her next song, more smoke and lights drape Ms. Rush and her band and now they are all silhouettes, and they launch into an appetizing cover of The Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again.
We are curious.
One of the delightful things about music festivals is the traveling retailers and Grassroots has no shortage of hand-crafted items for sale. What sticks out here is the prevalence of Native American art and crafts. We hear tall tales from a Pascua Yaqui tribesman from Tucson.
We buy a buffalo whistle and a pipe flute and incense that is used by indigenous people during cleansings.
By now the sun and the clouds are gone.
We are fading. We find hammocks.
When one of the festival announcers says, “we have a surprise for you,” and introduces local gospel and soul queen Maryel Epps, I rally our crew to get a closer look. Lo and behold, we are surprised.
She belts a few Motown tunes but it is her rendition of Sly & the Family Stone’s Dance to the Music that moves mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, husbands and wives. Ms. Epps glows in a long flow of pink (she is by far the best dressed person in all the festival.)
After the show we chat with Ms. Epps backstage and take photos with her. Then leave her to savor her moment.
We wander off to wait for the next act.
A bit later, Cuban singer Danay Suarez strolls onto the main stage and in a thick-like-froth accent delivers a greeting to the crowd.
And then the band kicks into a slow, steady, reggae rhythm and Danay drops a Nina Simone-like vocal over the beat, beckoning the crowd concealed in the dark towards her. Her singing comes through with an echoing effect, like waves.
We stay for awhile, transfixed, until it is time to go (the kids are ready).
The path back to our car is unlit and unmarked but we follow fingers and voices and direction again.
As we drive away, sand becomes asphalt, trees become condos, moonlight become traffic lights.
Back to the city.
We are fulfilled,
But soon we will long for more peace, love and GrassRoots.
Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami
Note: One year ago, in November of 2012, word was spreading fast that Lou Reed would be performing in an inaugural music festival to take place in downtown Miami. Sadly the event was canceled but ever more remorsefully, Mr. Reed passed away on October 27, 2013 due to complications from a recent liver transplant. The post below seems so outdated and obsolete but I refuse to delete it from the blog. RIP Lou.
Originally published on November 2, 2012
You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout, I’m telling you why.
Lou Reed is coming to town!
Reed, that icon of (post) punk, performance art, and glam rock, that godfather of street cred, will be performing in Miami for the first time since… well, lets just say Bill Clinton was President and Don Shula still coached the Dolphins (if my research is correct). Plain and simple, the dude doesn’t tour.
Reed is the coolest of street cats. Never one to chase commercial success or mainstream acceptance; he just never gave a shit. Early in his music career he was too busy trying to figure himself out to worry about outsiders, and then once he did, he chose the strangest of paths: pioneering progressive glam rock (with David Bowie producing his records in 1972), toying with ‘electronic noise’ before the digital age, composing rock operas, writing “Walk on the Wild Side” and recording the most famous of background vocals by ‘the colored girls’ – doo do doo do doo do do doo .
Indefinable. Uncategorizable. Eccentric.
Most recently, he collaborated with Metallica on a concept album (LuLu) based on – get this – works by an obscure 19th century German playwright. Whatever the intents and purposes, the album, to put it mildly, bombed. (Reed said recently that Metallica fans have threatened to shoot him. But then this: “I don’t have any fans left. Who cares? I’m essentially in this for the fun of it.”).
For the fun of it. That bravado is why Lou Reed still matters.
Reed first began to matter in the mid 1960s when he was rubbing elbows with Andy Warhol, the milk-white-haired grand-daddy of multimedia pop art. Warhol was also known for famous parties at his New York City studio dubbed ‘The Factory’ which regularly drew hundreds of artists, celebrities, and “it” people for festive, creative debauchery all curated by Warhol himself. It was there that Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker started The Velvet Underground which from 1966 to 1970, explored through their avant-garde music, the darker, grittier side of life (drug use, street hustling, flame ins, burn outs). Reed once said, “I put together music about what was really going on in the streets of New York and had some basis in reality”. This was in direct contrast to the psychedelic music originating from the San Francisco hippie movement in those years.
And now just as the holidays approach, Lou Reed is coming to take part in the UR1 Music Festival in Downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park on December 8th and 9th with at least 40 other musical acts including the sometimes polemic, always entertaining Kanye West, pre-grunge rockers Jane’s Addiction, and former Gun & Roses guitarist Slash.
We are in for a December treat.
Update – November 30, 2012:
The UR1 Festival was postponed due to ‘inclement weather conditions.’ New dates will be announced shortly so we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the Rock & Roll Animal. Stay tuned.