Live From the Lot
The Sequel : Second Year of Festival Packs a Knockout Punch in Philly
Electric Factory/Ardmore Music Hall | Philly/Ardmore Pa. | May 21-22, 2016
Even though Rocky hadn’t won the title belt in his first fight with Apollo Creed, he went the distance and earned the respect of the champ along with everyone in the boxing world. It was during the second fight that Rocky took everything the champ could throw at him, even got knocked down a few times, refused to give up, and “shocked the boxing world.” This time he took the championship belt from the highly favored Creed. I’m sure there were doubters last year when the Ardmore Music Hall, located 5 miles north of Philadelphia in Ardmore Pa., decided to put together a one day festival on the SEPTA train station parking lot located behind the budding music venue. Proving the doubters wrong, the inaugural installment of Live From the Lot was a mighty success. With only 4 bands (American Babies, Pink Talking Fish, Bustle in Your Hedgerow, and Dr. John) on one stage with an indoor after party featuring Marco Benevento, the little fest became a local sensation and earned the respect of the music festival world.
There was quite a buzz created and the hope for a rematch was brought to fruition when the date and lineup for a second Live From the Lot was announced a few months ago. Not only did the Ardmore Music Hall take on the task of repeating their exceptional performance from last year, but this time they assembled a two day festival with two stages, 18 bands, a pre-party, 2 after-parties, and a Sunday brunch featuring Steve Kimock. Would the underdog be able to pull off the mountainous task and stand toe to toe with the music festival world? Well, the fight hadn’t even started when the weather gods picked Saturday to rain and forced the Ardmore Music Hall to decide which hand to fight with, the left or right. Indoor or outdoor? Luckily a veteran indoor friend by the name “The Electric Factory” came to the rescue and offered their building for the first day of the huge event. You can almost hear Chuck Mangione playing the Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now” when the change was announced on social media. I think everyone with tickets mentally ran to the top of the Art Museum steps and raised both arms in the air.
With a heavyweight line up of bands and musicians “The Sequel” began as scheduled. “Spot On the Lot” champs, The Phonies from hometown Philly threw the first punch. Proving they were worthy of their title, they quickly got every ones attention and performed a set on the smaller “Bowie stage” at the Electric Factory that earned them accolades and more opportunities to “enter the ring”.
The Brooklyn funk machine known as Pimps Of Joytime had the honor of getting things started on the larger “Prince Stage” and proved why they continue to have a big following in the City of Brotherly Love. The five piece brawlers featuring Brian J on lead guitar/percussion and vocals made an early impact with their “janxta funk” grooves and Latin rhythms. Having seen them last over a year ago I was eagerly anticipating their set and got everything I’d hoped for.
Guitarist Charlie Hunter welcomed the support from the Snarky Puppy horns and performed an awe-inspiring set that had jaws hanging and bodies getting their early Saturday boogie workout.
The first mix and match supergroup to take the stage was Foundations of Funk featuring Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr from the Meters along with Eric Krasno and Neal Evans of Soulive. For anyone aspiring to become a live performing musician they were treated to a solid hour of free lessons regardless of which instrument they aspired to play. Each member took the spotlight several times to display their virtuoso skills. It was quite the treat to witness George Porter Jr and Eric Krasno square off, trading musical blows several times during their ambitious set.
Continuing the flow of superhuman musicianship from stage to stage the band Superhuman Happiness honored the growing crowd with a mighty strong dose of contemporary jams while clad in white lab coats only to reveal more colorful attire later in the set. With a performance as colorful as their outfits SHH had the crowd that surrounded the smaller Bowie stage dancing and partying.
One of the bands that had the most “band specific” fans at the festival was the The Revivalists from New Orleans. The 7 piece rock/funk/soul music creators have been building quite a following for themselves in the Philadelphia area that grows and grows every time they return. The crowd quickly built in front of the Prince stage and extended clear across the floor and all the way to the back of the venue. There were dozens wearing T-shirts saying “RevHeads” signifying unity and love for the bands Facebook fan page of the same name. The Revivalists are one band that strives on creating an intimate bond with their fans and making each show special. One fan who could testify to that would be a longtime fan name J.J. Johnson. J.J., who by day is owner of Jambalaya J’s in Reading Pa, (known for some of the finest Cajun cuisine outside of New Orleans) and dedicated RevHead by night, decided to wear his huge novelty kings crown he had bought while visiting New Orleans. With a large button on the front saying “KING OF WHAT” (a song on the Revs latest album Men Amongst Mountains) he caught the attention of band members prior to the show. Towards the end of their set David Shaw summoned for J.J. to join them on stage while they played the folky campfire like song. Feeling joyous emotion J.J. took a seat behind the pedal steel guitar that Ed Williams had vacated before the song. When I spoke to J.J. about it later he told me that having his favorite band make a dream moment a reality was one of the most special moments of his life. I seem to hear that a lot when people talk about these guys. He also told me the reason it took him so long to get to the stage was because he was in the bathroom when he was being called. Sometimes timing means everything. The hour long set featured many highlights including Snarky Puppy saxophonist Chris Bullock joining them for the fan favorite “Upright”.
Marco Benevento, a frequent performer on the Ardmore Music Hall stage, took the seat behind his many keyboards on the Bowie stage. Dressed in his striped jacket and pants as well as his signature top hat, Marco mesmerized the crowd like he often does playing tunes from his eclectic catalog. Songs from his latest album “The Story of Fred Short” like the catchy tune “Dropkick” and older songs like “At the Show” had the capacity crowd at the Electric Factory captivated by every note.
Towards the end of Marco’s energetic set you could see (and hear) the next band up, Snarky Puppy tuning up and paying along with Benevento on the larger main stage. I had never seen Snarky Puppy live before but had heard from many friends and fellow music lovers that they were one of the bands you need to see and don’t want to miss. Their sentiments were totally accurate and true as I found myself fascinated by the musicianship and orchestration of these current two time Grammy winner. Even trombonist Natalie Cressman and guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter joined in on the fun. There was so much to see and hear as Snarky mixed things up from their 11 album catalog.
At the conclusion of Snarky Puppy’s set the crowd disbanded and exited out into the pouring rain that had started a few hours earlier. Many stayed behind to celebrate the triumphant day of music and attend the scheduled after party featuring members from many assorted bands known as the Everyone Orchestra. The Everyone Orchestra has an ever changing line up of musicians conducted by maestro Matt Butler. This installment of EO consisted of keyboard players Marco Benevento and Disco Biscuits Aron Magner, guitarists Brian J from Pimps of Joytime and Philly native and founder of American Babies Tom Hamilton, Galactic bassman Rob Mercurio, Zigaboo Modeliste and Johnny Kimock on drums, Trey Anastasio Band horn duet of Natalie Cressman and Jennifer Hartswick, and Revivalist front man David Shaw adding his vocal flavor. It was as if they had been playing together for years. EO threw knockout solos throughout their set and hit their target each time with flawless chemistry. Round one of Live From the Lot ended with the maximum points allowed on any scorecard leaving great anticipation of what was to come in round two.
To start round two Live From the Lot picked up right where it left off the night before. With temperatures around 70 degrees and a clear sky the festive crowd entered the SEPTA lot behind Ardmore Music Hall. To kick things off the band Darla, who had opened for the Disco Biscuits a few months earlier, got the many early attendees grooving from the opening bell. I was immediately impressed with the young hometown band. Their mix of funky jams and jazzy accents set the tone throughout their ambitious set. They played original tunes from their first studio EP “Darla Comes Alive 2” that showed their ability as song crafters to be top notch. I also enjoyed their version of Allman Brothers classic anthem “Whipping Post” which was reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s version accented with their funky duo of horns.
Making a valiant return to the Live From the Lot stage was Snarky Puppy for second helping of the Grammy winning bands amazing music. Snarky Puppy again delivered with a completely different set from the prior evening. Making his second LFTL appearance Eric Krasno returned to the stage to sit in for a couple of tunes.
One of my favorite local bands that’s also getting deserved attention from outside the area is Swift Technique. Featuring Nik Greely and Chelsea Via Cava on vocals Swift Tech energized the music loving crowd with their blend of funky jams and good time stage energy. One of the moments I enjoyed most was when ST bassist Jake Leschinsky invited Philly jazz bass player Gerald Veasley to the stage. It was obviously special to the younger bass player to share the stage with a fellow low end commander. Like a star student and his mentor the two talented bass players traded leads. I think Veasley was just as impressed with Leschinsky as you could see him smile and widen his eyes while Jake played.
Switching attention back to the main stage the Greyboy All Stars captivated the crowd with their psychedelic funky grooves. Sax and flute wizard Karl Denson conducted the flow and saturated the air with his brilliance.
If you’re a fan of brass this was the day for you. One of the bands that caught me by surprise was the High and Mighty Brass Band. With 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, a tuba, guitar, bass, drums, and a hip-hop edge, H&MBB created a badass celebratory sound and energy often heard coming from the streets of New Orleans. Trumpet player Ivan Jackson often let the charge and the parade as the band left the stage and created a second line feel and played amongst the center of the crowd.
Just like Rocky 2, the final round might have been the most exciting round of the main event with the most punches thrown. As funk heavyweights Soulive took center stage you knew this was going to be a set for the ages. Billed as “Soulive and Friends” Eric Krasno, Neal Evans, and Alan Evans welcomed the Snarky Puppy horns, Nigel Hall, and Karl Denson to join them for the second half of their headlining set. To have such a wealth of talent on the stage at one time is something every fan of today’s jam music can treasure and praise. One of many highlights for me was when Nigel Hall took the spotlight and dazzled the crowd with his scat skills. Whether it was Kras’s eloquent leads and face melting solos, the tight melodic collection of horns, Neal’s multi layered key skills, or Nigel Hall’s smooth vocal tones, Soulive and Friends proved worthy of championship status and kings of the funk ring.
Even under some adversity the budding second year festival stood its ground and proved you can do anything if you put your heart, soul, and mind to it. The folks who plan and put Live From the Lot together are to be highly commended for their planning, promoting, arranging, and execution of this incredible weekend of music. They really set the bar sky high. After the lot is cleared and the dust settles the directors and planners of Live From the Lot will quickly catch their breath and set their minds on next year’s challenge. I have no doubt it’ll be bigger and better, if that is at all possible.