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At The Bunker, a songwriting smorgasbord


(This is the 10th entry in Soundcheck's summer concert series, The 50-50 Club . For previous entries, click here .)

Something special is happening right now in Ybor City. Something epic, even.

Saturday, of course, is WMNF’s 28th annual Tropical Heatwave, featuring more than 30 bands in and around the Cuban Club, including some of Tampa’s best: Magadog, the Mojo Gurus, the Beauvilles, Will Quinlan and the Diviners, the Bird Street Players and Roppongi’s Ace.

Before that, on Friday, is Rootstock 5 at New World Brewery, with reggae and hip-hop favorites like D’Visitors, Tribal Style, Breakdown and Badda Skat, as well as hot up-and-comers like Laws, Dynasty and Anonymous.

And on Thursday, the coffeehouse and music venue known as Tre Amici @ The Bunker celebrated the second anniversary of its weekly Songwriter’s Night with a who’s who of Tampa Bay singer-songwriters: Ronny Elliott, Rebekah Pulley, Geri X., Dean Johanesen, Lorna Bracewell and more.

These are artists who have toured the country, played at festivals like South by Southwest, opened for international headliners and appeared on network TV. You ask anyone who follows the local music scene to name Tampa’s best bands, and their list would no doubt look an awful lot like this. And all of them are playing in a 72-hour span within a single 7-block radius.

I’ll just come out and say it: This is one of the greatest three-day stretches of local music Ybor City has ever seen.

“There’s so much more that Tampa has to offer,” Jessie Stehlik, the effervescent mastermind behind Songwriter’s Night, told the packed crowd on Thursday. “This is just a little glimmer of it.”

That's true, although, “little” may be the wrong word. Thursday’s four-hour showcase at The Bunker featured 19 performers (including Stehlik herself) performing a total of 45 songs, divided among three sets.

I know what you’re thinking: Four hours, and 45 songs, is an awful long time to sit in a coffeeshop listening to acoustic guitars. I totally hear you. The Bunker is kind of small, especially when the center stage encompasses six chairs, and four hours of coffeeshop rock is, under most circumstances, about three and a half hours too many.

But when you have a rotating roster of performers like this, each of whom is performing three of their best songs, time tends to fly.

Now, I own a guitar. And I can play the chords of C and G, and on my better days, D. Clearly, I am a golden god. But these guys ‚Äì good lord. The diversity of the music coming out of their six-strings was astonishing. 

Bouncy alt-pop singalongs (Dean Johanesen). Rollicking railroad anthems (Steve Vaclavik). Fiery indie rock (Geri X.). Spoken-word story-songs (Ronny Elliott). Cuticle-warping guitar explosions (Chucky Luv). Rock ballads ripe for Top 40 (Shane Meade). Southern handclappers (Mike Worrall). Quirky retro Americana (Judy Tampa). Achingly tender vocal performances (Sheila Kirsten Hughes). Deceptively simple pop gems (Lorna Bracewell). There wasn’t a Phoebe Buffay in the bunch.

And as the night wore on, I came to realize that these artists weren’t just the cream of the Tampa Bay songwriting scene. They inspire the Tampa Bay songwriting scene.

Leigh Humes played a tracked called Rebecca’s Ghost, which was inspired by Rebekah Pulley. Bracewell played a song inspired by herself, written by her equally talented partner, Lexi Pierson. Geri X. was accompanied by her bassist/boyfriend/muse Greg Roteik. Stehlik and her father, Jerry Merrick, sang songs that Merrick had been singing to Jessie since she was a girl.

The warm Caffe Mocha and drizzy weather outside added to the ambience. You should have seen Vaclavic on the chugging anthem Run Mary, with lightning streaking across the slate-colored sky through the window behind him. If that sounds like bad poetry, well, cut me some slack, I was in a coffeeshop. It’s to be expected.

This wasn’t necessarily a one-time only performance; a lot of these artists have performed together before, and will again. Most of them play gigs at bars and coffee shops every week. Geri X., for example, is playing at the Globe Coffee Lounge Friday.

But combine it with Rootstock and Heatwave, and this supersized Songwriter’s Night was part of something special in Ybor City.

And it’s only Friday. There’s still time for you to be part of it, too.

Next up in The 50-50 Club: Tropical Heatwave, May 16, the Cuban Club, Ybor City.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Friday, May 15, 2009 11:48am]


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