Cope: Riding a long, strange trip to the top
(All this week, we’re spotlighting tbt*’s 2011 Ultimate Local Artists on Soundcheck. Today: Cope.)
It is a question cautiously posed to any jam band: What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
Dennis Stadelman has an answer. “March 6, 2009. Skipper’s,” he said, nursing a Cigar City IPA on the deck of Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe. “That was the day we changed and became what we are now.”
The show, nicknamed “Skipperado” in tribute to South Florida’s Langerado music festival, marked the day Stadelman’s band, Cope, signed with manager Mark Glenn. Doing so gave the band a structure that has enabled them to grow outside Florida.
And besides, it was a pretty great gig to boot.
But was it the best? It’s tough to say for sure. With members living in all corners of Tampa Bay, Cope — Dennis Stadelman, big brother Kenny Stadelman (guitar and vocals), Juan Montero (sax and keys) and Dave Gerulat (drums) — tends to get around. And their stylistically diverse, technically whip-smart blend of Southern rock, reggae, bluegrass and jam music has made them a popular draw at a wide range of venues.
The Stadelman brothers — Kenny is 37, Dennis is 35 — have performed together since their preteen days. Growing up, Kenny dug the Grateful Dead; Dennis was more into Kiss. But their tastes overlapped with the Beatles.
“For jam band musicians, the happiest moment in your life is the moment when you find out that there’s a genre that will allow you to play everything,” Dennis said.
It’s a genre that’s difficult for outsiders to understand. To non-fans, it can seem as if bands like Phish and Widespread Panic are speaking a different language, filled with noodly guitars and never-ending breakdowns.
Cope, though, does write honest-to-goodness songs, and like a lot of jam artists, they’re students of musical theory. They leave spaces for live improvisation, and each member is adept at reading each other’s visual cues to know when to come in or pull back.
“Doing something just for the sake of being oddball isn’t why we do it,” Kenny said. “We want to do something that’ll invoke a little thought, but not stray from something that you’re comfortable listening to.”
Because no two shows are ever the same, Cope can play frequently around Tampa Bay and draw a crowd every time. It helps that Tampa has several jam-friendly resources, like Skipper’s Smokehouse and WMNF-88.5 FM, which have devoted built-in followings.
Performing at large events like the Bear Creek Art and Music Festival and the Orange Blossom Jamboree has helped the band build a fan base. Next week, they’ll play a kickoff party to the Wanee Festival in Live Oak, one of the premier jam and roots festivals.
After close to a decade, Cope’s fans are not only coming to shows in droves but also taping them and even trading them online. The band estimates they’ve got enough high-quality fan recordings to cobble together a great live album.
Which brings us back to our original question: Does Cope have a best-ever show?
“Aura this year?” said Kenny. “Bear Creek last year?”
“It was either Orange Blossom or Bear Creek,” Montero said.
“Orange Blossom was badass,” Kenny said.
“What about Raindance 2?” Dennis said. “That was a hell of a set.”
“You know what mine was?” said Gerulat. “The Emerald. In Asheville.”
The debate meanders on, this way and that, late in the night.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo/video: Bryan Thomas, tbt*