Orlando Calling 2011 recap: Best and worst of the weekend, plus an outlook for 2012
In the beginning, organizers hoped up to 100,000 fans would attend the first-ever Orlando Calling music festival. By Saturday morning, expectations were down to 50,000. By Sunday, even that figure looked out of reach.
And on Monday, after months of anticipation and hype, and a weekend of more than 75 artists — including The Killers, Bob Seger, Blake Shelton and the Pixies — music fans from around Florida were left wondering: What just happened?
One thing is sure: It's no guarantee we'll see an Orlando Calling 2012. Organizer Melvin Benn of British promotions giant Festival Republic told Orlando’s WFTV-Ch. 9 that he’ll crunch some numbers to determine if Orlando Calling will be back next year. But he already expects he’s lost “a couple of million plus” on this year’s event. “It’s a big ol’ hole in the pocket,” he told the station.
But Orlando Calling 2012 is still 12 months away. We could all be living on the moon by then. So for now, let's sift back through our notepad and pick some of the best, worst and wildest moments from Orlando Calling 2012:
BEST OF SHOW: The Raconteurs
Talking to fans and critics Sunday night, the one band everyone had on their best-of list was this Jack White-Brendan Benson supergroup, whose classic rock-inspired set featured blazing guitar riffs, top-notch musicianship and a drunk chick in a bra dancing backstage. Benson’s delicious harmonies and White’s devilish stage presence and electrifying guitar work combined for pure, swaggering rawk 'n’ roll.
BEST OF SHOW (FLORIDA DIVISION): Andy Matchett and the Minks (above)
I saw 36 acts at Orlando Calling, and this O-Town crew’s set is comfortably in my top 5. The Orlando Calling stage setup was not conducive to much interaction between fans and artists, but Matchett, as usual, obliterated all barriers, with a faux-robot rumble, balloons, beach balls, a parachute and even a wedding proposal. Just goes to show that festival-goers can’t afford to sleep on the local bands way down on the bill.
BEST DAY: Sunday
Most the too-cool-for-school festival kids probably looked at a lineup that included Bob Seger, Blake Shelton and the Doobie Brothers and thought: Meh? But top to bottom, Sunday’s acts were all about prime musicianship, with no one coasting. For pure guitar lovers, it doesn't get any better than seeing legends like Buddy Guy, Del McCoury, Robert Randolph, the Flatlanders and Dwight Yoakam. There wasn’t a letdown set in the bunch. And Saturday’s bill was full of artists who would have been right at home on Sunday — Avett Brothers, Drive By Truckers, Felice Brothers, Deep Dark Woods. If you skipped Bear Creek this weekend in favor of Orlando Calling, Sunday was the day worth catching.
BEST SONG: Turn The Page by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Bob Seger’s never been my cup of Coors, but I have to admit the Citrus Bowl got awful chilly when that wailing sax signalled the intro to Turn The Page, the Silver Bullet Band’s paean to life on the road. Touring may be hell, but the old man proved he still has a little gas in the tank. Hey, technically, I-4 is a long and lonesome highway east of Omaha. He could be talking about us!
BIGGEST LETDOWN: The Killers
It pains me to write it, because I love the Killers. And there was nothing wrong with their lively performance, per se. But aside from a few highlights (A Dustland Fairytale, Human, a blazing fireworks show at the end), the buzz about the Killers was pretty minimal all weekend. They didn’t play any new songs, and no one seemed to be talking them up on Sunday. That’s not what you want from your opening night headliner.
WORST SCHEDULING LOGJAM: 8 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Orlando Calling suffered from a few scheduling problems all weekend. A couple of artists dropped out after the programs had been printed, and a few of the Saturday set times seemed to change without much warning. (The Authentic Stage featured an Orlando band called Dollface that was nowhere to be found on any schedule, and it tripped up the start times for several acts that followed.) But the worst logjam came at 8 p.m. Saturday, when the Raconteurs, the Roots, Drive By Truckers and Less Than Jake were all playing at the same time. No doubt many fans complained that those acts’ start times weren’t a little more staggered.
BEST FRONTMAN: Kid Rock
Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band was stellar in its own right, but Rock himself was the star attraction. Has it really been 13 years since Devil Without A Cause? Songs like Cowboy, I Got One For Ya and the title track sounded fresher today than they did back then, thanks to Rock’s energy and the band’s chops. On a day when the music was a little more “safe,” Rock gave the crowd all the deep, dirty thrills they secretly wanted.
BEST EXCUSE TO LEAVE KID ROCK EARLY: Dwight Yoakam
Not that you’d necessarily want to leave Kid Rock early (see above), but if you did, you were treated to one of the best bands of the weekend. Yoakam and his four bandmates, including the stellar Eddie Perez on lead guitar, could not have been tighter.
BEST BAY AREA EMISSARY: Have Gun, Will Travel
Technically, they win by default, as they were the only Tampa Bay band invited to Orlando Calling. But the Bradenton group took care of business on Sunday, inspiring a nice singalong on Blessing and a Curse. Let's hope Orlando Calling 2012 invites a band from Tampa or St. Pete.
BEST FEMALE TREND: Stripping down
But not like you’re thinking. Michelle Branch, Brandi Carlile and Elizabeth Cook all played stripped-down, mostly acoustic sets to attentive crowds. Keeping things minimalistic allowed for plenty of storytelling between songs — Cook talked about accompanying her pappy on moonshine runs; Branch discussed problems with her label; Carlile played a new song, Raise Hell, that she called “my favorite song I’ve ever written.” Very intimate.
BEST HAIR Del McCoury
I would buy a used car from that man.
BEST CITY: Detroit
They should have just renamed the festival Motor City Calling. Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Jack White, Brendan Benson, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas and the American Secrets gave the festival plenty of Wolverine State star power. Next year, can Orlando Calling book Eminem, Iggy Pop and Aretha Franklin?
BEST PRODUCT PLACEMENT: The American Secrets
The band from those FreeCreditScore.com commercials got to open the FreeCreditScore.com stage. Gee, wonder how they landed that gig?
BEST STAGE: The FreeCreditScore.com stage
Orlando Calling’s only indoor stage (well, inside a tent, at least) was also the one that put fans closest to the artists. And the lineups were stellar -- Dr. Dog, Pete Yorn, Drive By Truckers, Civil Twilight and the Felice Brothers on Saturday; Carlile, Branch, Justin Townes Earle, Los Lonely Boys and the David Mayfield Parade on Sunday.
WORST STAGE: The Main Stage
The smaller than expected crowds seemed even tinier in the 70,000-seat Cirus Bowl, a spacious, sterile coliseum that was about as evocative as a stockroom at Ikea. The Main Stage, like most of the others, was so far from the audience that artist-fan interaction was almost impossible (though that didn’t stop bluegrass king Del McCoury from taking fan requests). Compare this to the secene at Deluna Fest, which took place in October in Pensacola Beach. Situated right on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Deluna’s unique setting and more intimate stages engendered plenty of artist-fan interaction, including Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo wading through the crowd and Airborne Toxic Event singer Mikel Jollett leaping into the water for a mid-set swim. Next year, if Orlando Calling returns, we wouldn’t be shocked to see a change of venue, or at least a reconfiguring of the stages.
BEST INSTRUMENT: Saxophone
Katy Perry (Last Friday Night) and Lady Gaga (Edge Of Glory) are onto something with this whole sax-solo renaissance. Among the artists I saw this weekend who brought a sax to the stage: Seger, Kid Rock, O.A.R., Less Than Jake, Warren Haynes Band, Parachute, Lucero and Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas. And I know I’m leaving some out. Somewhere, Clarence Clemons was looking down and smiling.
BEST TRANSFORMATION: Iron & Wine
Who knew bearded, drowsy-sounding Sam Beam had it in him? With an eight-piece band behind him, Beam proved he’s capable of classy, jazz-influenced indie pop, instead of just sad-bastard coffee-shop lullabies. In this incarnation, he needs to be playing theaters. (Memo to the Straz Center, Capitol Theatre and Tampa Theatre — get on that!)
BEST PANTS: Jessica Hernandez
She later said she was going to spend all day Saturday roaming the festival grounds dressed like this. Kind of makes it hard to blend in, but whatever works.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: No ?uestlove
The Roots’ drummer and bandleader called in sick, which turned the Roots from a must-see show into a show that ... well, we managed to see catch some of it once the Raconteurs were done rocking our faces off.
MOST APPROPRIATE SONG: Marijuana by Kid Cudi
At least it sure seemed that way from the dudes standing near me in the pit.
BEST EVIDENCE OF THE DISPARITY BETWEEN HEADLINERS AND OPENING ACTS: Savannah
““Who saw the Killers last night?” James Major, singer of the Orlando piano-pop band Savannah, asked the crowd on Sunday. “I bet it was awesome. I missed it. I was working at Outback, serving tables.”
What do you guys think? I couldn't see everyone, so who did YOU think was the best and worst of Orlando Calling 2011? Let us hear it in the comments.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*