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Tampa band The Applebutter Express to play Bonnaroo 2012

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Over the years, the Tampa music scene has sent a handful of artists to some pretty major music festivals, such as South By Southwest or the CMJ Music Marathon.

Bonnaroo, though? That might be a first.

In a couple of weeks, Seminole Heights jam-bluegrass outfit The Applebutter Express will cross that threshold. The group has been selected for a slot on the opening day of Bonnaroo, one of the largest and most prestigious music festivals in the country. Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Phish are the headliners of this year’s festival, set for June 7-10 in Manchester, Tenn.

“It’s like having a Harvard degree on your resume,” said singer and ukulele player Kyle Biss. “We couldn’t be more excited. It’s kind of a game-changer for us.”

The Applebutter Express are a bit of an unexpected choice to represent Tampa Bay at Bonnaroo. Though they performed at last weekend’s Orange Blossom Jamboree, and have played unofficial sets at Florida festivals like Wanee and Bear Creek, their biggest shows to date have been local gigs opening for Zach Deputy and Bobby Lee Rodgers.

Biss said their manager had a contact at Bonnaroo who really dug their music, and he carved out an early slot for the band. The Applebutter Express will play at 2 p.m. on the Solar Stage. Technically, they’re the second band to perform at Bonnaroo.

“It’s phenomenal,” Biss said. “People that have been there for a day are just itching to get this party started, because they’ve been waiting for Bonnaroo all year.”

Biss — who shares vocal duties with his wife, Shannon — said The Applebutter Express will stay for all of Bonnaroo (he’s looking forward to Ben Folds Five and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk), but the band has booked shows and studio time in Nashville before and after the festival. They’re currently recording an EP in Bradenton that they hope to give away to people who buy copies of their self-titled album at Bonnaroo.

The Applebutter Express has one final local show before leaving town, opening for Cope at 9 p.m. Friday at Dunedin Brewery. Friday also happens to be Biss' 26th birthday. Seeing his band's name on the Bonnaroo lineup is a perfect early birthday present — even if the festival did call them “Apple Butter Express.”

“It’s not perfect, but I’m not gonna complain about it,” he laughed. “I’m not gonna call and say they got our name just a little bit wrong.”

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 10:54pm]

    

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