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tbt* commandeers the Skipperdome; rock ensues

Geri X

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

Of the 50 concerts I'm planning to see this summer, the Ultimate Music Showcase Saturday night at Skipper’s Smokehouse was the only one I sort of had to attend.

For one thing, it was put on by my employer, tbt*, of which I am the entertainment editor. Also, in an extremely roundabout way, I kind of hand-picked the bill.

Now, I’d like to say that last part was a revealing experience, one that opened my eyes to the endless paperwork, legal wrangling, sponsorship negotiations and (let’s face it) egos that make staging a big rock concert such a logistical, bureaucratic headache. I’d like to say that.

But I would be lying.

The truth is, my role in “organizing” this concert was over in January. That’s when tbt* music columnist Julie Garisto and I (but mostly Julie) hammered out a list of 10 of the best local bands to feature in tbt*’s Ultimate Local Music Guide, published in March. We were both very satisfied with this list. All 10 bands were, and still are, quite excellent.

And for the third straight year, as soon as we made our choices, tbt*‚Äôs crack marketing team set about booking them all for a big celebratory concert.

In all likelihood, no one expected we’d get all 10 of this year’s bands to share a single stage (though lord knows a Basiqs-Magadog collaboration could have been epic). But in the end, we got seven of them: Geri X.; Have Gun, Will Travel; Will Quinlan and the Diviners; the Beauvilles; Tailgunner Joe and the Earls of Slander; Triptico; and Bluegrass Parlor Band.

Call me a company man if you like, but if you’re a fan of the Tampa music scene, that’s a pretty damn good lineup. And since choosing that lineup was partly my doing, I felt I needed to be there.

Skipper’s Smokehouse, of course, is one of those beloved institutions that is probably one of the five to 10 things Tampans love most about living here, right up there with Bayshore Boulevard, pirate costumes and complaining about the Bucs’ quarterback situation. It’s a ramshackle roots-blues-hippie BBQ joint and music venue whose giant, sandy, picnic-tabled open-air arena, the “Skipperdome,” incorporates a giant live oak tree. It serves smoked mullet, conch fritters and gator tail, and it is absolutely swathed in music paraphernalia. I would not be surprised to learn that more than one wall at Skipper’s is made entirely of band stickers.

Skipper’s is the reason I had high hopes for this concert. See, tbt* staged its first local music showcase in 2007 at a different venue in Ybor City, and, to be perfectly frank, the show wasn’t that great. This was not the fault of the bands on the bill; we were simply new to the concert game, and none of us knew exactly what we were doing.

But last year’s showcase, which took place at Skipper’s, was awesome. Rebekah Pulley, Win Win Winter, Aych, November Foxtrot Whiskey, Aych, Blind Buddy Moody and the Bird Street Players drew a huge and varied crowd that partied until late in the evening. Skipper’s just has a laid-back, welcoming, all-inclusive vibe, which is very useful when you’re pulling in artists from across different genres.

Herewith, a few thoughts on each of the bands who played this year, in order of appearance:

Bluegrass Parlor Band: Another Tampa institution. For more than 20 years, music instructors Tom Henderson and Jeff Jones have led this ever-changing ensemble of students who want to learn the art of bluegrass music. The stars of the current lineup are brothers Jarrod and Tyler Walker (mandolin and guitar, respectively) and guitarist Austin Wilder. Jones couldn’t make it (his wife was graduating from USF), but with the help of some fill-ins, the band played a rousing mix of bluegrass faves and intriguing interpretations of Django Rinehardt (Swing 42) and Ray Charles (an especially swinging Georgia On My Mind). Most of the other musicians I talked to came away highly impressed with the kiddos.

Tailgunner Joe and the Earls of Slander: This was actually the second time in eight days I‚Äôd seen Tailgunner Joe, which I suppose makes me practically a roadie. I gotta say, I really like watching this band perform. They wail on their instruments with such rock-star panache ‚Äî Kyle Pierce played a guitar solo behind his head ‚Äî that you almost miss how catchy their songs are. Yet here it is 4 a.m., and their song The Street is the one that‚Äôs still stuck in my head.

Will Quinlan and the Diviners: Quinlan, who's normally soft-spoken to begin with, was battling a sore voice, and gearing up for a wicked stretch of shows to boot. Afterward, he told me didn‚Äôt feel like he was quite on his A game early in the set, but I couldn‚Äôt tell. Quinlan‚Äôs stark solo opener, "...And We Are Not Yet Saved," was just him, a guitar and a harmonica, and it was maybe my favorite song he played. But he also closed with a pretty rollicking cover of Uncle Tupelo‚Äôs No Depression, which was also very cool.

Geri X.: The honey-voiced, ivy-haired, tattooed alt-pop ingenue is pretty much universally beloved around town, but somehow I‚Äôd never actually seen Geri X. perform live. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of this set too, as I was locked in conversation with some dudes I hadn‚Äôt seen in a long time. I'll have to catch her again soon. One thing I can say is that she did something that I thought was more or less impossible ‚Äî play a semi-fresh take on Leonard Cohen‚Äôs Hallelujah, which is probably the second most covered indie-rock song in history, behind anything by Neutral Milk Hotel. So that was impressive.

Have Gun, Will Travel: If I‚Äôm being honest, the crowd energy probably peaked with these Bradenton alt-country dudes. The crowd was standing-room-only for much of the evening, but HGWT filled the dance floor with their families, friends and toddlers. ‚ÄúI think we might be the most fertile band in the Tampa Bay area,‚Äù said singer Matt Burke, ‚Äúbecause all the kids you see running around here are ours.‚Äù They were good, and a big hit with the crowd. I also liked Burke's glasses.

The Beauvilles: No one has ever accused Beauvilles frontman Shawn Kyle of lacking in stage presence and charisma. He’s got the gift of gab and definitely enjoys being a rock star; at various points he threw an expensive-looking guitar off the stage (to no one) and played a guitar with not one but two different beer bottles. Sonically, they reminded me a bit of the National.

Triptico: Coming into the night, this Latin rock combo was definitely the biggest question mark. None of the other artists I spoke with knew anything about them ‚Äî yet they won tbt*‚Äôs Ultimate Local Band contest, and brought a big crowd with them to Skipper‚Äôs. Brothers Gabriel and Alejandro Valdivia and drummer James Ferrell seemed genuinely humbled and happy to be part of the show, but they didn‚Äôt just pop in to claim their prizes. Bassist Gabe absolutely killed it on his six-string, providing a crazy-funky backdrop to Triptico‚Äôs jammy, jazzy rock. And guitarist Alex, who as part of the contest received a brand-new Dean Hardtail guitar, broke that bad boy out in the middle of the set, then played it the rest of the night, with the tags still dangling from the tuning keys.

Triptico laughed as they ripped their way through a deep set tunes in both Spanish and English. They tossed free CDs to the crowd of dozens on the dance floor. And in what was maybe my favorite moment of the night, they did a wicked double guitar solo. And by that, I don't mean a solo on a double guitar ‚Äî I mean, Gabe literally reached over Alex‚Äôs shoulder during one solo so they could both wail on the same guitar at the same time. Trippy.

Triptico closed the set, and the night, with an encore cover of Pink Floyd‚Äôs Comfortably Numb. That‚Äôs about how I‚Äôm feeling now, at 4 a.m.

Time to sleep. And start thinking about next year‚Äôs tbt* Local Music Showcase.

Next up in The 50-50 Club: Claiborne, May 12, Hot Topic, Countryside Mall in Clearwater.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photos by Leigh Armstrong, tbt*.

[Last modified: Sunday, May 3, 2009 11:02am]


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