SPRING LAKE — Four years ago, south Florida promoter Russ Bowers had a plan to bring together some of Florida's more noted improvisational rock bands that he hoped would appeal to the growing audience for jam bands.
Since then, the annual Orange Blossom Jamboree has, well, blossomed into one of the largest festivals of its kind in the Southeast.
"We always knew that Central Florida would support a festival like this," Bowers said. "Every year, it keeps getting better — the music, the audience, the vendors, everything."
As the Sertoma Youth Ranch's last major music event of the spring season, the festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday, will draw fans with music workshops and more than 50 bands playing on three stages.
Though all these bands play in the free-form jam format, their influences include jazz, reggae and bluegrass.
This variety of local groups, rather than a single, big-name headliner, Bowers said, has allowed him to build attendance while holding down ticket prices.
It also takes advantage of the local following that the bands have built up playing at local venues.
"Keeping it a Florida-band type of event makes it more endearing to our particular audience," said Bowers. "A lot of the bands play at clubs and bars on weekends and they've built up a strong local following in their area. And that's been a great draw for our festival."
The roots of the genre can be traced to the iconic 1960s rock band, the Grateful Dead, and continued during the 1990s with bands such as Phish and Widespread Panic, all of whom garnered cult followings.
But even small bands can quickly become name acts within the jam community. Consider Applebutter Express, a four-piece acoustic group from Tampa that will perform Saturday. It's profile is growing rapidly and last June it appeared at the prestigious Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee.
Bowers said that any number of bands performing at the Orange Blossom Jamboree are capable of breaking out.
"There has always been an incredible amount of music talent in Florida," he offered. "That reputation is growing faster now than it ever has."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.