The "Best Party in Town" gets going Saturday night when WMNF-FM's Tropical Heatwave heats up Ybor City. With an ear for the diversity the community radio station celebrates, this year's Heatwave _ the station's 19th _ presents dozens of bands in genres ignored by the mainstream. Check out live reggae, roots rock, blues, alt-country and folk acts, many performing in the bay area for the first time. Tropical Heatwave serves up Latin music, alternative rock, zydeco, old favorites and exciting new artists, both national and local, on six stages of simultaneous music.
Here's a look at the acts:
The first time Buckwheat Zydeco played Tropical Heatwave - the first time any zydeco band played in the Tampa Bay area, in fact _ was 1986. The music wasn't well known outside of Louisiana, and Buckwheat was overshadowed by the reigning king of zydeco, Clifton Chenier.
Stanley Doral, aka Buckwheat Zydeco, had apprenticed under Chenier, and when the king died in 1987, the struggle for the crown ensued.
The question of who rules zydeco has long since been settled. If you doubt it, just listen.
Of course, you'll be hard pressed to just listen. This is hardcore party music _ fun, fast-paced and sweaty. If you find yourself sitting quietly during a Buckwheat Zydeco concert, check your pulse.
Zydeco combines the French countrified sounds of cajun music with the propulsive power of rhythm and blues. Sadly, Chenier never attained the prominence of his pupil, who has added some rock influence to the sound and speeded up things considerably. Doral has been nominated for a Grammy, played with Eric Clapton, toured with the Rolling Stones. And over the years, he has assembled the tightest zydeco band around, capable of stopping on a dime at their leader's command. Let others argue over the authenticity of his sound. The man rocks.
Buckwheat's set list weaves together classic zydeco tunes, originals and zydeco-style covers. With any luck, he'll play Hot Tamale Baby. Cardiac units should be standing by.
_ TOM SCHERBERGER, Times staff writer
If The Iguanas don't get you dancing, call the doctor, give away your clothes and cancel the paper. It's time to join Lenin in the tomb.
For 10 years, this New Orleans band has electrified fans across the country with its nonstop mix of mambo, Tex-Mex conjunto and garage-rock rhythm and blues. They also are a Heatwave favorite, brimming with energy and genuinely content to throw a party onstage.
Listening to the The Iguanas is like attending five concerts at once. You move from Caribbean, to Latin crooning, to Tex-Mex polka and folk acoustic. Throw in an accordion, a trombone, a harmonica, bells, maracas, a stringed Mexican gizmo called a bajo quinto _ and a saxophone or two.
The result? La Guera Felix, the band's best live jam, so infectious the crowd barely had wiggle-room at a recent Skippers gig. Or Cuarto Rojo _ forget the lyrics _ a funky whistler made for the humid Florida night. Keep the accordion, and you get La Vanidosa, no doubt a staple on every biergarten jukebox in Mexico.
Thanks to WMNF, the band has developed a loyal Tampa following; some fans fly to New Orleans just to see The Iguanas play a second-story bowling alley. But the station tends to burn a hole in a couple of tracks. Oye Isabel is a good jump-starter that reveals the band's character and depth; Angel, a refreshing harmony. Somebody Help Me has a '70s-feel that harkens to Neil Young and gives audiences a moment to catch their breath.
But, as usual, off-road is the best, and The Iguanas throw instruments and musical styles together like a bouillabaisse to keep fans dancing with whomever's around. Born Again Devil can, and should, go on forever. With its jazzy beat and strong sax, I Moved Too Slow is what the New Orleans sidewalks would sing if the tourists ever called it a night. Imagine John Cougar in a cantina, singing for his supper, and you get My Girlfriend is a Waitress and the retro-rocker Benny's Cadillac.
A couple tips: Show up early, bring some water and plant yourself in front of the speakers _ bowling shoes or barefoot, doesn't matter. But if you're not there to dance, make way. This ain't the Tenors.
_ JOHN HILL
With a reputation for dazzling live shows, Deborah Coleman is fast becoming one of today's most talked-about blues artists. One of the precious few black women playing lead guitar, Coleman is also a distinctive singer who gets compared to Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, even Jimi Hendrix.
Coleman got her earliest musical inspiration from watching the Monkees on TV, but soon learned to savor the blues sounds of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker.
Coleman and her band are tight, with tempo changes as the music ranges from slow, grooving soul to sultry, funky R&B.
_ GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic
The uncle of percussionist Sheila E., Alejandro Escovedo has done it all, from his days in the San Fran punk outfit the Nuns, to the cowpoke of Rank, and Texas roots rock of the True Believers. Escovedo writes poignant, dark stories and even does some Velvet Underground tunes. He's a roots-rock Renaissance man.
The Waco Brothers
Punk country never sounded so good. Call it "y'alternative." Call it whatever. Jon Langford of the Mekons, the legendary British post-punk band, leads this fun-loving (and hard-drinking) Mr. Johnny Cash-meets-the Clash hillbilly sextet. The Brothers also include members of Jesus Jones, Poi Dog Pondering and KMFDM.
This 10-member band, pioneers of Haitian roots and ra ra music, blends bits of African religion, street slang and voodoo culture into a powerful live set. The band's politically controversial lyrics are often banned in its homeland of government crackdowns and military unrest.
The Robin Nolan Trio
The only jazz act at Heatwave, the Robin Nolan Trio plays in the style of the late Django Reinhardt, the swing-era acoustic guitarist (and inspiration for Woody Allen's recent film, Sweet and Lowdown). The gypsy roots of the music should be a draw. And the ballroom setting ought to provide a soothing respite from the Heatwave frenzy.
Seven women from New York City, Homer Erotic play pop the avant garde way with poetry, dance, violin and percussion galore. African beats, jazz, R&B, these women tackle it all.
From San Francisco's barrios, this Latin groove outfit blends hip hop and ska into its genre-busting mix. The band's urban attitude is balanced by its quirky sense of humor. Big horns, rubbery bass and lots of rhythm pep up the live shows.
The Dismemberment Plan
From Washington D.C., the Dismemberment Plan delights alt-rock audiences with its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fusion of emo, punk and hip hop, as well as its knack for creating clean pop. Frenetic beats, fuzzy organ and aggressive guitar highlight the band's blissful schizophrenia.
From the rich musical soil of Chapel Hill, N.C., Trailer Bride focuses its twangy alt-country sound with sharp Southern storytelling and the bluesy whine of lead singer Melissa Swingle. Swingle's gothic lyrics are right out of a Flannery O' Connor tale with wayward characters, including strippers, snake charmers and drunks.
The Blue Rags
The Blue Rags blend ragtime, boogie woogie and bluegrass to create a juke joint atmosphere. This string band with a punk sensibility gets inspiration from Scott Joplin, George Gershwin and rootsier acts Merle Travis and "Blind" Blake.
Mighty Mo Rodgers
Mighty Mo does blues and soul capitalizing on the genres' rich African-American heritage and history. With sass, grit and intelligence _ Mo took time out from music to nab a masters in humanities _ he sings of slavery, the Tuskegee experiments and JFK's assassination. Blues with brains.
From Washington D.C., the Grandsons throw a roots-rock party that's full of zesty mambo, rockabilly, country and swing. Plenty of tuba, sax and movin' and shakin' earned them the "hardest working band in D.C." tag.
Prophet's The Hurting Business CD, released this year, shows his amazing songwriting and guitar riffs. A little folk, some Latin-tinged farifisa organ, and 1960s-style boogying make his alt-country fresh. One 'zine called him "the missing link between Paul Westerberg and Bob Dylan."
Raised on swamp blues in Louisiana, Gordon now resides in Nashville and knows how to serve up sizzling alt-rock with a raw, roadhouse feel. Blues and rockabilly fuel Gordon's sets, which tell poetic tales of love, cars and blue collar life.
The Thrusters, known for their fancy duds as much as their gone-daddy-gone surf rock, are looking spiffy with new outfits for the go go dancers. This is their second Heatwave appearance, the first with a new singer.
Chris Chandler and Magda Hiller
Chandler lives out of his car and sings in soup kitchens, coffee houses, whoever will have him and his decidely political songs and poems. Bring change to toss into his open guitar case. Grassroots all the way. Chandler's new performance partner Magda Hiller is from South Florida, plays guitar and belts out in a powerhouse voice.
Sarasota's own Screwface brings its high energy punk to Heatwave. The quartet is known for its live gigs and has attracted a loyal following at home. "All Screwface knows how to do is get on stage and play," says Paxton, the band's one-named founder.
These long-time Tampa Bay favorites play rootsy alternative music with influences from Neil Young to Van Morrison. Excellent musicianship and live shows make them stalwarts of the scene.
Dave Hardin Band
Hardin was named Tampa's Best Singer Songwriter two years in a row by the Weekly Planet. The proof is on Nine Years Alone, his excellent CD brimming with well-crafted, earthy folk pop and Hardin's craggy voice.
Ronnie Elliot And the Nationals
A 35-year music vet, Elliot has graced many a Tampa band, delivering gorgeous folk, blues and country rock. Roots music fans were dazzled by his recent trilogy of solo recordings.
Scholar's Word serve up traditional reggae that gets folks dancing.
The only band in Tampa that dares to play soukous, Africa's style of dance music.