Parsing the schedule for WMNF's Tropical Heatwave festival is an annual tradition for me. In the beginning, there are a lot of bands I don't know much about. By the end, I find two or three that I feel are absolute must-sees.
Here, then, are five bands I think are going to make a big impression on a new, large audience on Saturday in and around the Cuban Club in Ybor City. (Click here for ticket and schedule info for Tropical Heatwave 2011.)
1. Carolina Chocolate Drops (above)
Making their Tampa Bay debut at this year's Tropical Heatwave are the Carolina Chocolate Drops, whose old-time string-band sensibilities have roots in the African American music tradition. Using a menagerie of instruments, including banjos, fiddles, kazoos and a jug, they infuse traditional bluegrass and folk with elements of jazz, dixieland and the blues. "There is a black folk music audience," singer Rhiannon Giddens told NPR. "They're just very small." The Drops' 2010 album Genuine Negro Jig won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. See them at 8:25 p.m. at El Pasaje Plaza.
2. Two Man Gentlemen Band
One of the standout sets of Tropical Heatwave 2010 came from New York duo Andy Bean and Fuller Condon, known as the Two Man Gentlemen Band. Former buskers on the streets and subways of New York City, the Gents specialize in quirky Vaudevillian ditties about chocolate milk, reefer, minivans, croquet and President William Howard Taft. They've honed their Tin Pan Alley routine into a rollicking stage show - you'll love their retro sensibilities and riotous old-timey stage banter. Don't miss their set at 7:20 p.m. in the Cuban Club Cantina.
3: Two Cow Garage
Take the punk fury of the Replacements, the sentimental twang of Uncle Tupelo and the passion of Bruce Springsteen, and what do you get? Two Cow Garage, an Ohio alt-country group that puts on a blazing live show. "Explosive," said longtime Bryan Childs, the St. Petersburg blogger behind NineBullets.net."Every year Tropical Heatwave has a few bands that leave everyone in awe. Two Cow is one of those bands this year." See for yourself at 9:15 p.m. at Crowbar.
4: The Bright Light Social Hour
Austin, Texas, is a pretty awesome music town. So if you sweep the 2011 Austin Music Awards, including Band of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year, you must be doing something right. The Bright Light Social Hour is one of Texas' hottest next big things, with a sound that blends organic funk, Southern soul, indie psychedelia and plain ol' sweaty pop. Their live shows are quickly becoming the stuff of legend: "They are a blast to watch," wrote Paste magazine's Tim Basham, "and I can't get their songs out of my head." See them at 12:10 a.m. at Crowbar.
5: Those Darlins
Combining gritty rockabilly roughness with girl-group harmonies and a punk sensibility, Those Darlins are one of the edgiest and most fashionable bands on this year's bill. Singer-guitarists Nikki, Jessi and Kelley Darlin (yes, like the Ramones) embraced a trendy, '60s garage-pop sound on their new sophomore album Screws Get Loose, but kept the sexy sass that made their self-titled debut so appealing. "With Screws Get Loose," wrote music blog Ze Catalist. "you can feel the stardom around the corner." See them at 7:50 p.m. at Crowbar.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*