Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The now-familiar parade of skeletons marching down Andrews Avenue the first weekend in November reached record numbers last year, as hundreds of puppet-bearing, costumed guests joined mariachi musicians for a processional celebrating Day of the Dead, Mexico's annual celebration of passed loved ones. In all, more than 6,700 people attended the daylong festivities, which included live music and theater, a "Craft Crypt" of local art for sale, the staggering "Nocturne" exhibition of spooky art, and more macabre costumes than a Tim Burton set. But for the Puppet Network's Jim Hammond, who created the festival, the simplest gestures touched him the most, like the ofrenda (a Spanish altar) dedicated to his recently deceased dog, Joplin. He described the tribute as "cut[ting] to the core of what our Day of the Dead celebration is and shall always be." Since the fest ended, there's been no rest for the weary, with Hammond already planning the 2013 edition. New offerings will include a late-night kayak procession, an outdoor venue for traditional dance and music, live re-creations of Frida Kahlo self-portraits, and an elegant black-tie-and-top-hat skeleton affair.
When Mike and Pete Campbell perform their mind-boggling, hypnotic prog-metal, it's a difficult phenomenon to ignore. Not only does the complexity of the musical arrangements crack open heads like calculus on acid but it's executed with joy and a flair so furious that audience members are often too happily captivated to notice that their brains are being rewired. Indeed, it could be the case that the twin-brother duo are up to something secretive and scientific as Mike does finger acrobatics up and down the neck of his ten-string guitar, smiling and shouting with excitement while Pete enters into a bug-eyed shamanic trance while working his 30-piece drum kit — featuring a razor-sharp saw blade and other oddities — in impossible ways. The nonstop, 45-minute ride may feature a salsa bit, a trip through fiery hell, and an extended homage to Zelda. Or maybe none of the above. The duo is constantly at work composing new, brilliantly orchestrated sets for their live shows. It's what they do. And it's quite puzzling, in a wonderful way.
Paul Wilson's music stains the mind like tobacco, rusty-gold. His voice hangs in the air like smoke. He carries on the tradition of the old singin' cowboy with the authenticity of a passing train. A cool, seasoned character with long white hair and beard to match, he's just the guy you want to have singing to you about riding the rails, chasing women (and catching a few), and running from the law. He does so with simple dignity, like it's his job and his joy. As he puts it: "I just want to say thank you to God for the talent to make up songs and to you for listening." As beautifully lonesome as his tunes can be, he doesn't work alone. He is continuously getting together with friends and family to write and perform, hence the name of his project. His 2012 debut release, Trains and Fools, features collaborations with a handful of fellow songwriters, including T.J. Howard and Lydia Milan, his niece. The song he wrote with Howard, "Lost in Texas," recently earned the pair co-Songwriter of the Year awards from North American Country Music Association International. Vintage, timeless, and trusty, Wilson and his band of friends offer something that will always have a place in American music, and it's great to have it here in South Florida.
The phrase "breath of fresh air" does not provide the oomph needed to describe just how special the Resolvers are. The Resolvers are like a ganja-tinged hurricane wind from the deep lungs of a giant Rastaman ripping out the end of a scorching-hot brass horn as just the funk the doctor ordered. Their unique sound, which the 11-piece calls "big band reggae," is a marriage between roots reggae and New Orleans-style funk, and its powerful vibes have spread out far beyond this peninsula. The band has uplifted audiences throughout the Southeast, as well as in California and Jamaica. And its 2012 EP, Big Band Reggae, debuted at number five on the Billboard reggae charts, establishing the band's presence in the reggae world at large. While the positive influence makes its way around the globe, it is certainly most concentrated here in South Florida. The band regularly, along with its ever-growing posse of sun-kissed fans, blows the roof off of local venues. And once a month, the Resolvers "fam" hits the beach for a day of service — picking up litter for hours. Driven by a group heart and a work ethic as powerful as their music, the Resolvers are getting bigger all the time. And with an album release and U.S. tour scheduled for 2013, they're showing no signs of stopping.
Unity Rise is a cast of radicals more likely to belt out their riotous folk-punk songs in the trenches of an anti-imperialist protest than on a proper stage. In either case, they require no amplification. They are loud. They sound like a tightly clenched fist being raised into the polluted air of an unjust society. They hold nothing back. For an audience of three in a parking lot outside of a building they just played in, they will play all of their songs again, a few times over, each time with even greater passion. And each time, bassist Tyler Lewis will lay his double bass on its side without missing a beat, so that his bandmates may use it as a platform to shout out union-praising lyrics, new and old. When playing "The Ballad of John Henry," the band works like it's driving steel and sounds like a pissed-off locomotive. And the originals come across as being just as authentic as that timeless anthem of yore. It's good to have these guys on the streets.
After winning a contest to play Aura Fest 2012 in Central Florida, the Funky Nuggets were not invited back to play Aura Fest 2013. This was quite a bummer for Frankie Sensimilla, the band's charismatic, guitar-shredding leader, who got naked (except for an Aura wristband, which he is still wearing) for the band's 2012 Aura performance, and for the rest of the band and its ever-growing tribe of fans as well. How did the band respond? Exactly as one would hope a playful young jam band would: They smuggled a silent disco rig into the fest, set it up in the woods along with a pro light rig courtesy of Orange Blossom Jamboree, and jammed from 3 to 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights without making a peep, except for into the wireless headphones worn by the hundred or so grinning folks surrounding them. This glorious act of peaceful rebellion was the talk of the festival, won the Boca Raton band hundreds of new fans, and is but one episode in the Nuggets' fun-filled musical journey. And, as fun as their approach is, it is grounded in serious dedication to the music. This coupling of fun times and quality musicianship is what makes a good jam band, and the Nuggets have it as well as any band on the circuit.