When a state's revenue shrinks, usually funding for the arts takes the biggest lance from the budget blade. That's why groups like Delray Beach's Square One are so critically important for the survival of places like Delray's Old School Square Cultural Arts Center. The organization, composed of young urban professionals (that's yuppies for short), is committed to rejuvenating the antiquated ways of theaters and museums. As part of this mission, Square One puts on upbeat activities like Friday night's inaugural MusicFest at the Pavilion's nifty amphitheater in downtown Delray.
Miami Latin-jazz-fusion ensemble Elastic Bond was first on the bill, and singer Sofy Encanto's sultry vocals particularly delighted the crowd that was slowly amassing with lawn chairs. True to the meaning of her Spanish surname, Encanto's melodies were simply charming. Keyboardist Andres Ponce, however, is the real helm of the group. He's got a knack for torching salsa and merengue rhythms, but he's also not afraid to take risks, like throwing in some funk flourishes that sound straight out of '70s blaxploitation flicks. Guitarist Buffalo Brown wasn't bashful either, whaling away like Santana on the interlude of "Me Gusta."
Coming in with snowballing media attention, Boca Raton by way of Waterloo, Canada, quartet the Pretty Faces overcame some kinks with the stage monitors to get their set under way. (It took three false starts to commence gritty opener "Don't Let Me Down.") The quartet quickly recovered on "Pistolera," which had lead vocalist Jeph Thorslund reaching deep for his lower register as he played some hefty guitar licks over sharp drum-pedal kicks provided by his brother, Thomas Thorslund. "Elephant," meanwhile, gave the band's starlet rhythm guitarist Hannah Thorslund (Jeph's wife) a chance to showcase her fluffy vocals. Jittery ender "Sinking Ship" had Jeph, who confessed to having a cold, which made him sound extra "bluesy," painfully pushing the limits of his gravelly vocal range. But that didn't deter him from doing a Van Halen-style jump kick from the elevated drum kit to close out the set.
The last act of the night, Miami sextet Ever So Klever, delivered a marathon set of Fonzie-cool swing revival. A crunchy guitar nugget of an intro cued coquettish lead singer Michelle Leigh's pouty shoo-bee-doo-bee scats. Leigh's retro delivery and curvy figure squeezed into a skin-tight red dress made her resemble a swing version of Jessica Rabbit. "Sinning Again," a Chuck Berry meets Arturo Sandoval-style doozy, was perhaps the highlight of the evening, with warm chirpy trumpets and saxophones and a Les Claypool-esque bass solo to boot.
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Event organizer Drew Tucker tells us that although Square One hoped for a little more than the 200 in attendance, he and his colleagues were pleased with the way the event unfolded. "We want to reestablish the presence of this place with the community," he said, "and this was a great start."