Hip Hippie Hooray

Homeboy John Medeski (with Chris Wood and Billy Martin) returns to Fort Lauderdale for the Langerado Music Fest

Deep in the distant rock 'n' roll past, great and mighty festivals once ruled the Earth. Lollapalooza, Woodstock, H.O.R.D.E., and Lilith roamed the world's venues, bringing dozens of bands to thousands of fans. But that was a long time ago (in rock 'n' roll years, at any rate, where trends and fads are born and die every second), and now those thunder lizards are extinct. And yet, in the realm of the hippie jam bands, the festival factor has only increased.

"It's the fan base. It likes music," says Vinnie Amico, who smacks the drums for moe. "The jam-band moniker has become a soup. A lot of different bands are all lumped into this category. For instance, Soulive is nothing like moe., which is nothing like Widespread Panic, and so on. And this massive fanbase that likes them all can see different bands in the same place."

With that in mind, large-scale festivals dedicated to the noodle-dancing set have cropped up all over the place. Last year's Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee drew tens of thousands to see bands and artists such as Widespread Panic, Ween, Trey Anastasio, Ben Harper, and, lest we forget, Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains. Quite an inaugural event, and this year's Bonnaroo looks to be just as good. But the big news in these parts isn't Bonnaroo II; it's the inaugural Langerado Music Festival, South Florida's very own jam-band fest.


The Langerado Music Festival

Fort Lauderdale Stadium Festival Grounds, 1201 NW 55th St., Fort Lauderdale

From 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, March 8. Tickets cost $32.50. Visit www.langerado.com or call 800-594-TIXX.

"My partner Scott's last name is Langer, and none of this would be happening if he hadn't started it three years ago," says Ethan Schwartz, whose company, South Florida Jams, has been bringing the groove to South Florida with no small success. Through all of that, Schwartz had a dream of creating a festival for South Florida. The packed houses at his shows proved the market was viable, and the closest existing events are held in Live Oak, a good seven-hour drive north. With that in mind, Schwartz put Langerado together and began the process of persuading bands to make the long trip south. For some, though, it didn't take a whole lot of persuading.

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"The South in general is looser and likes to dance more," opines Chris Wood, bassist for Medeski, Martin, and Wood. "It can be a little more of a party atmosphere. The North tends to be a bit more reserved. But I think that's true all over the world. It has to do with climate. People in warm environments who wear less clothes are more likely to break out and dance. The people in New Orleans probably party harder than the people in Minneapolis." And since this is about as far south as you can get and still be in the U.S., South Florida must know how to party.

Certainly, Schwartz has coaxed some big names to the event. Main-stage artists include RAQ; the Charlie Hunter Trio; G. Love and Special Sauce; Medeski, Martin, and Wood; and moe. In between, acts perform on the second stage, including Hashbrown, Moonshine Still, Perpetual Groove, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Codetalkers, and Mofro. Finally, the backwoods stage features Swayback, Kynda, Jerrods Door, the Almost Acoustic Band, and Rev. Jeff Mosier's Ear Reverants.

"We all prefer to do our own shows, but there's something to be said for the festivals," Amico says. "You play to more people, and you don't have as much time, so you have to come right out and go bang!"

"It's important to play small clubs, but then doing that makes it fun to play big places," Wood concurs. "Sometimes it's nice to be on a bill with other bands, and sometimes it's nice to create a whole night of music. We really thrive on variety."

Indeed, the spice o' life makes these sorts of shindigs such a good time. "The jam-band label is such an umbrella term," Schwartz says. "It's amazing to see DJs playing with rock bands, bluegrass with funk bands. Things like OzzFest are 25 minutes and get off the stage. It's more business. Not that there's anything wrong with those sort of concerts, but I think jam-band festivals have a more positive vibe. Those bigger festivals, it becomes more a gathering of people, and the music is secondary. With the jam-band crowd, they're always pushing the musicians, and then the musicians try to play better and better. It's all about the music."

The particular umbrella of Langerado includes everything from the straight-up funk of Hashbrown -- the only local band tapped for the second stage -- to the bluegrass twang of Jeff Mosier's banjo.

Given the neo-hippie's propensity for driving ridiculous lengths to see a show, the turnout at the Fort Lauderdale Stadium Festival Grounds is expected to reach well into the thousands, and plans are already underway for next year's Langerado. Many bands look at South Florida gigs as more vacation than work. "I'm gonna fly down a few days early with my family and get a little beach time," Amico says. Given that fact, there's ample opportunity to make Langerado a happening with staying power.

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