At 2 p.m. on a Sunday, there's very little noise in Lake Worth. The South Florida city just north of 36,000 is in a decibel tug of war between residents who want quieter nights and scenesters who worry that noise restrictions could kill the area's budding music scene. Aside from a few beach-style bars, Lake Worth's slow-paced downtown is damned near Midwestern with its charming boutiques and mom-and-pop restaurants. But a handful of local artists and promoters are thinking bigger.
Speaking of big, meet Cecil Lunsford, an imposing figure at six-foot-one, with a black bushy beard, a bald pate, and tattooed arms. He sits on the edge of Bryant Park's massive concrete amphitheater-style stage, located in the grass next to the Intracoastal Waterway, and looks across what will be the grounds for the inaugural Lake Worth-It festival this Saturday.
"Never before May had I thought about a festival," he says. "I looked out here, and I saw the people." Once that vision came to him, he immediately set about securing the location with the city and booking the bands. "It was first-come, first-served, because every band that I invited, I wanted to play. As more bands came in, I put them in afterparties. Also, if anyone drops out, the next in line will move into the slot. It's growing beyond what it originally was and becoming what it wants to be."
Lunsford's own Shaman Stick Productions has assembled more than 40 local bands and about 60 artists and craftspeople for 16 hours of creative indulgence. The all-day festival will be held at Bryant Park from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and will be followed by multiband shows at several of the city's live music venues, like Propaganda, Brogues on the Avenue, and Little Munich.
With so many venues and talented artists concentrated locally, Lake Worth is "the epicenter of live music and art" here in South Florida, according to Lunsford. The national spotlight on local bands in recent months has, in his opinion, illuminated only the surface of Palm Beach County's talent pool. "The quality of the music here is so high, and it is so diverse," he says. "What I want to see is more bands like Surfer Blood taking off from here [Kanine Records signed the band in 2009] and more bands like the Jameses getting written up in [influential indie-rock website] Pitchfork."
The festival's local headliner is eight-piece band Invisible Music. Frontman John Ralston, a Lake Worth native and current resident whose music career has put him onstage at Madison Square Garden and in the studio with now-deceased former Wilco member Jay Bennett, and his band of seasoned musicians certainly represent the Lake Worth community and the festival's collaborative spirit. Ralston, who's currently shopping a solo album to labels and preparing to record with Invisible Music, is part of a group of local musicians from bands like the Postmarks, Grey & Orange, and Black Finger who record, play, and tour together. The group is centered around a backyard recording studio called Elegbaland, where Ralston records his projects and other bands with "the spirit of adventure in the studio" that he says he learned from Bennett.
The collaborative environment, Ralston says, is what inspires him. It was working with Greg Lovell of local band Black Finger, Ralston says, that brought him back into music after time off.
"I came off the road from the U.K., and I was burnt out." Ralston says. "Greg Lovell asked me if I would record an intro to one of their songs. After that, Greg asked me, 'Hey, would you be interested in playing this CD-release party? We would be the band if you don't have one right now.' It was just me and Dan [Bonebrake] and Greg [Lovell] and Andy [McAusland] and Jeff [Snow]. Then it became bigger." Invisible Music's membership grew to include friends who would regularly come to hang out during rehearsals, such as guitarist Nathan Jezek, percussionist Tiffany Jezek, and violinist Susan Sherouse.
Ralston is impressed by and psyched to be part of Lake Worth-It. "I'm this festival's biggest fan because I've lived here my whole life. I never thought that something like this would be able to happen. It seems like everywhere you look right now, there's a great band playing. There's this spirit of 'We're doing this; we're from here.' This isn't the way it always was."
Along with Invisible Music, the fest will feature a mixed-genre lineup. (Kevin Barnes, lead singer of indie psychedelic act Of Montreal, was slated to play the headlining slot but will not appear at the festival "due to the state of the economy and low sponsorship figures," Lunsford says.) Sharing the stage will be straight-up rock bands like Black Finger and Blond Fuzz, punk outfits Kill Now?! and the Ridicules, theatrical punk-infused bluegrass bands like Lunsford's own Black Weather Shaman and Everymen, and difficult-to-put-your-finger-on acts like the Jameses, whom Pitchfork recently praised for their weirdness, as well as Guy Harvey and the Dewars, who could be next to receive some national attention.
Of this local band mashup, Lunsford says, "I full-heartedly believe that by getting everyone together in the same place, everyone's going to realize that this is worth it. A music town is something that grows, not something that exists. It's an issue of people putting in the work."
Alongside the music, the festival will feature a beer garden serving craft brews stocked by BX Beer Depot, eats by Swanky's Bar-B-Que, a play area for kids with a bounce house, and other curiosities such as fire breathers and a novelty bike exhibit.
Craft vendors and area artists — all of whom have some connection to Lake Worth and the greater Palm Beach area — are slated to inhabit the shady section of Bryant Park across from the stage. Stitch Rock craft fair founder and Lake Worth resident (and New Times' July 29 cover gal) Amanda Linton, who says her own annual Delray Beach event drew about 2,000 people last year, will handle Lake Worth-It's craft booths and work closely with Adam Sheetz, who helped found Pupil's Collective, a collaborative forum for area artists.
Under Sheetz's guidance, each art booth will host two artists of different genres who will be expected to collaborate on a single piece of art as well as have the opportunity to sell their pieces.
"Everyone's been waiting for something like this to happen," says Linton, who assembles playlists from local band submissions to play at Stitch Rock each year. "There's a fine line between music and art. When anyone's painting, they're listening to music. It's a great idea to merge the two together on such a large scale to show the rest of South Florida that Lake Worth is a thriving artistic community."
Beyond showcasing local talent to the community at large, the Lake Worth-It festival is also designed to expose artists to one another. "A lot of these bands don't know each other, so putting them all on the same stage at the same festival is building community," says Propaganda nightclub booker/Honeycomb promoter Steve Rullman, who's handling the promotional aspects of the festival.
In this spirit, headliner Ralston will attend as a spectator and performer. "I hope that there's a vibe that everybody sort of hangs that day and it's not just play your set and leave. Cecil has done a good job of making it this sort of thing that we're going to put our best foot forward as an artistic community. There are so many good bands in the fest. I plan on being there all day and checking out as many bands as I can."
"Break away from your clique," Lunsford adds. "If you like punk rock, great. But if you like punk, you'll probably like a little bit of alt-country; you'll probably like a little bit of indie. You're not going to like it all, but go out and support local music, because if we don't have a local music scene, there's no place for any of us to play."