SunFest Day 1
The Avett Brothers and Sublime With Rome
Downtown West Palm Beach
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
View a slide show from SunFest Day 1 here.
Better than: Moonshine on a warm spring night.
This year's kickoff night to the 29th running of West Palm Beach waterfront festival SunFest scrapped the New Music Night concept for something decidedly older but no less intriguing. Headliners the Avett Brothers reinterpreted old-fashioned folk, and Sublime With Rome rehashed material famous in the mid-'90s. Still, each gave commendable
With these two target bands taking their stages 45 minutes apart, a certain amount of overlap between them was expected. The plan of attack was to experience an entire set of original bluegrass punk material from the Avett Brothers and arrive at the tail end of Sublime With Rome's reggae-rock set to catch a couple of trusty "kegger" favorites like "Santeria" and "Wrong Way."
The Concord, North Carolina-bred Avett Brothers have garnered themselves a sizable following by delivering material that maintains a Southern charm but never gets whiny. The group, who along with brothers Scott (banjo/vocals) and Seth Avett (guitar/vocals) perform as a quintet -- joined by standup bassist Bob Crawford, cellist Joe Kwon, and drummer Jacob Edwards -- came at the height of its popularity and packed the Meyer Amphitheater/Tire Kingdom Stage.
Scott's frolicsome banjo strokes set the tone for "Go to Sleep," a track that combusted into an out-and-out hootenanny with brother Seth, Crawford, and Kwon all hopping around the stage in unison to the song's lively tempo.
"Tin Man" came shortly afterward and was met with overwhelming crowd approval, both Avett brothers trading verses with ease on this uplifting fan favorite from the band's most recent studio effort, '09's I and Love and You.
"Distraction #74," from the Avetts' older catalog ('06's Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions) was met with equal crowd encouragement as standup bassist Crawford fiercely plucked his strings.
Another aspect that has made the Avett Brothers such a draw is their range within their folk roots. They can go tender as they did in "January Wedding," with Scott's gentle-as-a-lullaby banjo strums and Seth's sincere delivery, or balls to the wall, as they did on "The Fall," a rapid-fire number best described as an Appalachian hoedown fueled by Red Bull.
The Avetts can go bare bones too, as they did on their treatment of "Murder in the City." Scott Avett handled this one solo, with just his acoustic guitar on stage. It was a basic coffeehouse song, with relatively easy chords and straightforward lyrics, but wouldn't you know it? Scott had enraptured every single member of the jam-packed crowd. And how prophetically? As Seth belted out the verse "drank your share bourbon, thinking you might come around" from their raucous rendition of "Pretty Girl From Cedar Lane," we were coincidentally dumping the remainder of our Maker's Mark-filled flask into a half-empty Pepsi bottle. After taking in the frisky "Kick Drum Heart" and wholehearted "I and Love and You" as an encore, we swigged our whiskey cola and bid our charming Southern gents adieu.
On the trek to the Bank of America main stage, there was time to consider the somewhat objectionable nature of a band re-forming and continuing under the same moniker after its frontperson has passed away. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl never tried it, but there was Jerry Cantrell's feeble attempt with Alice in Chains.
Still, we entered Sublime With Rome's performance open-minded. At this point, Bradley Nowell's replacement, Rome Ramirez, announced "and this one is for the hippies" as the trio launched into a ska-infected rendition of the Grateful Dead's "Scarlet Begonias." This Deadhead essential actually worked as a dub-imbued ditty. Former Sublime bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh showed that they have not skipped a beat through the years. On "Badfish," Ramirez demonstrated a congenial nature in his delivery that drew parallels to Nowell's erstwhile vibe.
As expected "Santeria" came at the end of the encore. Ramirez's punchy vocals were barely audible over the crowd here, who were singing at the top of their lungs, verse by verse.
It could've been a side effect of a contact high from the wafting hydroponically grown herbs in the air, but any snide criticisms of this unit were cast away, and we came into full realization of what Sublime With Rome was all about. Most of these people never had a chance to witness the laid-back summery party that was Sublime, and the other two Sublime members have not relished the breakout success that followed the group's 1996 eponymous album. Perhaps in reliving these songs, they are in some way passing a torch on in Bradley Nowell's memory?
Personal bias: If it is going to be country, it better have sass.
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The crowd: Middle-aged dudes extending their benders from the Jimmy Buffett show on Saturday, preppy sorority girls all eager to sing along to Avett Brothers' tunes, and wannabe Rastas passing the dutchie.
Random detail: On April 14, Sublime With Rome posted on its website that it was almost done with its forthcoming album.