Sunfest 2016: Train

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Train Frontman Pat Monahan

This San Francisco band’s headlining gig was a week after the passing of funk/rock/pop/r&b superstar Prince, so it wasn’t surprising to hear “Let’s Go Crazy” being played as the group took to the stage. But what was surprising was that as the bandmembers picked up their instruments, they started singing and playing along with the recording, somehow managing to make that sound good instead of chaotic.

Train bassist Hector Maldonado
Bassist Hector Maldonado with Prince-Logoed Instrument

After the Prince opening, Train moved into its own material, kicking things off with a pair of its bigger radio hits: the mariachi-powered “50 Ways To Say Goodbye” and “If It’s Love” with its mid-tempo groove and stream-of consciousness lyrics.

Monahan & lead guitarist Jimmy Stafford
Monahan & lead guitarist Jimmy Stafford

The band followed those up with a pair of older hits: the easygoing “Get To Me” and the song that first put the group on the map, the 1999 single “Meet Virginia.” Lead singer Pat Monahan then announced that the group was in the studio recording songs for their upcoming album, after which the band played a new song called “The News” for the first time in public.

Monahan also remarked on how nice it was to have good weather for the show, and for good reason. For Train’s previous Sunfest appearance in 2013, the band had to deal with a soggy evening, complete with muddy grounds and a steady drizzle. But the group held the crowd’s attention then with a lot of audience participation, something which was repeated for this performance. As was the case in 2013, the song “Mermaid” was an invitation for the “little mermaids” to go onstage, and as he sang the songs “Marry Me” and “Bruises”, Monahan walked through crowd, shaking hands with the fans.

The band continued its set with more of its monster radio hits: “Calling All Angels”, “Save Me, San Francisco”, “Hey Soul Sister”  and “Drive By.” The encore consisted of the piano ballad “Drops of Jupiter” and a faithful rendition of Prince’s signature anthem “Purple Rain.”

 

Guitarist Jimmy Stafford
Lead Guitarist Jimmy Stafford

Pat Monahan

Sunfest 2016, Day 1: Duran Duran

 

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Duran Duran front-man Simon Le Bon exhorting the crowd

If fellow Sunfest headliner Meghan Trainor could be considered the typical pop phenomenon, this ‘80s New Wave band from Birmingham, England is the rare case of former teen idols being able to maintain their career long after the aging of their original fans past adolescence. Few witnessing the initial chart ascent of this MTV favourite could have predicted that thirty-five years later the group would still be going strong.

But going strong it is, despite the absence of original guitarist Andy Taylor. September 2015 saw the release of the band’s fourteenth studio album, Paper Gods, the title track for which kicked off its Sunfest performance.

Clad in a white jumpsuit, front-man Simon Le Bon roamed around the stage, belting out classic Duran hits such as “Wild Boys”, “Hungry Like The Wolf” and the theme song for the 1985 James Bond film A View to A Kill. But the new album was also represented by tracks such as “Pressure Off” and “Last Night In The City.”

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Simon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes

 

Bassist (and fan favourite) John Taylor seemed to have more energy than anyone else on stage, spending his time either running around, slapping his bass, singing backup or playing alongside tour guitarist Dominic Brown.

 

 

 

But even when stationary, he still had a presence, as if he were some sort of rock-star superhero.

John Taylor

As a contrast, keyboardist Nick Rhodes remained true to his introspective self, spending much of the performance in his typical pose, looking down at his synthesizers.

And drummer Roger Taylor laid down the beat whilst being hidden by his cymbals.

 

Throughout the show, the band honoured its influences, both living and dead. One of the songs performed was the title track for the 1986 album Notorious, produced by legendary funk guitarist Nile Rodgers, who was also involved in the group’s current album. Also played was the band’s version of the rap classic “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mal.

Backing Vocalists
Backing Vocalists Jessie Wagner & Anna Ross

But perhaps the cleverest tribute was to one of the group’s biggest influences, the late David Bowie. In the middle of performing one of its earliest hits “Planet Earth”, the band segued into Bowie’s first hit, the extra-terrestial rock classic “Space Oddity.”

Also, at the beginning of the encore, Simon talked about how influenced they were by the late great funk/pop/rock superstar Prince, who had just passed away the previous week. Simon then dedicated the introspective ballad “Save A Prayer” to the Minnesota music legend, exhorting the crowd to hold up their cellphones to light up the night. The band then ended their career-spanning performance with one of their earliest smashes, the title track to 1982’s Rio. This up-tempo Duran classic featured saxophonist Andy Hamilton, who did the solo for the song’s recording.

Certainly a great ending to a great festival beginning.


Simon In Red           John In Red

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Roger Taylor & Nick Rhodes leave the stage (Photo by Erin McMahon)

Sunfest 2016, Day 1: Meghan Trainor

 

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The opening night of this year’s Sunfest could have been titled “Teen Idols, Then and Now”, with Duran Duran representing “Teen Idols Then” and this twenty-two-year-old singer-songwriter from Nantucket, MA representing “Now.”   Meghan Trainor took to the stage flanked by a pair of dancers whose frenetic moves complemented her music, best described as a combination of retro-pop and hip-hop.

Trainor’s Sunfest performance marks her return to stage, having had her previous year’s tour cancelled due to vocal-chord hemorrhaging.

The first few songs of the set were taken from her major-label debut, 2015’s Title. But also making its live debut was the song “Watch Me Do”, a track from her imminent next release Thank You, due out on May 13th.

The crowd consisted mainly of younger music fans but also included Meghan’s parents.

 

Meghan Trainor
All About The Audience

 

Meghan saved some of her most popular material for last, waiting till the encore to perform the ubiquitous “All About The Bass”, and her latest hit “No”, the first single from her upcoming album.

 

 

Sunfest 2016: Five For Photos

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Badges, Beads and Artwork Arranged & Photographed by Empress K of Reggae Reflection. “Three Little Birds” Artwork by Phil Fung

As I said in my previous post, this year’s Sunfest marked the first time that Empress K of Reggae Reflection and I had press passes for all five days of the festival. And while we had our share of challenges and mishaps, we won’t let any negative vibes kill our buzz, because this year’s lineup really delivered. With so many good bands and diverse artists playing sometimes simultaneously, we had to split up more than previous years to cover them all. But you the readers of our blogs and the Island Stage web magazine will be the beneficiaries, because our strategy of dividing and conquering enabled us to listen to and take pictures of about half of the fifty bands that played.

And as the local half of this press team, I was able to see a lot of my concert-going friends along the way, and they were able to see me. Here’s a picture of me in the photo pit for The Roots that was forwarded to me by my friend Alison Bourke, taken by her boyfriend Basel Hamad:

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The Type Writer as Photographer (in grey)

 

And here’s one of the pictures I took from that pit:

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Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson of The Roots on sousaphone

 

So sit tight for a whole lot of words and pictures about this year’s Sunfest…

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A stylized view of Sunfest from the Captain Morgan Floating Bar (Photo by Alison Bourke)

Sunfest Times Five

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The main stage for Sunfest, still under construction at the time (Saturday, April 23, 2016)

For most of the twenty-odd years I’ve been going to Sunfest, I usually get a five-day pass. But in 2012 I was able to get press passes for the first time, for three of the days, thanks to the efforts of my press partner Empress K of Reggae Reflections. Empress K was able to do so again last year, getting us press passes for four of the days, and we covered the festival on behalf of Island Stage magazine out of Dallas. And now for 2016, Empress Khas gotten us press passes for all five days, so we’re literally in the last phase of the calm before the storm.

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Sunfest main gate being constructed behind the Clematis fountain

Ever since Sunfest was transformed in the ’90s from a jazz/blues festival into more of a pop/rock affair, the approach was always to try to have something for everyone, but never more so than this year. The 2016 offering ranges from ’80s acts (Duran Duran, Rick Springfield) to current pop charters (Meghan Trainor,  Andy Grammer, Capitol Cities); alt-rockers (Death Cab For Cutie, Fitz and the Tantrums) ; reggae and r&b newcomers (Jesse Royal, Lunch-money Lewis); hip-hop veterans (Salt ‘n’ Pepa) ; hipster favourites (Alabama Shakes, The Roots) and, as always, a couple of repeat performers (O.A.R, a last-minute replacement for the injury-sidelined ZZ Top, Slightly Stoopid and Train). Did I leave anybody out? Probably; there are 50 bands on the bill…

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The soon-to-be food court and the Tire Kingdom stage (AKA the Meyer Amphitheater)

So keep watching this space for concert reviews and pictures from the photo pits. And if you go to Sunfest and happen to see the Type Writer collapsed from exhaustion in between stages, please pick him up, dust him off, and point him in the right direction…

Sunfest Banner

 

Thoughts on Jumbo Shrimp

[Typist Notes: If you’re reading this on the date of publication, Jumbo Shrimp Inc. has a gig at Swampgrass Willy’s in Palm Beach Gardens this evening from 7:00-10:00]

Jumbo Shrimp, CD Release Party for "Thoughts"
Jumbo Shrimp with its newly-released CD “Thoughts”, November 28th, 2015. (l-r) Austin Klewan, Angel Leiser, Ben Rothschild, John Cardillo III, Dylan Thomas

2015 was a banner year for this Palm Beach School Of Rock band. In addition to high-profile gigs at the House of Blues in Orlando and Sunfest in West Palm Beach, this teenage group also released two albums, the second of which is the nine-track CD “Thoughts.” Like its predecessor, Nostalgia Calls, this album has very strong retro influences, particularly of classic-rock groups such as The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, and, of course, The Beatles.

The bouncy rocker “Coming Through” starts the album off  on a peppy note, which is continued by the dreamy title track. The follow-up “She”, a crowd pleaser during band gigs, acquits itself admirably in its studio version. But the album’s highlight is certainly the brooding track “Lights.” This is the album’s only songwriting collaboration, co-written by frontman Ben Rothschild and bassist Angel Leiser, all other tracks written by Rothschild on his own. The song’s structure is simple yet effective, building up from a quiet guitar/bass ballad into a full-blown rock anthem, not unlike The Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

Austin Klewan’s saxophone work on the following track “Colors” gives it a nice Pink Floyd feel, and the chord progression of “Freeze” has a hint of Hendrix. All in all, it’s nice to see that the musical evolution of this group that began on Nostalgia has continued on Thoughts.

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Sunfest 33: Fireworks!

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The full moon shines on the Sunfest fireworks as they burst above the trees surrounding the Clematis St. fountain

[Typist Notes: Today is New Year’s Eve; at the end of today, cities all over the world will be welcoming the New Year with fireworks at midnight. One of those cities will be West Palm Beach. But in addition to New Year’s and the Fourth of July, the other big fireworks occasion for West Palm is the final night of Sunfest. Here are some pictures and recollections from that night.]

About thirty minutes after the final notes of the Fall Out Boy concert that brought this festival to an end, Sunfest put on their usual stellar fireworks show to conclude the festivities. Prior to their start, Empress K and I had been inside the festival’s media center (in the Cuillo Centre for the Arts, on Clematis Street), so we just walked out into the street and started taking photos.

I benefited greatly from using film-camera lenses on a DSLR. Empress K explained to the newbie digital-SLR photographer that due to the DSLR in question not having a full-size sensor, the magnification for the lens is actually 1.5 times what it would normally be. So a lens that zooms to 200mm on a film SLR will actually go to 300mm (I’m sure I’m not doing the technical explanation justice, but I imagine you can find the details on some photography website, if interested.) I also benefited from the full moon appearing that evening and acting as a nice complement to the man-made light show.

I never imagined I could capture the beauty of fireworks in photographs, so it was nice to be proven wrong. Enjoy the rest of my images from this colourful conclusion of a great music/arts festival.

 

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