Sunfest 2017: Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

Ben Harper, with bassist Juan Nelson in the background

In the same way that Florida’s nickname “The Sunshine State” belies its six-month rainy season, so does Sunfest’s name paper over the fact that usually one of the festival’s five days is marred somewhat by bad weather. For the 2017 edition, that seemed to be  Day 2. Right as these headliners were scheduled to take the stage, an angry thunderstorm marched northward, looking as if a torrential downpour was imminent. So the festival management decided to push the start time back by 30 minutes to see if that would save everyone from a soaking.

But the weather of the Florida coast has a habit of being unpredictable, and what seemed destined to be a waterlogged evening turned out to have only a few sprinkles, as all the dark clouds had blown over by time the Californian sextet took to the stage.

Drummer Oliver Charles

The definition of the word “eclectic” could be illustrated by a picture of singer/songwriter Harper, as evidenced by the set-list for this show. The performance began with a reggae tune “Finding Our Way”, followed by “How Dark Is Gone”,  a song driven by a conga rhythm played by percussionist Leon Mobley with drummer Oliver Charles joining in.

This was followed by “Welcome to the Cruel World”, a blues ballad that Ben performed on a lap-steel guitar, and “Fight for Your Mind”, a funky tune where Ben played his lap-steel through a wah-wah pedal.

Ben’s best-known material was well represented in this set, including “Diamonds on the Inside”, a ballad from the 2003 album of the same name. The gently up-tempo “Steal My Kisses”, from 1999’s Burn To Shine, featured an a capella sing-along and a bass vocal, appropriately enough, from bass player Juan Nelson. Not surprisingly, “Burn One Down”, an ode to ganja smoking, got a big cheer from the audience.

Bassist Juan Nelson

The best showcase of the band’s instrumental abilities was an extended rendition of “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)”, featuring a series of solos by lead guitarist Jason Mozersky, keyboardist Jason Yates on a Hammond B3 organ, and finally by Ben on his lap-steel/wah-wah combo.

Keyboardist Jason Yates, with drummer Oliver Charles in the background

After concluding the set with the reggae tune “With My Own Two Hands”, Ben made a point of thanking by name everyone who worked in support of his show — engineers, roadies, even caterers. In all my years of going to concerts, it was easily the classiest thing I’ve ever witnessed, and a suitable post-script to a great performance.


Now Playing on Type M: The July 2017 Issue

Christine & Aidan at the Library
I Read All Your Books: Christine and Aidan of the acoustic duo Friction Farm

In case you thought the revival of our parent publication Type M for Music was a one-time thing, here’s a new issue that includes the complete Friction Farm interview that was previously published on this blog, and the Day 1 review of Sunfest 2017.

This issue also includes my thoughts on why interviews are a boon to the social life of a journalist, the importance of having an outlet for your writing voice, and what local venue doesn’t have its act together when it comes to selling tickets on the day of the show. Not to mention a brief article about the two North American independence days that includes an explanation of the phrase “2-4 weekend.” So don’t delay, read the latest issue of Type M today…

The Giving Type

Ginny Meredith -- PB Post
Violinist Ginny Meredith, founder of the music charity Inspirit

“There’s always something… that happens that makes me feel like we’re doing the right thing here; spreading the joy” — Ginny Meredith

The Thursday edition of The Palm Beach Post always includes a supplement called the Neighbourhood Post, containing stories and features for a given part of the county. One regular feature is Meet Your Neighbour, a column which highlights some remarkable individual living in the area. Today, I was pleasantly surprised to see this week’s Neighbour is my friend and fellow musician, Ginny Meredith. In 2000, Ginny founded the non-profit organization Inspirit, a charity devoted to bringing live music to venues where it normally would not be. For the last seventeen years, Inspirit has paid musicians to play in places such as hospitals, nursing homes and rehab centers all over Palm Beach County.

Inspirit’s slogan is “We believe in the healing power of music”, something which stems from Ginny’s personal experience. In 1998, while Ginny was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, she found that the only thing that helped her get through the situation was listening to music on her Walkman.

Two years later, Ginny went on a ski trip to  Utah, where she used to live with a  roommate named Janna Jenson. Janna had founded a non-profit  in Salt Lake City called Heart and Soul, to provide live music free of charge to institutions such as senior centers and rehab units. Thinking back to how helpful music had been to get her through chemo, Ginny “put two and two together.” Upon her return to Palm Beach, she did some research to see if any such organizations existed in this county. “We researched 50 facilities; we just sent out a mass fax questionaire to… different type[s], like rehab centers and shelters, and asked them, would they find a service like this valuable, and we got an overwhelming response… Just about everybody either faxed us or called us and said, ‘Yes, we would love that! Call us next week!’ ”

Renee and Noam
Inspirit performance coordinator Renee Anchondo-Solis (left) and Inspirit board member Amanda Yorke (center) accompany Inspirit performer Noam Brown (right) at a recent Easter Seals event.

Read the Palm Beach Post profile on Ginny here, and for more information on Ginny’s organization, please visit the Inspirit website

p.s. I joined the Inspirit board earlier this year and I am currently planning a concert to benefit Ginny’s organization as a way to commemorate a milestone birthday in September. Stay tuned for further details, but for the time being, remember the name Five For Fifty

California Meets Boston… On The Beach

Ambrosia Frontman Ken Stacey
Ambrosia lead singer Ken Stacey fronting the band at Sunfest, Sunday, May 7th, 2017

A little less than two months after playing to thousands at Sunfest 2017, California group Ambrosia will playing in a few hours in a more intimate venue:  Boston’s on the Beach in Delray, starting at 8:00 p.m. This band first started in 1970 as a progressive-rock outfit but achieved its biggest commercial success later that decade with a string of soft-rock singles such as “Biggest Part of Me”, “You’re The Only Woman” and “How Much I Feel.”

Opening for Ambrosia this evening is another soft-rock staple, John Ford Coley, best known for his hit ballad “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight.”

Standing-room tickets are still available at the club tonight, but all other seats have been sold out.