One of my first posts for the Florida Music Blog was the review of the inaugural Fool’s Paradise and I knew after that weekend that I would be back to cover it again. Last year’s event set the bar extremely high but if there was any festival that could rise above that bar, it’s Fool’s Paradise. There was no such thing as a sophomore slump for this event and the attendees were graced with incredible music, a tight sense of community and feeling that life could not get much better.
As I did last year, I had to take off to St. Augustine from my office in Jacksonville, FL but wasted little time making headway down to the nation’s oldest city. I was lucky enough to have my brother come down from North Carolina and the two of us clinked our roadies as we started the quick jaunt down I95. Christopher, my brother, doesn’t make it home very often so just knowing that the Bash Bros. were reunited made it easy to recognize the amount of fun we were about to have. My tie was off before I even made it the ground floor of my building and my Cole Haan dress shoes quickly became running shoes as I darted to my car where Christopher was impatiently waiting. You can’t blame him when you look at the incredible lineup that the producers were able to compile for this year’s event.
Obviously attendees were going to get a heavy dose of funk from Lettuce, who played both nights, but also from The Main Squeeze, Dumpstaphunk and the Eric Krasno Band. They were also graced with a long set from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD) whose unique and jazzy interpretation of Grateful Dead tunes would leave any Deadhead pleased to the bone. The Floozies and Manic Science were the electronic side of the weekend and both helped get the crowd’s hips swaying with their sets that helped set the stage for the evening. Sprinkle in artists-at-large Oteil Burbridge and Antwaun Stanley and concert goers were left with a full plate of top-notch music that no one could deny.
As Christopher and I approached the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, we quickly realized that our excitement couldn’t be contained. We knew that we were going to have time of our lives and we could not have been more right. The two of us have always had a knack for finding a good time but recently we’ve come to the agreement that fun, and the people that help create it, find us. This could not be more evident by the beautiful new faces we met this year. It’s always comforting to know that festivals are more of a family reunion at their core and with each reunion, our family adds new and exciting faces. This year’s Fool’s Paradise was no different.
After collecting some familiar faces outside of the Amphitheatre, we made our way into the venue to get our hips moving with a great set from Manic Science. The group that features Manic Focus and Break Science, set the tone for the evening and after grabbing a quick beer, the bro and I situated ourselves squarely on the dance floor. We couldn’t have asked for a better primer to the evening’s main event and after a set that saw the sun start to fade, we were ready for it. Lettuce displayed why they are considered by many to be the best in the game when it comes to funk music and the crowd showed them it’s appreciation. Heavy base lines from Jesus Coomes and rattling drum beats from Adam Deitch helped propel the crowd into a feverish fury that only more music could cure and JRAD was just what the doctor ordered.
Lettuce photo by Phierce Photo
It would appear that Joe and his bandmates sensed that feeling in the air and opened with a ferocious ‘Good Loving’ that sent the crowd into a frenzy as they sang along to ‘Doctor! Doctor! Mr. Md!.’ A good frenzy of course but a frenzy nonetheless. The group never slowed down and worked their way through some classic Dead tunes in a unique way that left the crowd anticipating what was coming next. When they went into ‘The Eleven’ (one of my favorites) I jumped out of excitement and landed unevenly on the stairs that I had forgotten were underneath me. I’m sure I provided a laugh for many around me with my stumble, but I can assure you my newly sprained right ankle was not laughing. Of course I could careless at the time but I was hurting quite badly after hours of dancing. The highlight of the show was when Oteil walked out to join the band in playing some of the tunes that he is already very familiar with. Oteil plays along side original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann in Dead & Co. and he quickly added his take to ‘Dancing in the Streets.’ A tune, that judging simply by the name, isn’t conducive sprained ankles.
After relocating my brother and our “brother from another mother” Woody, I quickly realized that they had met a couple of new faces. Nora and Lizzie had come down from New York after winning tickets to the event in a Facebook giveaway and meeting them seemed to be no stroke of luck but rather something that was bound to happen. Nora and Lizzie quickly became members of the family and I could not be happier about that. After some quirky one liners from yours truly and a brief introduction to the ladies, we skipped over to the Elks Lodge where Eric Krasno and his band were ready to blow the roof off of the intimate late night venue. He did just that and invited several of his musically inclined friends to help with the metaphorical demolition of the venue. Before we knew it, the night had come a close and it was time to find the place we were supposed to lay our heads.
Saturday morning quickly showed its presence with a very bright sunrise and it was time for my brother and I to head back to Jacksonville to see our dear friends tie the knot. The original plan was to miss all of Saturday but after experiencing the joy that we did on Friday, there was no question that we were coming back for more. We quietly slipped away from the wedding party and made our way back down to St. Augustine for round two.
The Main Squeeze used their unique smooth/jazzy/funky/swag sound to help the crowd shake off the hangover from the night before. Antwaun Stanley, who performed at last year’s event with Vulpeck, joined The Main Squeeze for an impeccable rendition of Mark Morrison’s ‘Return of the Mac’ that was dripping with swag. The Floozies decided to bring a dance party with them as their set left the dancers with barking legs but wanting more. Lettuce closed out the festivities at the amphitheatre with a raucous set filled with heavy funk that left the crowd funk-stunned. More funk seemed to They got what they were looking for at the Elks Lodge where Dumpstphunk brought their New Orleans fueled funk to the small venue. Whatever parts of the building were still standing from the previous night didn’t stand a chance on this night and Ivan Neville led his cohorts on what was a magical ending to another impeccable weekend at Fool’s Paradise.
Every festival seems to bring new connections, rekindled friendships and a lifetime of amazing memories but something about Fool’s Paradise separates itself from the rest. If I was able to put my finger on it I would bottle it up and take it with me wherever I went. But that’s the beauty of the event. You can’t describe it! The past two events have been some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my musical journey. Each year I’ve walked away with a sense of rejuvenation that I can only get when I’m at Fool’s Paradise. Maybe it’s the intimate vibe that concert goers get to experience or the sense of community that I feel while I’m there. It could be the family reunion that always takes place each year or the new connections that are made that seem to be an act of fate more than anything. Whatever it is, this year’s Fool’s Paradise did not disappoint and there was never any question that it would. I walked away from this year’s event with new friendships that will last a lifetime and rekindled old ones that left me smiling from ear to ear. I tip my hat to the producers and staff that once again out did themselves and left me ready for next year!