[Review] Orange Blossom Jamboree at Sertoma Youth Ranch, May 18-21, 2017

Orange Blossom Jamboree 2017

We are the artists The music makers The lovers of life The cosmic bakers When we sing Our hearts ring When we create Love resonates Heart strings oscillate Felt by even the stars above Creation is the vibration of love ~ written by Tina Praino

(OBJ group photo by Brian Hensley of Music Fest News)

As I was pondering how to possibly sum up my Orange Blossom Jamboree (OBJ) experience, I found this poem in the Event Guide. While I’m not a music maker, my life centers on two things – my family and music. I saw my first concert when I was seven years old and I was hooked the moment the lights went out and the music started. Through music, I’ve found love, built a family, and found my tribe. I’ve built some of my strongest relationships and created my fondest memories dancing in the moonlight.

Every time I go to a camping music festival, I come back with a new perspective on life. I have life-changing epiphanies. I go home a better person than when I arrived. My epiphany this weekend was more about WHY these festivals mean so much to me. If you really think about it, music is a refined, humanized version of the sounds we hear in nature. Sit and listen to the birds sing or the crickets chirp. They’re on time with each other, creating multiple layers to the Earth song. Add the sounds of the wind, leaves blowing, and a snake slithering across the ground, and you have a masterpiece. For those of us that are lucky enough to be in tune with both, outdoor music festivals are truly a cohesive and cosmic blend of humanity and nature. Orange Blossom Jamboree is just that kind of magical experience.

I’ve been attempting to attend OBJ for at least four or five years, although unforeseen circumstances haven’t allowed it to happen. Every year, my friends would come home talking about what an incredible time they had and that next year I HAD to go. Well, this was finally my year. The anticipation leading up to it was almost more than I could bear. When we finally had the orange groves in sight, I breathed a sigh of relief, readying my heart, mind, and body for all we were about to experience.

Unfortunately, adulting sometimes gets in the way of fun, and this was one of those times. My family and I had to miss Wookie Wednesday and all of Thursday’s music. From all that I can gather, we missed some really great music. Savi Fernandez Band got raving reviews. We were fortunate enough to hear Savi sit in multiple times throughout the weekend. Ajeva and Come Back Alice also stood out as favorites for almost everyone I spoke with.

Editor’s Note: We were in attendance at all these sets and they did indeed exceed expectations. Read our interview with Ajeva here.

Our goal was to get there in time to hear Friday’s opener, Blackwater Grease but, well…the best laid plans. We made it to the forest just after they ended. A little disappointed, we decided to walk around a bit, get a lay of the land, and find some of our friends. While I’ve attended some very large festivals, the smaller ones are what excite me the most. It took less than a minute to realize this was going to go down as one of my favorites. Hundreds of tents, campers, and cars were nestled in every available nook and cranny, hoping to be shielded from the sun. Overflow was in a field just past the wooded area. Regardless of where you camped, everyone had a smile on their faces, and seemed intent on creating more magical moments with friends, new and old.

On our way to the Cypress Stage, we stopped at the Zombie Stage, just to check out everything it had to offer. In addition to a great lineup of bands throughout the weekend, the stage and dance area was adorned with the coolest art. Zombie paintings, retro future cut-outs, and phosphorescent glowing images were everywhere. And believe me when I tell you the spot took on a whole different look, once nightfall came.

We made it to the Cypress Stage in enough time to catch all of The Corbitt-Clampitt Experience. As a native of Jacksonville, you have to be living under a rock to not know who The Corbitt Brothers Band is. When one of the band members decided to take a break to pursue another life passion, The Corbitt-Clampitt Experience was born. Self-described as an explosion of blues, southern rock, and soul, they delivered just that.

Once they were finished, we had to leave the staging area for a bit. My son was DYING to check out the vending area and it seemed like a great time to grab a snack. Fortunately, no matter where you were on the ranch, you could hear the music loud and clear, allowing us to always feel a part of the experience.

The organizers of Orange Blossom Jamboree really knew what they were doing when they designed the festival layout. Vendors lined the dirt paths on the way to the campsites, with food and drink available right next to the Citrus stage. Everything was easily accessible and they had a unique blend of artists and vendors, ensuring there was a little something for everyone. I mean, who leaves a festival with plants? Apparently, I do! And the fact that coolers, food, and drink were allowed everywhere on the ranch did not deter people from supporting the vendors. In fact, I think it probably diversified more, supporting as many as possible throughout the weekend. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to taste a frosty beverage from Dunedin Brewery, one of the primary sponsors of OBJ, I recommend doing so. As Florida’s oldest microbrewery, they have an option for every beer lover’s palate.

We made it back from our vending visit in time to hear Funky Seeds. As the name implies, they kept a palpable bounce to everything they played. Synths and keys balanced with rhythm and lead guitar interplay, in addition to catchy song structures, kept the crowd dancing for almost the entirety of their set.

Funky Seeds
Funky Seeds

Next came the set I was most looking forward to. The Grass is Dead managed to weave traditional bluegrass sounds with recognizable psychedelic rock staples, leaving the audience smiling and dancing from beginning to end. For the fans that were left wanting more of that undeniable energy, they played a late night, unplugged set on Saturday night. Between the zombie art, the crowd energy, and an intense set, it took me hours to come off the music high and snuggle in for some rest.

It’s always interesting to hear someone else’s description of a band. As I walked up to check out The Applebutter Express, I overheard a description that stuck in my head: “honky tonk bluegrass storytellers.” Fronted by husband and wife duo, Kyle and Shannon Biss, the band is an eclectic mix that can’t be categorized as one genre. Their set revealed to me why Creative Loafing voted them “Best Bluegrass Band of the Bay” in 2014.

The Lee Boys were my first introduction to “Sacred Steel,” a musical genre best described as “an inspired, unique form of Gospel music with a hard-driving, blues-based beat.” Rooted in Gospel, with numerous other musical styles added to their gumbo pot of soul, The Lee Boys felt uniquely like all the other music of the weekend, yet distinctly different at the same time.

One of the things I loved most about this festival was that you never had to go too far to fully immerse yourself in the music. With two stages right next to each other, and a well thought-out schedule, we were able to simply turn around to catch the next act (with interspersed visits to the Zombie Stage throughout the day, of course).

Thomas Wynn and the Believers were the last act on the Cypress Stage Friday evening and I quickly realized why they’ve gotten such attention on a national level. The brother-sister harmonies, combined with a dynamic band, make these Florida natives stand out as ones to watch. Speaking of, their new album, Wade Waist Deep clearly defines their soulful, spiritual Southern rock dynamics.

The Good Wood Band played on the Zombie Stage and was the first band I heard Saturday morning. These boys had more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Towards the end of their set, the band began a memorable version of “Soulshine.” To the surprise of most of the audience, including one lucky girlfriend, the bass player took off his bass and walked off stage, only to drop to one knee and propose! After a definitive “yes,” he re-joined the rest of the band and finished their song and set.

After a brief break for lunch and a walk around the park, we made our way up to catch Electric Kif. This was my husband’s most anticipated band and, after hearing them, I can understand why. Based out of Miami, Electric Kif is an incredibly tight and well-orchestrated band, capable of switching between jazz, psychedelic rock, and soulful blues, all in the same song.

I had never heard of Unlimited Devotion before, but the buzz around the park was that this was a must-see band. As I watched the crowd descend upon the Citrus Stage from all directions, I realized that this Grateful Dead inspired band was one of the most eagerly awaited sets of the day. By the time the band rolled into “Slipknot”, the entire crowd was swaying and bouncing. We danced so hard that I remember looking over at my friend and joking about the fact that he had literally danced a hole in the ground. As the wife of a drummer, I was more than impressed that the drummer, Dan DeGregory, held down singing responsibilities on multiple songs, without ever losing a beat.

Displace was up next and one of the first things I noticed was the dynamic saxophone player’s sweet tone ringing through the trees. They rocked a funky cover of “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse, with tempo and time variations that kept the cover fresh. Midway through the set, lead singer Chris Sgammato, gave everyone a little window into his psyche, when he announced his greatest fear related to the vast ocean and the huge sea life in it. Immediately following, the band launched into “The Shark,” a menacingly funky jam a la Paisley Park, with the rest of the set following suit.

The Groove Orient

As I mentioned before, this is such an intimate festival. Right before The Groove Orient was about to go on, our crew decided we needed to get a bite to eat. Luckily, everything we needed was so close that we were able to hear a good amount of their set, even though we weren’t front and center. Some friends stayed behind, and their report on this “Florida Rock” quintet was of catchy riffs and danceable jams. In particular, the mesmerizing keyboards and guitar melodies bolstered the band’s crowd appeal.

Holey Miss Moley! Wow, no kidding. I feel like they were the most appropriately named band of the weekend and, judging from the crowd’s response to their set, I’m not the only one. They came out of the box firing off a solid backbeat and crunchy bass groove. In no time, an hour had passed and they were almost done. Between the singers, rappers, and other undefined lyricists on stage and the rest of the band, there was an energy created which engulfed the crowd.

The Juanjamon Band = Funky Ass Shit!!

(Seriously, see these guys. I can’t give enough positive accolades.)

And check back this week for our interview with JuanJamon.

The Heavy Pets closed out Saturday night on the main stage with a fiery mix of soulful and searing rock. An especially inspired Pink Floyd classic, “Fearless,” was an early indication of the band’s influences and the direction they would head.

You know what they say – “Never miss a Sunday show.” Unfortunately, we missed all of Sunday’s music. Adulting, again, got in the way of my fun! From all the pictures and praises I saw online throughout the day, it was a beautiful closer to an epic weekend.

It’s taken me almost a week to really gather my thoughts and process my weekend at Orange Blossom Jamboree. Everywhere you looked, people were hugging, smiling, and dancing. In addition, there was an incredibly helpful staff presence, which managed to remain buoyant, yet responsible in their assigned duties. I was also really impressed at the recycling efforts and the initiative from all attending to leave no trace behind, as it should be. When there’s not a festival on grounds, Sertoma Youth Ranch is a desirable camping destination, especially for families. One of the features of the ranch is a creek running through the middle of the property. It was easy to understand, therefore, why all the youngsters gravitated to it. It allowed me to rest easier, knowing that my son was safe, playing with the other kids. And, with so many of them running around, and dogs soaking up the rays and pets equally, it was truly a family affair.


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