Looking Back on AURA: Part 2

(Photo by Nick Sonsini - Sonsini Media)

Written By: Jordan Kirkland - Live & Listen

The first full weekend of March provided music fans from across the country with their first major festival of 2015.  AURA Music & Arts Festival, hosted in the beautiful national forest at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, boasted many of jam rock's hottest bands, and even two of the scenes original pioneers: The Disco Biscuits and moe.  With a potentially questionable weather forecast heading in, the rain held off, for the most part, allowing attendees and performers to enjoy nearly perfect weather from Thursday through the closing set from the newly formed, Break Science Live Band on Sunday night.  

Following a full day full of stellar performances, the sun rose early on Saturday at Suwannee, and we were all set for another beautiful day of music.  Sleep is rare commodity at any festival, with so many people partying in one place.  As soon as your group is ready to call it a night, it seems that another group nearby has returned to their campsite, ready to rage.  Thankfully, the food vendors on site boasted an amazing variety, but I found myself retreating to the Toasted Cheese Truck for the second morning in a row.  Something about that grilled link sausage, with egg and four blends (Swiss, Cheddar, Parmesan, and Provolone) of melted cheese had me coming back for round two. 

After many hours of roaming and preparing at the campsite, our group headed to the Amphitheater Stage for another super soulful set from The Motet.  I knew we were in for another special day when we bumped into our buddies Matt (Jalbert) and Charlie (Dolan) from TAUK upon sitting down in the amphitheatre.  Within a few minutes, the boys from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, as well as The McLovins, were also center stage and ready to party, reaffirming how unique and laid back the atmosphere at Suwannee is.  The set started strong with two of my favorites, “Like We Own it” and “1,2,3” and we were right back in the thick of it. 

The soulful feel of Friday didn’t skip a beat on Saturday as we made our way to the Porch Stage for The Main Squeeze.  This would be their first of two sets for the weekend, but we knew it would be jam packed, with Sunday’s set being a tribute to Michael Jackson.  This was only my second live experience with this raging funk group from Bloomington, IN, and I will be making a point to build on that this year.  “Message To The Lonely” and “Dr. Funk” were welcomed with open arms.  As the sun set, we took a ride back to 1996 as front man Corey Frye guided us through a soulful cover of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” 

Much anticipation was surrounding the Saturday night Papadosio set.  “The Lack of Everything” kicked off the set, and “Cue” would follow.  “Cue” has without question been my most played song in the weeks following the festival.  I can’t think of a better sample tune to play for someone wanting to get a good feel for this band.  “Ear to Ear” would feature yet another sit-in from legendary percussionist Mike Dillon, with a seamless transition into “Right Now.”  The set also included lengthy renditions of “Elephant 1 Presume,” “Smile and Nod,” “Paradigm Shift,” and “Night Colors.”  There was no way these guys were leaving the stage without an encore, and “Improbability Blotter” provided just that.

(Papadosio - AURA Music Fest - 03.07.15 - Photo by Roger Gupta)

We wasted no time getting back to the Porch Stage for a 90-minute set from RAQ, quite possibly the biggest treat of the weekend.  Self-described as high performance rock n roll, RAQ has been touring as a four piece band since 2001. Their unique sound featuring complex song structure and quirky-yet-accessible lyrics has their older fans wishing the band was still full time and the younger generation wondering what they have missed. There is little doubt after this set at AURA that RAQ still delivers tremendously when it comes to improv rock.  This was RAQ’s first performance in well over a year, and one of only a handful since 2008.  Highlights from the set included “Will Run,” Lynard Skynard’s “Simple Man,” “Silhouette,” “Helter Skelter,” and “Clamslide,” which was beautifully sandwiched right in the middle of the infamous “Bootch Magoo.”  While Todd Stoops’ latest project, Kung Fu, is spearheading the current nu-funk movement, we should all remain hopeful that many more RAQ shows are ahead of us.

(RAQ - "Bootch Magoo > Clamslide > Bootch Magoo" - AURA Music Fest)

(Video by Cheesehead Prodcutions)

Another rare, special occasion would immediately follow over at the Amphitheater StageThe Disco Biscuits, whose tour dates are typically limited to special occasions and festival sets, kicked off the first of two sets at 10:30PM.  There was a contagious buzz in the air, as the Philadelphia-born Biscuits have played an integral role in the world of jam rock since 1995.  The heavy layers of LED lasers were firing in all directions, creating a layer over the top of the crowd that could almost make you feel closed in.  I’ve never felt such a powerful, overwhelming amount of bass at any show in my life.  Marc Brownstein (bass) and Jon Gutwillig, aka “The Barber,” were trading licks until nearly 2AM, making for the biggest crowd of the weekend.  Highlights from the set included “World Is Spinning,” “Very Moon,” Bombs,” “Great Abyss,’ “Catalyst,” “Helicopters,” “I-Man,” and “House Dog Party Favor.” Barely having enough energy to stand, it was time to retreat to the campsite and prepare for the final day at AURA

(The Disco Biscuits - "Helicopters > I-Man > Crickets > E-Jam > Helicopters")

(Video by Cheesehead Productions)

Sunday’s sets would continue the theme of soulful funk.  It’s always a special treat to catch up with our friends from TAUK, who we have had the pleasure of seeing and getting to know quite well over the past year.  Their 1:45PM set was our first of the day, and they took full advantage of kicking things off on the Amphitheatre Stage.  Many of our favorites were played, including “Mokuba,” Sweet Revenge,” “Dead Spot,” The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy (I Want You),” "In The Basement of the Alamo,” and even a roaring rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”  It’s been amazing to watch this band soar to the top of the jam scene, and there is no doubt that the best is yet to come.

(TAUK performing "Sweet Revenge" - AURA Music Fest - 03.08.15)

(Video by Cheesehead Productions)

Immediately following TAUK’s set, McLovins were back on stage, this time for an outdoor afternoon set on the the Porch Stage.  “Funk No. Uno” and “Cohesive” made way for “Samson > Shivers,” a combo of tunes from last year's studio release, Beautiful Lights,  that are becoming well known for their strategic pairing.  We weren’t finished with “Shivers” until The Door’s “L.A. Woman” was also tucked into the sequence.  Three of the four tracks from their latest E.P., Funk No. Uno, would finish off the set (“Catch The Ball,” “Wasp,” “Step Sista”).

(McLovins - AURA Music Fest - 03.08.15 - Photo by OwlEyesOnYou)

(Justin Berger and Jake Huffman - Photo by Faces of Festivals)

Without any doubt, the most soulful set of the weekend came from The Main Squeeze’s Sunday set, which was a full tribute to Michael Jackson.  Guest appearances from The Shady Horns (Lettuce), Isaac Teel (TAUK), Eric Bloom (Lettuce) came early and often, as the raging funk rockers made their way through Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits.  “PYT,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til Ya Get Enough,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Black Or White,” “Beat It,” “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal,” “ABC,” and even the hit from the movie Free Willy, “I’ll Be There.”  An amazing, somewhat overwhelming rendition of “Man In The Mirror” would bring this amazing tribute set to a close.

(The Main Squeeze - "Black Or White", "Beat It", "Thriller", "Billy Jean", "Smooth Criminal")

(Video by Cheesehead Productions)

Thankfully, the one and only Todd Stoops was back on stage yet again with his latest project, Kung Fu.  This group has absolutely blown my mind over the past couple years.  “Chakrabarty,” “Chin Music (w/ Shady Horns),” “Captain Fingers,” Hollywood Kisses,” and “Bringin’ Up The Rear” made for another amazing experience with Kung Fu. 

(Kung Fu - "S'All Good > Scrabb" - AURA Music Fest - 03.08.15)

(Video by Cheesehead Productions)

The weekend’s final performance came from a very special, all star group, Break Science Live Band Break Science is typically a two-man group, featuring Adam Deitch (drums) and Borahm Lee (keyboards/programming).  Joining Break Science’s Live Band was Jesus Coomes, Adam Smirnoff, Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom (Lettuce). This performance marked the debut of the ensemble. The 90-minute set packed in a wild amount of excitement and groove.  While a set list was unavailable, the energy added from Deitch’s Lettuce cohorts was unforgettable and an emphatic exclamation point to end the weekend.

(Break Science Live Band - "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe > Let's Groove" - AURA Music Fest)

(Video by Cheesehead Productions)

I can’t say enough about the experience I had during my first ever journey to the beautiful Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.  The atmosphere, accommodations, and music provided an extremely warm and inviting vibe for anyone and everyone.  The job that Daryl Wolf has done in establishing the festival and building it into what it is today is nothing shy of amazing.  Destiny Beck and the Brotherly Love Productions team have done a phenomenal job in spearheading the festival’s promotional efforts.  I can’t express my gratitude for being allowed to play a small role in promoting and capturing this weekend, and I look forward to helping this wonderful group of people in any way possible moving forward.