Nothing beats sun and fun at the beach. Unless you pair it with a music festival in a city known for going fast and staying up late. Three nights of red hot bands heat up Miami music fans while the ocean breeze keeps them cool. It’s North Beach Music Festival’s second effort at a jam-centered music festival at the North Beach Miami Bandshell. It’s nestled between Miami’s sandy shores and some of the best Cuban and Colombian restaurants around. This gem of a festival is the crowning achievement of The Rhythm Foundation and GMP Live. Congratulations to these fine organizations for putting on such a beautiful boutique event. This is exactly the kind of party the people are looking for!
Music fans from all over get ready for three rad nights at Miami’s North Beach with moe., Lotus, and Lettuce. Not to mention wave after wave of artists like Trouble No More, Antibalas, Karl Denson, Doom Flamingo, Dopapod, and so much more!
North Beach features two stages: Park Stage, set up in the grassy area just outside the Bandshell Stage which is housed in a circular bandshell. The stages trade Miami’s music fans back and forth with a staggered schedule, so no one misses a moment.
My weekend starts as I weave through an Agentinian futbol celebration just outside the festival. (Congratulations to them for winning the World Cup!) It certainly brings people together!
First up on Friday is Brandon “Taz” Niederauer with the sun going down. He’s not on stage for more than a moment before Taz takes charge of the band with a huge buildup solo that capped off with a skirmish Matt Godfrey on guitar. Feeling the Miami heat, Taz pops off his shirt to flex his skills on The Meter’s “People Say.” It’s here that he breaks a string on his guitar and refuses to stop. People say that Taz is good, but I’m here to tell you he’s great! He enlists the help of saxman at large Skerik for Funkadelic’s “Red Hot Mama.” Thanks Taz! Great set!
We are already flying high when the veteran jamband moe. comes to the stage. Opening with ”Plane Crash,” the fans around me get their favorite song right off rip! It’s keys player Nate Wilson who simply flaps his wings and we are airborne again. His exquisite playing has been supplementing for the loss of Chuck Garvey who continues to recover from a stroke. They’re definitely aiming to impress with Wilson leading them in a debut of Traffic’s “The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys.” In the second set they start off with “St. Augustine,” which has a Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” tease that was undoubtedly inspired by the set break playlist. Then replacement guitarist Suke Cerulo soars to new heights riding the thermals put up by percussionist Jim Loughlin on the vibraphone. They pay homage to the jam bands of old like Pink Floyd and The Beatles in their performance of their original tune, “Silver Sun.” Finishing up their fantastic two set performance and a very rowdy opening night of NBMF, moe. plays “The Pit” with assistance from Lotus’ Tim Palmeri (guitar). They reply to the encore shouts with “Okayalright” before the gates open, letting the sweaty music fans back out into the world.
Saturday begins with a trip to a local Colombian restaurant where I enjoy a steak with rice and beans. The venue is right in the mix of a ton of great restaurants and the beach, it really is a dream come true. It’s only a short walk to the venue before I arrive on site for Shira Elias’ (Cool Cool Cool) opening set. She throws down a medley with classic 90’s R&B covers like TLC’s “Waterfalls” and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” She does a full cover of The Spice Girls, “Say You’ll Be There” which will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day! Then she dishes out her hit song, “HOOK’D,” which fits right in with her song selection. She finishes her set with Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” to the roar of the growing crowd.
It’s here that I dip out of the festival to hit the beach (literally behind the venue – like super, duper close). I get the chance to meet new, awesome people while enjoying the best sunset Miami has to offer. Returning to the festival, I catch just the last bit of Melt. They bring their high-energy stage presence beachside and deliver strong drum and guitar solos during their set, culminating with a performance of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
I’m excited to see Dopapod for the first time in years. Their guitarist, Rob Compa, couldn’t make it as he is expecting the birth of his first child. Filling in for him is Tim Palmeri of Lotus! His skills are beyond reproach as he dazzles in their first track, “Velcro.” Next, they find their reggae vibes with a cover of Ernest Ranglin’s “Surfin’.” These guys are gelling together so well despite the short notice set. Next up, “Bats in a Cave” is funky and fun. The slow tune is a perfect spot for Palmeri put up the bat signal and show everyone why he’s the man. These guys never stop playing and set the bar high for a magnificent Saturday evening.
Back over on the Park Stage, Doom Flamingo is ready to go! This band is fantastic, but their vocalist Kanika Moore is the reason for the season. She comes out in a sexy patent leather one piece with fishnet stockings. She is gorgeous, but all of that takes a backseat to her powerful vocals which help Doom to belt their driving 80’s synth to the masses. Things get hot and heavy in “Blade” with a tapping guitar solo from Thomas Kenney making me feel like I’m riding down Mario’s Rainbow Road. They jam this song out before eventually playing “Love on Hold,” by Aeroplane. Finishing with their hit song, “Hot Wheels,” Doom Flamingo picks up a huge number of new fans as they impress with another amazing performance.
At the Bandshell Stage trouble is brewing. Trouble No More is bringing the music of the Allman Brothers to the people! Trouble No More features the star-studded lineup of Taz (guitar), Daniel Donato (guitar), Nikki Glaspie (drums), Peter Levin (keys) and Roosevelt Collier (lap steel guitar) alongside Dylan Niederauer (bass), Jack Ryan (drums), and vocalist Lamar Williams, Jr. They start things off right with “Trouble No More!” I love this sound! They “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” as Collier’s guitar solo brings a tear to my eye. Then, Glaspie and Ryan pepper the crowd with their poppin beats in percussion spotlight. Danato dominates his guitar, showing off why he’s a rising star. Check out his Cosmic Country on tour this Spring. Skerik the saxman comes out to sizzle in “Southbound” before they polish off their stellar set with “Midnight Rider” and the iconic “Whipping Post.”
I am greeted by lasers and lights overhead as I return to the side stage for tonight’s headliner, Lotus. The palm trees and park are lit as the party is about to pop off with its final set of the day. They begin with a cover of Todd Terje’s “Inspector Norse.” It’s weird wobble and driving beat help set the tone for a fun, loungy evening. They play “Shimmer and Out” from their Live Underground album before getting to one of my favorites, “Suitcases.” “Time Dilates” as we dance the evening away. I get down to classics like “Gree the Mind” and “Spirtualize” before they play their post-modern rock song, “Guilded Age.” It’s my second time seeing this band with new guitarist Tim Palmeri and it was once again fantastic. He shifts them from a studio lounge act to a full on jamband. I am loving the new complexity in older songs I have danced to for a long time. What a great set!
Tonight, I wore a “I Need Moore Kanika” shirt and after the festival that shirt got me a chance to say hello to the Doom Flamingo members. I got to say hi while waiting for a cheeseburger nearby. Even got a hug from Doom Flamingo and Umphrey’s McGee bassist, Ryan Stasik. (I’m never washing this shirt again.)
Sunday is the final day of this magical weekend. The charm of this growing festival in North Miami Beach is remarkable. I can’t say enough about the music and atmosphere of this must-attend event.
Afrobeta is first up on this beautiful Florida day! Their sound gets the party dancing right away. Her rainbow tasseled outfit and fun beats make for a great first set. Guavatron is up next on the side stage. This fantastic four-piece has me feeling like I just got a star in Mario! I feel invincible and speedy as they cruise through their four song setlist featuring originals “Grit” > “Ray Gun” > “Gustavo,” which wove into the finale, “Turtle Dream.” Their sound straddles a galaxy of genres as we travel through space and time.
Cool Cool Cool comes out with a cover-heavy set that sets the standard for the day. This formerly Turkuaz band comes out swinging with The Band’s “Don’t Do It.” Vocalists Sammi Garrett and Shira Elias have the full attention of the room with their amazing range and stage presence. Guitarist Craig Broadhead lays down a huge solo and suddenly I’ve forgotten where I am. This band has the magic to transport me onto Jamcruise at a moments notice! I soak up every minute of this funktastic set before they finish with Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” And this just in: Cool Cool Cool has been added to the 2023 Jamcruise lineup! These people are incredible!
Next I get the opportunity to meet our friendly Neighbor. The party starts with “You Could Be Mine,” delving out a Ukrainian sound that I just had to squat dance to with my buddies. Next, bassist Dan Kelly plods along on his green strings while Richard James (keys) dances on top with a funky solo. They continue to push the envelope with their next song where Lyle Brewer and his candy apple red guitar won’t be contained. Neighbor is so entertaining with their ambitious composition, soulful balladry, and their fearless and lengthy improvisations. Catch their next show you too can be “Trippin’ in a Van!”
The endless afrobeat of the Antibalas is up next on the main stage! The oversized band moves as one, two-stepping back and forth to the rythym of the beat. Saxman-at-large Skerik shows up to increase the strength of the group. They fear nothing as Antibalas means “bullet proof” in Spanish. My friends are pulling out all their best dance moves for this ass-shaking set. The band is so busy, but no one has the spotlight for more than a moment.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe battles through some sound issues. These true professionals continue to tweak and adapt with everything so they don’t stop playing their awesome sounds. “Chicken Lickin’” and “Biggest Fan” are up first to get things going. They hit the bullseye with my favorite song, “New Ammo” before Denson shows off his skills in an extended flute solo to start his Beastie Boys inspired tune, “Sure Shot.” Denson also warns the crowd of zombies saying he can ward them away with “Brother’s Keeper.” I’m not sure if you believe in Santa, but you can tell it’s just before Christmas because they slayin’.
Sending this festival off in style is the one and only, Lettuce. They have been dominating the funk scene with album after album of funk, jazz and soulful tunes that the entire family can enjoy. I can hardly stop dancing long enough to take any notes in this seriously funky set. They “Blast Off” and this party is out of this world! Lettuce slips James Brown’s “The Big Payback” into the mix and I can’t contain my excitement in my funky soul. Showing off tunes from their new record, Lettuce plays “Hawk’s Claw” causing me to crouch and move around like a kitty cat secret agent. Never underestimate my sneakiness! Karl Denson and Skerik are hype AF as they join Berklee’s best on stage for “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” Lettuce has the song cooked perfectly: rotating on the spit, dripping with juicy beats. It’s here Denson and Skerik go back and forth taking huge bites out of this meaty tune. I am surrounded by happy people all dancing and smiling around me. Lettuce lets us have it with four songs off of their newest album, Unify (2022). The last of which was “Vamanos” and it was only their second time playing it live! What a show! Love the James Brown nod and all of the fantastic energy!
Thank you so much to all the bands and especially to North Beach Music Festival for putting on one hell of an event! No way next year can be better… can it?! Either way, we can’t wait. See you in 2023!