Northeast Florida’s 15 Best Musical Moments

If you’ve lived in Northeast Florida for more than a decade, you know how good music lovers here have it these days. Venues ranging from the intimate to the epic, the grungy to the elegant, regularly pull in regional, national and international acts. Likewise, our local scene is thriving like never before. On any given night, in any given neighborhood from St. Augustine to San Marco to Atlantic Beach, concertgoers can enjoy folk-punk, Latin jazz, dancehall reggae, black metal, experimental electronica, Southern rap, traditional bluegrass or contemporary country — dealer’s choice — and chances are, it’ll 
be good.

With such an embarrassment of musical riches from which to choose, winnowing down our 2013 list of Northeast Florida’s 15 Best Musical Moments wasn’t easy. But Folio Weekly put in the hard yards and came up with the compilation below, presented in no particular order. And hey, if you think we missed something, hallelujah — that just means there’s more here than immediately meets the eye. That’s never a bad thing.

Big Freedia, April 19, Jack Rabbits
Forget Miley Cyrus — this New Orleans diva is the undisputed queen of twerking and grand dame of “sissy bounce,” a peculiar Southern musical phenomenon dominated by gay men who adopt female personas onstage. Sure, Freedia (originally born Freddie Ross) canceled her originally planned Jan. 18 date, but three months later, she was back shaking dat azz with just a few of the well-endowed dancers who helped her set a Guinness World Record in September by am-ass-ing more than 300 twerkers in New York City’s Herald Square. Take that, Miley!

Dan Zanes & Elizabeth Mitchell, Festival of Friends Benefit Concert, Feb. 16, Ponte Vedra Music Hall
On the other end of the family-appropriate spectrum, these two kiddie-rock impresarios raised money for the North Florida School of Special Education while spreading smiles for miles around. From Great American Songbook standards to Caribbean, Latin and African curveballs to the esteemed folk hits of gentle giants like Guthrie and Seeger, Zanes and Mitchell wowed the age-desegregated crowd at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. Here’s hoping they also inspired a few future First Coast family bands in the process.

Hank & Cupcakes, Feb. 27, Jack Rabbits
What do you get when you cross two Israeli-born musicians with one stripped-down drum kit, one bass guitar, 100 effects pedals, a post-modern art aesthetic, an untouchable work ethic and enough sweaty vivacity to power a small state? A Hank & Cupcakes live show, that’s what. Sagit “Cupcakes” Shir told Folio Weekly that when she and Ariel “Hank” Scherbacovsky first toured Jacksonville, they played for approximately two fans. Fast-forward a few years, and anyone with an electro-pop itch to scratch knows how hard these two bring it. Don’t miss their high-octane energy when they inevitably return in 2014.

Black Francis and Reid Paley, May 9, Underbelly
Cast aside the exhilaration that overwhelmed area Pixies fans when iconoclastic frontman Black Francis (aka Frank Black) announced this last-minute show: Insiders claim that opener Reid Paley, who’s collaborated with Francis in the past, actually stole the limelight before supporting the bald man in black. As promoter Tib Miller said, “The physicality of Reid’s performance was eye-popping …. [He’s got] a gravelly voice that would make Tom Waits blush with envy.” Now that’s a claim!

Neko Case, Oct. 25, Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
Scores of talented women have busted ass to turn indie rock into a more equitable, less testosterone-driven creative community. But few have done it with as much gusto as fiery redhead Neko Case, whose riveting 2013 album “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight …” deservedly topped many year-end charts. Packing a confident rapport with the audience, blunt emotional honesty and a finely wrought voice like a force of nature, Case and her full band truly brought the house down — and even invited showgoers to bring their dogs.

Cat Power, Nov. 8, Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
Two weeks later, another remarkable chanteuse, Chan Marshall, who performs as Cat Power, inspired the same level of adulation — with just a disarmingly personal one-woman show. Alternating between piano and guitar, Marshall sauntered through nearly two hours of raw, bare-bones material, giving her voice the rare showcase it so rightly deserves. Given the issues she’s faced in the past — stage fright, substance abuse, angioedema — watching Marshall thrive in such an intimate setting reminded many fans of a fragile phoenix rising from the metaphorical ashes.

Fishbone, Feb. 13, 
The Standard
These Southern California funk-punk pioneers haven’t let major label bungling and band members’ infighting kill their fun-loving, anarchic vibe. (Jacksonville even got an encore of sorts when Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore, aka Dr. Madd Vibe, graced Jack Rabbits’ 1st Day of Xmas on Dec. 18.) “The mystery of the ever-unfolding now is a wonderful thing,” Fishbone founder Norwood Fisher said earlier this year about fighting the slow decay of middle age. “We’re just going to keep pushing boundaries and trying to figure out if it’s possible to create a groove that hasn’t been danced to yet. If we fail? So what?”

Jacksonville Jazz Festival/Jazz Fest After Dark, May 22-25, Downtown
With 16 years under its belt, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival continues to expand upon its original mission statement of making the Bold City swing. This year, big-ticket headliners included New Orleans funkmaster Trombone Shorty, swing revivalists Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and smooth jazz operator Najee. But the best part was Jazz Fest After Dark, which saw several local acts extend the excellent programming past midnight at 1904 Music Hall, Burro Bar and Underbelly. As organizer Jason Lewis of Tropic of Cancer said, “If [we] can attract a fraction of the people attending Jazz Fest to explore the rest of downtown, [we] would consider it a success.”

Dave Wernicke’s 50th Birthday Bash featuring White Fang, The Memories, Colleen Green, Guantanamo Baywatch, Peach Kelli Pop, BOOM!, Queen Beef, The Resonants, Wet Nurse, The Mold and Premadonnasaurs, 
Oct. 25, Nobby’s
This concert easily goes down as the biggest 2013 bang for any garage rock lover’s buck, with 11 bands — four from Oregon and two from California joining five Florida standouts — coming together to toast Nobby’s owner Dave Wernicke on his 50th birthday. The cover charge? Ten bucks. Appealing to cassette heads, stoner savants, surfabilly enthusiasts, queer and feminist radicals and crust-punk veterans alike, this super-show proved that Nobby’s can bring in more than just one slice of the 
St. Augustine pie.

Cyrus Quaranta’s Ivory Lounge CD Release Party, Aug. 24, Underbelly
Nobody has pushed Jacksonville’s often-homogenous local music scene into more exotic territory than Cyrus Quaranta’s intelligent, infectious Ivory Lounge project, which fuses African, Indian and Latin rhythms. Yet the Indian Cultural Society-sponsored CD release party was even more monumental: sitarist (and longtime Folio Weekly contributor) Arvid Smith, violinist (and Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra concertmaster) Phillip Pan, dobroist (and Grandpa’s Cough Medicine frontman) Brett Bass, harmonicist (and JacksonVegas frontman) Grant Nielsen, saxophonist Gabriel Arnold and bassist Tommy Bridgewater joined Quaranta to deliver one of Jacksonville’s most artistically diverse evenings of the year. Thank you, sir — may we have another?

Charles Bradley, 
April 24, Jack Rabbits
It took Charles Bradley only 40 years to break into the soul music spotlight. Before that, the Gainesville native made ends meet by living on the street, cooking food and impersonating James Brown. That all changed, however, when Bradley, or “Black Velvet,” was discovered by Brooklyn’s Daptone Records crew, who helped the 65-year-old hone his heart-wrenching songbook and passionate stage presence. “It’s so magnetic and powerful,” Bradley told Folio Weekly about finally getting the chance to perform for adoring fans. “I’m just fighting to give people the decency and honesty of a human being that loves everybody the way God asks you to love everybody.” Amen, brother.

Justin Townes Earle, Jan. 9, Cafe Eleven
Calling himself a “Southern music preservationist,” Justin Townes Earle has the appropriate pedigree: son of country maverick Steve Earle, named after outlaw singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt. But Earle the Younger’s intricate explorations of classic honky-tonk, rootsy country-rock and Memphis blues more than carry their own creative weight. And you can’t knock a man who, at only 32, has already defeated his own drug and alcohol demons, made it big in the New York fashion world and returned home to Nashville to support his mother. That’s what we call making it on your own.

Peter BRÖtzmann 
and Joe McPhee, June 4, Karpeles Manuscript Library
Sure, free jazz isn’t quite a “thing” in contemporary America. But for those in the know, this rare live collaboration between German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, who’d never performed in Florida, and Miami-born multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, who’d done so only twice, was 50 years in the making. (Hosting the show inside the vaunted neoclassical setting of Karpeles Manuscript Library was just icing on the avant-garde cake). Of course, the crowd could have been — and should have been — much bigger for this Experimental Arts Union of Florida-organized show. But so it goes in the rarefied annals of abstract jazz. Y’all don’t know what you’re missing.

Angel Olsen, Nov. 30, 
Jack Rabbits
After a few years backing up indie-folk royalty Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Angel Olsen stepped out on her own in 2012, promptly bringing critics and fans to their knees with her heavenly miasma of a voice. Jacksonville lucked into a powerful performance from Olsen at the beginning of a winter solo tour in December, and as usual, everyone in the house swore Olsen was staring right at them as she performed haunting material from her debut, “Half Way Home,” and skeletal renderings of new, harder-rocking songs from her upcoming album “Burn Your Fire for No Witness.” However you want us to burn, Angel, is just fine.

Second Annual Clean Water Music Fest,
Aug. 10, Ponte Vedra Concert Hall

Flagship Romance, comprising local music scene impresarios Jordyn Jackson and Shawn Fisher, enjoyed one hell of a year. After selling out the January release party for their first EP, “The Fudge Session,” they crowd-sourced more than $25,000 in 30 days to record a full-length album in 2014. But Jackson and Fisher, who shelved their respective major-label solo careers after meeting cute and falling in love on both personal and professional levels, would quickly tell you that their biggest achievement was the Second Annual Clean Water Music Fest. Raising more than $24,000 resulted in direct action in Rwanda, where one of three large-scale gravity-fed tap stands will give 30,000 people access to clean, safe drinking water for the first time in their lives. Talent and hard work obviously play a part in Flagship Romance’s ever-growing romance — but obviously good karma does, too.