By Brent Michael, Rock At Night Tampa Senior Correspondent
Venue: The Grove Wesley Chapel, Florida–October 31st-November 1st, 2020
So it’s been eight and a half months since I’ve been to a concert, and since this festival was relatively local – Wesley Chapel is a fast-growing community about twenty miles northeast of Tampa, and where I once had built a home – I thought it was time to have some socially-distanced fun! Loaded up my two favorite gal pals and assorted necessities in the car, and off we went! The tickets – for both days – were a mere $15, and since one of the aforementioned gals had knee surgery just three days earlier, the good people at Florida Penguin Productions, notably Drew Cecere himself, obliged us with a nice close location for viewing. We set up a carpet with a border of flowers around it that gave us a place to park our chairs and assorted items. We were ready for music!
Jeff Vitolo and the Quarter Mile Rebels were happy to oblige! All these bands are regional favorites, so we were familiar with what to expect, but we hadn’t realized how much the band was equally ready to go! See, the upright bass player had been in a car accident – the day before they were scheduled to play! But as we all know, the Show Must Go On! So despite the black eyes and skinned-up nose (it was Halloween, so the zombie look was fitting), he played like there was no tomorrow, hot sun and all! The band’s description is quite accurate: “HIGH OCTANE ROCKABILLY & ROOTS ROCK WITH A BLEND OF ORIGINALS & COVER SONGS” (Yes, it’s all caps on their page!) Anything from 1950s covers to “RockaBilly Idol,” plus original music. One of my personal favorites is a “Folsom Prison Blues/Pinball Wizard Mashup,” recently popularized by Puddles Pity Party, but with the usual Vitolo twist! Always a fun time!
Here at RAN, we’re all about the music, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning that Florida Penguin Productions put together an entire festival, not just a concert. That meant a carnival fairway with all the requisite goodies: deep-fried Oreos and Twinkies, Funnel Cakes, Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Chicken and Waffles, Corn Dogs, and other fair fare that your doctor would not approve of – but it’s so good! A local business expo (sponsored by The North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce), and COVID-safe trick-or-treating for the kids (it was Halloween, remember?), and of course the usual libations.
So there’s plenty to do when the bands go on break! But next up we were treated to Shevonne and the Force, driven by Shevonne Marie Philidor, also known as Shevizzle, the American singer-songwriter, musician, producer, model, actress, and visual artist. The Tampa, FL native, military brat of half-Haitian descent, has appeared on 4 TV shows; America’s Most Talented Kids, America’s Got Talent (Wild Card Round), and 2 appearances on American Idol (Top 40). She was also awarded the NFAA National Scholarship in musical theatre and toured the country as part of Todrick Hall’s National Tour of “OZ the Musical”. Shevonne performs at Music Festivals and venues across the country, she is not only a self-taught musician, she is also a visual artist and has an art Instagram @Shevizzle_The_Artist where her surreal drawings serve as a window into her unusual and fascinating mind. An up-and-comer breaking into the national scene, right here in little Wesley Chapel!
Oh, and her keyboard player finally answered that age-old question: “Where’s Waldo?” (It was Halloween, remember?) We found him!
Closing out the day was another well-known Tampa Bay band, The Black Honkeys, a fixture in the area for almost 20 years. Consistently topping lists like “Best in the Bay” as the Best Local Soul/R&R/Funk act in the Tampa Bay area, this ten-piece ensemble brings us the best of bands like Earth, Wind, and Fire along with a multitude of originals. they’ve released four EP/CDs and a single, “Pumpin’,” a mellow cruising jam reminiscent of “Low Rider” but more tropical-feeling with Tampa references thrown in, and a crowd favorite that was finally released early this year. For a ten-piece band to make a go of it since 2001, they have to be doing something right, and you just need to see them to know what it is!
So that was Day One, with three great bands to get your motor running – but Day Two hadn’t even arrived yet!
The first band to hit the stage on an overcast morning has the unusual moniker of Barefoot Bob and the Hope. Funny thing is, the lead singer/ukelele player actually does play barefoot, and his real name is Bob Hope! Not sure if he’s related to the late comedian, but they did tell jokes. Billing themselves as a “Top 40/Rock/Country/Dance Cover Band,” at least for this iteration, they kept us well entertained. And by iteration, I meant that Bob apparently bills himself/the band differently depending on who his bandmates are, or how many are there. You’ll find him under the Bob Hope Band, as a duo with the drummer by BanJoey, as the Bob Hope Duo – you can count on seeing Bob in many different forms, but that’s what it takes to keep working in this post-COVID environment! And the boy does work a lot, looking at his October 2020 calendar, there were only 5 days without a booking, and only 5 – including Thanksgiving – open in November – some days are double-booked! How many musicians do you know who are that busy?
It’s interesting that both festival days had a younger band sandwiched between two area stalwarts each day, I don’t know if it was planned that way, but it seemed to work pretty well. The middle band of the day was Stonegrey, a band I first photographed exactly eight years ago at the Born to Ride Monster Jam, also on the Day of the Dead (November 1st)! They were just kids then, but handled themselves well, sharing the same stage as groups like Foghat, Molly Hatchet, Joan Jett, Paul Rodgers, and other internationally-known acts. Fast forward eight years and the band is settling in as regional stalwarts, though they’re still only 25 or so! And they’re making some inroads in breaking beyond regional fame, especially through appearances at 97x Next Big Thing, Freedomfest, Seminole Hard Rock Cafe, The Legendary Boot Hill Saloon during Daytona Bike Week, Raymond James Stadium, and Hairapolooza. With their easy-to-listen-to rock originals and a substantial selection of rock covers, they are a perennial favorite at some of the largest motorcycle events in the world, and as two-time winners of the Tampa Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands, these young gentlemen have seen their presence as contenders in the regional
rock scene firmly established.
Of course, opening for name acts like Jefferson Starship, CandleBox, Hinder, Saving Able, Enuf -Z-Nuff, Great White, Winger, Kings X, and Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche) hasn’t hurt them any! They’ve released their second full-length CD, titled “Voice of Reason” – give it a listen! It’s about time these guys broke out, and this album proves they deserve to!
Closing out the festival was the Greg Billings Band. Some of you might recall a band from the early 1980s called Stranger. I’m not going to rehash their history, but two members of that band – lead singer Greg Billings and bassist Tom King – are still playing together in this band, along with several other longtime members. Greg and Tom, of course, have opened for huge acts in their prime days, like Triumph, Quiet Riot, UFO, Skid Row, Aldo Nova, Eddie Money, and many other big-name acts of the time. For about seven and a half years after leaving Stranger, Greg was with Damn the Torpedoes, and when he left to form his own band he brought Keyboardist Rob Stoney with him, recruited George Harris as a second guitarist, and later brought back another DTT bandmate, Kyle Ashley. Recently, they added a new drummer I’ve known for years from other bands, Chris Bishop, to fill their former drummer’s shoes.
GBB’s set was filled with songs recognizable to anyone who has been in the Southeastern United States for the past almost-forty years: Swamp Woman, Jackie’s So Bad, Okechobee Whiskey, 3D, and others that kept the crowd up and moving!
All in all, a whole lotta music featuring nationally-known (and soon to be) artists for $15? Now that’s a steal!