Something tells me the folks at Festival Republic have done this before. Every bit of the event was seamless. It was organized and well orchestrated but laid back. The website was killer and the mobile app was a great tool. Everything from the entry process to The Killers Friday VIP show at The Beacham Theater, picking up media credentials, entering the festival, and navigating the property to concessions, music schedule, and set changes were meticulously executed. Bathrooms were abundant and clean (a major feat for a rock festival), concessions and merch were plentiful and logically located, and there were even free water refill stations sponsored by Camel Pak where concertgoers could refill their water for free! Even the concessions seemed to be on a schedule; it felt like every 15-20 minutes a vendor selling Heineken products and water would appear in the crowd when you needed them most. The police presence was strong, but subdued. I thought a world-class festival would not work in Orlando because our large and overzealous police force would take the opportunity to set up driving checkpoints and festival entry anal probes that would scare most fans away.
The grounds were clean, well planned and easy to navigate which made jumping from stage to stage rather easy – never taking more than 5 minutes to get to the next band. A lot of this could be due to the low turnout, but there is no doubt that Festival Republic runs a tight ship and it would be a shame if they didn’t return because Orlando is full of late adopters.
The Killers VIP show
The inaugural installment of what hopefully becomes a successful tradition in Orlando Calling started with a bang as The Killers played a warm-up VIP concert at The Beacham Theater. I wasn’t sure if this would be a true warm-up or an intimate setting to debut new music. It was neither. It was a festival size show shoehorned into a historic downtown Orlando club.
Saturday was the alt / indie part of the festival as it seemed to be compartmentalized into Saturday indie, hip-hop (to some degree), and alternative with sprinkles of Top 40 and country and Sunday adult-contemporary, classic rock, and heavier doses of country.
This was the first band I caught and they were excellent. This Detroit-based rock/soul band energized the crowd with a fat sound that seemed to embody as much goth as it did soul with the pin-up look perfectly suited for the horn section and her giant voice.
Deep Dark Woods
I moved from Jessica Fernandez at one stage to another band I haven’t had the chance to hear in Deep Dark Woods. These guys were great and reminded me of a Fleet Foxes meets Band of Horses sound. Immediately I was impressed and reminded of another wonderful attribute of a good festival; being turned on to new music just by wandering around.
I knew these guys could bring it. From large festivals to more intimate settings like NPR’s Tiny Desk series, Gogol Bordello can work a crowd with their eclectic gypsy punk. They were one of the brightest spots on Saturday.
I was really excited about this show. I adore Man on the Moon and realized this was Cudi’s first trip to Florida. He brought a live band to amp up his songs and it was great, but the awesome band just made me realize how much I loved Ratatat’s production.
The Avett Brothers
I just don’t get it. It just feels like a watered-down Dave Matthews frat version of a folk rock like Iron and Wine. I had a Slayer shirt on and as I exited the show an Avett fan yelled, “Awww where are you going?!” I could hear his friend reply, “Dude, Slayer.”
I missed two bands I was looking to see in Iron and Wine and Civil Twilight. There are always casualties in a festival that has a lot to offer.
There was no bigger casualty for me than Dr. Dog. I love their late Beatles-esque retro rock. This was one of the bands that got me psyched up to come out, but alas, they played the same time that The Pixies did. I went with The Pixies and was not let down as they played all of Doolittle and closed with “Gigantic.” No “Where is my Mind” though.
I decided to see part of The Raconteurs show before moving to see the Roots. Jack White and the dudes from The Greenhorns sounded better than ever, but some of the effect was lost on the vast emptiness of the Citrus Bowl. The Citrus Bowl is massive and the only people that ever sell that out are U2 and the Rolling Stones so trying to put a dent in the Citrus Bowl is a large feat.
The Roots delivered the rousing festival performance I sought minus one glaring omission: No ?uestlove! It appears ongoing politics with The Roots and their drummer got in the way of a big performance.
The Killers were set to close out day 1 and they did a great job in front of a cool projection screen. It’s just that the band’s current drawing power and the vastness of the Citrus Bowl made the show feel small, a major contrast to their Friday performance. The Killers would have been perfect as the last band before Radiohead or the Foo Fighters, bands that people from other states will travel to see.
Following Saturday’s small-ish turnout I expected Sunday to be a bust, but there were actually more people turning out for Sunday’s line-up. Never under estimate central Florida’s desire to party hard around classic rock and country. There were moms and dads a-plenty cruising the grounds. They seemed to be spending more as the midway and food areas were far busier than the previous day. Leave it to Orlando hipsters to complain about Orlando’s inability to have something cool then ignore it when it happens only to be outshined by their parents rockin’ out to The Doob.
Los Lonely Boys
I saw Los Lonely boys wrap up their set to a packed tent. I never really got into them before but dug their Stevie Ray Vaughn-like take on music with a killer rhythm section and a flailing screeching guitar hero.
Have Gun Will Travel
Bradenton’s HGWT were also sounding sharp as I caught the tail end of their set. This is definitely a band I wanted to see in their entirety since the last performance I caught at Anti*Pop.
Robert Randolph & the Family Band
Sometimes the jam scene drives me nuts so I opted out of Warren Haynes to hit another jam mainstay in Robert Randolph. This guy can set a stage on fire with his furious slide guitar and today was no exception.
Bloody Jug Band
I took a detour to the Art House tent to catch BJB as their description depicted a macabre version of the 20’s jug bands. They were pretty cool as they played some originals and toyed with classics from Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Their mandolin player was a cut above the rest.
This dude is 75 years old and he can still shred guitar and work a crowd. Wrapping up the show with a crushing “Voodoo Chile” cover that had him playing the gee-tar with his teeth and his ass. Actually it was the second rousing “Voodoo Chile” on that stage that day with Robert Randolph tearing through one earlier.
This was another retro-influenced band at the Art House tent. These guys were great and had a Squirrel Nut Zipper-like attention to detail and a unique sound – one of my favorites from Sunday.
This guy just gets better and better and now he has a band to back up what he writes. In addition to Thomas on guitar and vocals, Olivia Wynn and her angelic and soulful backing vocals, and Chris Bell lighting the “Mississippi Saxophone” on fire, Thomas was joined by Shak Nasti’s shredder, Tim Turner and legendary Orlando musician Anthony Cole now on bass duty.
I either missed or he didn’t play “Wicked Game” and “Somebody’s Cryin’.” I’m not embarrassed to admit I wear a Slayer shirt and love those songs. His A-list band did bust out some killer covers of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Sam Cooke, Roy Orbison and more as Isaac worked the crowd with ease and worked his shimmering mirror ball suit as well.
I had to call it a night and missed Seger and Dwight Yoakam. I would see them both just because they are who they are and Dwight was god damn Doyle in Slingblade!
I would say everything but the attendance was a success. This was an impeccable festival experience, but lacked something to draw larger numbers. One problem was Bear Creek took away at least 3,000 people that would go to Orlando Calling just for a festival experience. Another issue was there was no monumental draw other than The Pixies to bring people from all over the southeast down to Orlando. Filling the Citrus Bowl is tough too. Glancing at the side stages, it seemed like any other festival, but seeing the Bowl filled to 1/3 capacity for headliners made it obvious that they did not get the numbers they wanted. I think when word gets out about how well this was run and that Orlando has better weather than just about anywhere else in the country in November that this could become the destination festival that it was intended to be. Throw in a shitty techno tent and 10,000 more people will come out. Please don’t give up on us Melvin Benn and Festival Republic!