Orlando's Music Beat: Part 1
From jazz to rock, blues to metal, we present 20 music acts that call Orlando home.
To call our city’s music scene rich is an understatement. We present 20 acts that call Orlando home and perform locally or have branched out far and wide, whether they follow a beat of blues, folk, rock, jazz, metal or something else. Plus check out our guide to venues that regularly present these shining stars.
Eugene Snowden (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
I let other people take the wheel, but I’m always doing the driving.
Wander unawares into Lil Indies cocktail bar on a Wednesday night around 10:30 or so and you may have a hard time figuring out where the floor show stops and the life of the party begins. Or maybe everybody’s just humoring that loudmouth in the corner until the bouncer gets back from his break.
He’s holding up a glass of scotch, saying something about getting his “herb to alcohol ratio” just right, treating every other person who walks into the bar like a close relation or a long-lost heartthrob. Now he’s dancing with one of the women. Now he’s dancing with one of the men. Now he’s rearing up and affecting a dignified air long enough to announce: “Ladies and gentlemen, I forgot to tell you. In five minutes, we’ll be having the pants-off dance-off!”
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Eugene Snowden, the 54-year-old Peter Pan of the Orlando nightclub scene, a jubilantly off-color, won’t-grow-up, juke-joint and chitlin’-circuit throwback who has been presiding over a mixed bag of blues, soul, and rock and roll at the tiny Mills 50 club for nearly three years. He’s been skittering around Central Florida since the mid-90s, when he arrived here from Long Island, N.Y., having grown up in a family where nearly everybody played music, professionally or otherwise. His father played drums, his mother sang. A grandfather was in a West Virginia swing band called The Brown Buddies. The family’s basement was a place where neighbors and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins would turn up to get down.
He learned guitar on the fly, plays it with his thumb where his fingers should be, but he’s an insanely fine-tuned percussionist by nature. His first Central Florida gig, after he moved here for a sales job and stuck around for the weather, was a taut drum circle, inspired by Nigerian musician and human rights activist Fela Kuti. Snowden called the group Umoja: It’s Swahili for “unity.” Later, he became the front man for The Legendary JC’s, a soul-revue group that opened in their heyday for the likes of B.B. King and James Brown and still play Florida clubs.
For his Lil Indies sessions, he’s backed by a smaller, revolving-door assemblage that includes accomplished local musicians such as guitarist Justin Kangrga and well-traveled Woolly Bushmen drummer Simon Palombi, who know all too well that he’s a meticulous maestro, a bully about getting the beat just right. So do the other musicians who turn up to jam alongside him or take the mike.
“I let other people take the wheel,” he says. “But I’m always doing the driving.”
It’s an echo of the anything-can-happen, subterranean blues of his youth, when there was a thin line between the performers and the audience, and what mattered wasn’t how polished you sounded but how much fun you had. He always brings along a set list scrawled on two or three sheets of loose-leaf paper. Long before the night is over, they’ve floated to the concrete floor. People are dancing on them.
— MICHAEL MCLEOD
Chakra Khan (COURTESY OF CHAKRA KHAN)
Playing at The Social Dec. 2
The band name began as a joke. The music is anything but frivolous. Performing as Chakra Khan, Alexandra Love and the artist called DiViNCi are an extension of the groundbreaking Solillaquists of Sound, who for 15 years have merged hip hop, soul and theatrical performance into a powerful force for political expression.
“DiViNCi and I,” says vocalist Love, “along with Swamburger and Tonya Combs, have been in Solillaquists of Sound since 2002.” The collective—LA Weekly called their song “Death of the Muse” ‘‘the most awesome song in the history of awesomedom”—works and lives together in Orlando, its members some of the most influential musicians in town.
“SoS is a vocal Olympics,” Love says, “sharing the stage with four dynamic individuals dealing with huge topics. With Chakra Khan, there’s time to breathe, the music is personal.”
Using devices called music production centers, DiViNCi manipulates drum sounds and instrument samples. Love devises intricate melodies with elements of jazz and soul in a voice that is soft and lyrical one moment, rapid-fire staccato the next, like a hip hop Ella Fitzgerald. Live shows feature her vocal group, Beautiful Chorus, spotlighting her outstanding ear for harmonies.
Their first record, Love Is at the Core, features original material along with versions of Björk’s “Joga” worthy of Erykah Badu mixed with Indian bhangra, and of Nirvana’s grunge anthem, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” fusing electronic dance music and the attack of heavy metal.
Love, with a degree in film, directed and edited the video of their song “Future,” working with choreographer Sunny Raskin to produce an Alvin Ailey-esque dance to Love’s multi-tracked vocals and DiViNCi’s driving beats.
The group’s first public performance was at The Venue on June 11, a few hours before the horrors of the Pulse nightclub shootings. In a bitter coincidence, they performed a song written in January called “Pulse,” which includes the lyric “We’ve sacrificed/ Too many nights to violence.” The band released the song as a free download shortly after the news broke.
Love is both introspective and searching when not performing. “I trust myself,” she says. “I know—and I don’t know—what I’m doing. I guess I’m still figuring it out.”
Fortunately, we get to listen while she’s doing it. chkrkhn.com
— JOSEPH HAYES
Gailanne Amundsen and Jubal’s Kin (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
Gailanne Amundsen and Jubal’s Kin
When her father died in 2015, Gailanne Amundsen knew she’d fulfill his last request to convene the family’s roots-oriented band, Jubal’s Kin, to record his favorite songs.
Still grieving, she didn’t know how challenging that would be.
“Making this record was really hard,” Amundsen says. “It tore me apart and it made me a better performer.”
Jubal’s Kin will release the new album, Son of Amund, in November. In addition to Gailanne’s singing, fiddling, guitar and clawhammer banjo, it features her brother Jeffrey on upright bass and 11-year-old sister, Mattie, on vocals.
The album embraces old folk tunes—“Buffalo Gal,” “Clementine”—as well as originals and gospel favorites such as “Precious Memories.” The bluegrass sound is expanded by guests including pedal steel guitarist Tom Cooper and Orlando beatboxer Scott “Rubox” Pausal.
“It’s another dimension, the beatbox element, and I was so excited to get Rubox on it,” Amundsen says.
Even with such collaborations, the album maintains the old-time feel of the 2010 Jubal’s Kin debut, Amundsen says. That release was praised for its blend of traditional influences and indie-rock flourishes that evoked comparisons with The Decemberists.
A championship fiddler, Amundsen started playing Appalachian dulcimer and autoharp at age 9, adding violin two years later. She learned at weekly jam sessions hosted by fiddler Sharon Hartmann, of Orlando’s Barnstorm Quartet.
“I was home-schooled and that was my social life,” Amundsen says. “Sharon is my godfather fiddle lady.”
Hartmann feels a similar bond.
“Gailanne was a kindred spirit of mine and I tried to mentor her as much as I could,” Hartmann says. “She has always amazed me with her easy transitions from learning one instrument to another.”
Amundsen, 22, expects to tour with Jubal’s Kin in 2017. She also has new music on the way with another band (The Buck Stops Here) as well as a solo album
in the works.
“It’ll be the first record with my name on it,” she says of the latter, a collection of Carter Family songs to be produced by John Carter Cash. “Those are the songs I learned first, even before bluegrass.”
Dad would be proud. jubals-kin.com
— JIM ABBOTT
Drew Yardis (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
When he was younger, and “musically inclined” started showing up in the cards, Drew Yardis worked his way through a succession of instruments—saxophone, trumpet, drums, guitar—before settling on the one that came into the world with him.
That would be an unearthly tenor warble that will turn you around in your barstool if you find yourself at the likes of The Copper Rocket, Maxine’s on Shine, Will’s Pub or Casey’s Upper Deck, where Yardis turns up regularly to breathe new life into familiar standards. He’s got quite a range in both his vocals and his repertoire. Michael Jackson is just as likely to turn up in a set as Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead, and the mix can take on yet another dimension when partner Lindsay Stephan joins him for haunting harmonies.
You’ll know Yardis by his distinctive, well-timed trills, which dovetail snugly with the original spirit of a song and make it his own. Somewhere between the inventiveness and the polish, he can take on a tune that you didn’t think of as a favorite and make you change your mind about it right then and there.
Yardis is from Longview, Texas, though just barely: He spent all of four days of his life there before being adopted by a Connecticut family. When he turned 18 and his birth mother sought him out to reconnect, he discovered that she had been a singer, too.
He and his adoptive family had moved to Orlando by then, and he had begun joining and forming bands. He started off as drummer with Room Service, then became lead singer with Mirror Pal, then created his own band, The Drew Yardis Project. He wrote his own music for a stretch and connected briefly with an indie label to record, but soon became disillusioned with compromises and conflicts and left it all behind.
The club scene has its own challenges, but at least he’s calling his own shots now.
“At first I got a little depressed,” he says. “You put your passion out there, and sometimes there’s no attention, no applause. But then I started thinking, if I was in the audience: What would I want to hear?’’
How about a song you’d never even thought of as a favorite before?
Search Drew Yardis on Facebook
— MICHAEL MCLEOD
E-Turn (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
I’m surrounding myself with people who inspire me. —E-turn
Ask Orlando rapper E-Turn how she learned to spit rhymes at seemingly supersonic speeds and she takes an uncharacteristically long pause.
“I think it did kinda come naturally,” she says. “I knew I would have to work on it—and I got better over the years.”
On two albums for homegrown Second Subject Recordings, a label started by influential Orlando MC Swamburger (Solillaquists of Sound), E-Turn has refined her sound. From an initial focus on the blinding speed of her wordplay on Dark Trust (2013), the music embraces more complex sonic and lyrical themes on ESP (2015).
“With any artist, they notice the broad scheme and realize the value of their art,” Swamburger says. “On ESP, she started making music for the world, not just for the neighborhood.”
For E-Turn, who prefers not to use her given name, Orlando was the neighborhood that nurtured her talent. She started rapping and writing poetry at age 12. At the same time, she discovered the pretty singing voice that became more prominent on her second album.
She stayed devoted to rapping.
“There were a lot of women who could sing well, but there weren’t a lot of women who could rap,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this could really work for me.’”
After hitting open mics on local stages in her early 20s, she had another realization:
“Women have not always been respected,” she says. “Even in the mainstream hip hop community, they are objectified. They were sex symbols. I realized that I had to be strong so I didn’t get walked over.”
Teaming with DJ SPS, a two-time Florida DMC champion turntablist, E-Turn, 28, has landed touring slots on Vans Warped Tour and the A3C Hip Hop Festival. She has opened for nationally known acts Hopsin, Mobb Deep, Naughty by Nature, Slum Village, Blueprint and Qwel & Maker.
She’s working on a third album, again with Second Subject.
“If you’re putting in effort, writing new material, you’re going to get better,” she says. “I’m surrounding myself with people who inspire me—because I want to get to the place where they are.” eturnmusic.com
— JIM ABBOTT
Kaleigh Baker (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
It’s hard to imagine a time when Kaleigh Baker wasn’t part of the Orlando music scene. Boasting a jam-packed schedule of performances five days a week, 300 days a year, the singer/songwriter is celebrating 10 years of making music in Orlando and beyond. She’s consistently heralded as Orlando’s best and is only getting better.
“I didn’t play music as a kid but I was surrounded by music constantly. My parents had a huge vinyl collection and a big ol’ stereo in the back of the house. They would open up all the windows and doors, blaring music all summer.”
Growing up in the small village of Canisteo, N.Y., she was one of 48 kids in her high school graduating class. A born singer, she found her voice in chorus, but it wasn’t until her senior year that she first picked up a guitar and wrote her first song.
“Since I no longer would have an accompanist after graduation, my friends suggested I should start playing guitar and learn to accompany myself,” Baker says. “When you’re young and excited, it doesn’t matter how much your fingertips hurt or how hard it is to play a ‘C’ chord.”
Fast forward to today and the soulful singer—sweet with an edge like honey bourbon—has two critically acclaimed albums under her belt and is making a steady living as a gigging musician. She released her first album, The Weight of It All, to a sold-out crowd at The Social. Her distinctive bluesy mix of folk, funk and rock led to Baker’s breakout performance as Janis Joplin in the 2015 Fringe Festival’s hit, Janis Joplin, Little Girl Blue. She released her second album, Weary Hours, later that year.
In June she played the Purple Hatters Ball at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak and returned in October for Suwannee Hulaween, which headlined The String Cheese Incident, My Morning Jacket and a collaboration between Les Claypool and Sean Lennon.
“It’s really cool to play such a big show and after my set see bands that really inspire me at the same festival,” Baker says.
When she’s not on the road, you can catch her at Lil Indies. “It’s my home venue when I’m in town—you can always find me there.” kaleighbaker.com
— JUSTIN BRAUN
Gerald Perez (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
Some people do music as a hobby. Others for the social aspect. Others to be artists. Gerald Perez is one of those special musicians that successfully straddles just about every category of music. He embraces the fun. He embraces the community. And he absolutely never stops trying to perfect his craft, learn a new instrument, experiment with a new recording technique, or play a new style.
Orlando music fans may know him by his pseudonym, Maximino, a name synonymous with his one-man show that features a blend of loops, samples, cello, guitar, bass or any other instrument that strikes Perez’s fancy. But chances are you may have seen his long curls dancing through the air as he plays with his surf rock outfit Thee Wilt Chamberlain, or when he puts on immersive tribute shows like Not Prince and The Revolution. No matter which shade you catch of this musical chameleon, you’ll always get a show.
“I’ve been playing in front of audiences for rooms of 1,000 people or as little as 2 since I was a kid. It always varies, but as a performer you have to have the mentality to give it your all every single time. That’s the only way you’re going to justify yourself,” he says. “Orlando gives you a lot of freedom because I know I’ll always get people that are into it and understand it.”
Part of Perez’s success comes from his commitment to fun. In September he organized a conceptual high school “Homecoming” show at Will’s Pub. Groups made their own stage backdrops, encouraged guests to come dressed like ’80s high-schoolers, made a fake principal badge for owner Will Walker, and invited everyone to dance to new wave hits at “Mills High.”
“The immersive shows like that are fun to be a part of. There are a bunch of reasons for doing it, but these concept shows always catch people’s attention, especially people who typically think the scene is boring or are sick of DJs. It’s not your typical concert thing, it’s a party.” Search Maximino on Facebook.
Laney Jones (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
Laney Jones has come a long way in a short amount of time. In just seven years she’s gone from a fresh-faced newcomer based in the sleepy town of Mount Dora to one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.”
“With music, it’s like instantly falling in love,” Jones says, thinking back to when she first picked up a guitar during her first semester at Rollins College in Winter Park. With a background in musical theater as well as singing lessons, Jones’ friends and family encouraged her to write songs, but she confesses that self-doubt in her abilities held her back.
“The instant I decided to just make sounds and put words to them, like a puzzle, I became addicted to it. I remember skipping classes to finish a song. Being a musician and songwriter continues to be the most important thing to me.”
Though Jones pursued a degree in International Business at Rollins, she followed her passion and enrolled in the Berklee College of Music to study songwriting. Jones went on to self-produce and release her first studio album, Golden Road. She performed the original song “Broken Hearts” from that album during a master class at the Kennedy Center, which was featured on an episode of PBS’s Great Performances. After that, she hit the road with her band, The Spirits.
“I went in headfirst to get where I am now—writing as many songs as possible and playing as many shows as possible. It was a numbers game.” Now, she says, she’s much more selective.
Jones, 24, is on the road most of the time, but spends a few weeks out of the year in Nashville collaborating on commercial recordings. “I write pop songs, songs that don’t have that same sort of edge as the sound of my band. I found I have this other side where I can work with music that doesn’t sound like what I perform.”
Her current goal is to keep evolving and keep discovering all that she is capable of. This year she released her second album, simply titled Laney Jones.
“If you’re doing something that can speak to people and it’s what you love, the bigger shows and bigger tours will follow.” laney-jones.com
— JUSTIN BRAUN
Bobby Koelble (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
I don’t question where I want to go, I just go. You just have to tell the story. — Koelble
It may seem hard to imagine a melding of heavy metal and cool jazz, but it would be possible to hear a sultry guitar version of “Autumn Leaves” and heavy metal feedback rock on the same stage. Courtesy of Orlando’s own Bobby Koelble.
Koelble is an adjunct professor of jazz guitar at UCF and a member of the popular funk/fusion group The Absinthe Trio. He plays with the chart-topping Jazz Professors, the Sam Rivers Rejuvenation Orchestra and the rock-funk-reggae group Junkie Rush.
He has toured with groundbreaking metal band Death, contributed to music by Serbian heavy metalers Alogia and Finnish band Hateform, and has shared a stage with sax great Lou Donaldson and fellow guitarist Larry Coryell. When mentioned to death metal guitarist Matthew Heafy, the rocker nodded his head and said, “The Legend” with reverence.
“Legend is an overstatement,” the modest Koelble says. “I guess when you reach a certain age, people see you like that.” The 48-year-old started playing music on a console organ his father brought home when he was 7, and at 15 he discovered heavy metal. “It was the first music I found on my own. When I realized there wasn’t an organ player in Black Sabbath, I figured I was playing the wrong instrument.”
Guitar became the right instrument. His “accidental” teaching career began after his graduation from the famed Berklee College of Music, and led to adjunct positions at Seminole Community College and Rollins, and now at UCF. He met his partner, Wendy Davis (owner of local hot sauce company Poca’s Hottest), in 1997. Her first creation was named after his band Junkie Rush.
Koelble is currently working on a new project with hard-edge band Gargamel! vocalist Chuck “Mandaddy” Ellis. “We don’t have a name for the band yet. Every time we come up with a good one, it’s already been taken.”
With his signature dreadlocks and wooden earrings, Koelble might seem better fitted to rock than professorship. But his years of bounding between musical genres allows him to pass that knowledge on to his students.
“I have a curiosity about music,” Koelble says. “I don’t question where I want to go, I just go. You just have to tell the story.” Search Absinthe Trio on Facebook
— JOSEPH HAYES
Rico Monaco Band (AMADUZZI PHOTOGRAPHY)
Rico Monaco Band
Playing in Ocoee Nov. 4
When Rico Monaco moved to Florida from New York in the late 1990s, his first stop was Miami, seemingly a perfect fit for a musician with a flair for rock and Latin styles.
As it turned out, Monaco soon found his way to Orlando, where his Latin-infused rock has been a fixture for nearly two decades.
“Orlando was a much friendlier town and, in the 1990s, a lot of things were happening here,” Monaco says. “A lot of people were getting signed. And the town has been good to me.”
That’s reflected in a slew of awards that recognize Monaco’s ensembles as among the best Latin acts on the Orlando scene. In 2002, Monaco’s original Orlando band, Sol Sons, won singer Sammy Hagar’s Hard Rock Café/Cabo Wabo Tequila National Battle of the Bands.
“Rico’s style is right up there with Joe Satriani and other major guitar forces touring internationally,” says Orlando-based booking agent John Regna. “I introduced him to Jose Feliciano, Alan Parsons, the Electric Light Orchestra past members—and Rico was immediately accepted into their ‘brotherhood’ as both a top player and a creative force.”
Since emerging in Orlando with the Latin-flavored Sol Sons in 1998, Monaco has pushed his sound in different directions. It brushes against everything from classic rock to understated pop delivered by ensembles that range from a trio to a horn-fueled 11-piece big band.
This past spring, Monaco and his band released We Rock You Rust II, a studio album with original songs and interpretations of favorites by Eric Clapton, Santana and Led Zeppelin. The group also released the acoustic We Rock You Rust Unplugged. The band’s appearances have covered local to international venues; its next gig is opening for Pat Benatar at the Ocoee Founders Day Celebration on Nov. 4.
As a child, Monaco’s earliest musical memories feature jazz favored by his trumpet-playing father and classical fare inspired by his grandfather, an Italian opera singer. Eventually, rock entered the picture courtesy of Frank Zappa, Rush, Van Halen and The Police.
“When I heard Santana, I thought, ‘That’s mixing all the things I love!’ ” Monaco says. “I love what I do. I’m very passionate about music and it has carried me through the ups and downs.” ricomonaco.com
— JIM ABBOTT