Alachua Music Harvest
Alachua County Fairgrounds • October 2-4, 1998
The Usuals kicked off my sixth Harvest at six on Friday evening, to a far too tiny crowd. Each band member was wearing a piece of Skif Dank clothing or a sticker, since that other ska band wasn’t playing Harvest this year. In fact, no other ska band was. I wasn’t sure if this was some form of subtle protest by the Usuals or just a last-minute band friend type deal, but it some ways it rather foreshadowed my Harvest this year. Good set, massive Pixie Stix and assorted prizes thrown to the small band of faithful, but with an undercurrent that all was not entirely well.
Ran over to the west stage in time to catch the end of Spike the Cat’s set, the penultimate song with a guest female vocalist. They rocked harder than I expected, which is good. Noticed that both their guitarists were using tube-emulator amps. They were followed by the Rails, which feature two women singers, the lead singer on acoustic guitar and one who is something of a Jill of all trades, playing mandolin, harmonica, or guitar, depending on the song.
After a break for libations, Pop Canon came on. They did “Valentine’s Day” and most of their debut CD material, including a new one, reportedly about Sister Hazel, called “Give it Up for the Percussionist.” I cannot say enough good things about that song. It is really one of the most perfect pop songs I’ve heard in years. It combines the thoughtfulness of some of Talking Heads’ best stuff with the catchiness of XTC’s great pop-like “Mayor of Simpleton.” The set was spot on, and included big hats, hoop skirts, and as usual, Don Undeen’s ass. This time under a tutu. And doing the Worm in the dirt in front of the stage during the finale.
On the way out, my friend and photographer thought he’d have a go at trying to get us press laminates, which for some reason Harvest was particularly stingy with this year. (Unlike the previous year, no press kits were mailed out, so backstage access to the artists was even more important.) The owner of two local nightclubs, one of which the Harvest “rave” stage was named after and which the new Harvest offices are located over, was in the will call office about 10 feet from a box of forty or fifty press laminates we had seen on the way in. Since my friend had known the guy for the better part of a decade and Ink Nineteen was a Harvest sponsor, laminates would be no problem, I figured. I was wrong. “Zat ees Jzeffrey’s jzhob, I hov nosseeng to do weese press passes” the club owner said, then pointedly looked away. What a pantload. I got a laminate from another staffer on his way outta town the next morning, and did all sorts of things my lawyers have advised I not disclose to score a second one.
At any rate, having done an end run on uncooperative Harvest bigwigs, we resumed the party the next afternoon, laminates in hand. (Or on neck. Either way, fuck you Jean-Claude.) The festivities for our Saturday commenced with my buds and frequent bill mates Sick Dick and the Volkswagens. The only punk band all weekend! What’s up with that, Harvesteers? Gainesville is known as a punk rock provincial capital all over this great land of ours, and Harvest can only come up with one punk band? Which is not to say SD/VW’s were not a good choice; as usual they played a solid set, including most of their debut EP CD and the less-often heard “Bisexual Fashion Whore,” among others.
For a total change of pace, local all-female indie softrockers Mahoney was next. Their set was a little more twangy, guitar-wise, than I had recalled earlier appearances, but I don’t know if that was a result of them or the soundman. At any rate, they’re still a bit tentative on stage and could stand to let loose a bit more. Squeaky, who followed, do not have that problem. Sporting a very young new drummer who bashed like a maniac, Squeaky put on a great rocking set, making me forget all about their predilection for alternate tunings and just rock out. Nice mohawk, too!
After a break for dinner, I came back for Seraphim. On the way over to the stage, I caught the first couple songs by Sister Hazel over on the main stage. They opened with their mega-smash “All For You” or whatever it is. And then went directly into the toilet by choosing the lamest song from the old Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac catalog they could find. Blechh! These guys seem to be genuinely nice (I shared a bill with them at a free show at Santa Fe Community College a few years back when they were just another struggling local act), but sometimes I think they’re too nice for their own good. Not even the slightest hint of an edge, all round and comfortable with no pointy bits. Blechh.
Seraphim are tons more interesting. Very talented musicians, and they have got the whole Eastern Mysticism thing down quite well. But that night, they basically took a good thing too far; after a smashing, downright mesmerizing set, they brought a bunch of local “dancers” onstage towards the end. These ladies were quite attractive, but if any of them had any dance training, they hid it well. Their clomping around onstage ruined the mood that Seraphim had been so carefully building their whole set. (So go see Seraphim, just run for the door if a bunch of people get up onstage and purport to dance.)
Sunday afternoon started for me with Gritkisser, which was the farewell show for one of their guitarists. They played a solid set of their surf/blues garage to a crowd that was too laid back and should’ve got into it more. Gritkisser had some tuning problems early on, but fixed them (you’d be surprised how hard it is to get back in tune onstage once you go out), and as always it was a pleasure to see Don Undeen without seeing his ass.
Next up were Tampa kids Pulling Birds. Like Seraphim, another solid set that was marred by a bad choice towards the end. After doing their very cool pop-with-a-hard-edge stuff, they stuck in a cover of “Billie Jean.” Yes, that one. By the freakazoid “King of Pop.” Gentlemen, I like you. I like your music. Don’t make me write bad things about you. And don’t ever, ever, play “Billie Jean” again. Please.
St. Augustine’s Kingpins followed. They, too, were solid, if more rootsy. They won a big music mag award a year or so ago for “Best Unsigned Band in America,” but they seemed kinda tired during the performance. Maybe it was just an “off” day for them (never judge a band on a single performance — big mistake). Kingpins were followed by Gainesville’s own rootsrockers Slack Season, who put on a livelier show, but also made a point of the fact that they weren’t getting paid (none of the local bands at Harvest do, so far as I know) and were having to play a truncated set (again, so did the other locals). Which kinda spoiled what was otherwise a good time, and made the Slackers look petty.
After a break for dinner and libations, I finally made my way back to the main stage for James Brown and the Soul Generals. There was a ludicrously long buildup to Brown’s appearance. The band started late, then played sans Brown for what seemed ages before he finally made his appearance. He had a long line of leggy women in red white and blue hot pants and wearing US flags as capes traipse around during “Living In America.” Then he called Bo Diddley, who lives near Gainesville, onstage (actually he was already sitting in a chair towards the back of the stage the whole time) for a rendition of “I’m A Man,” which was a nice moment. One thing that struck me about his set was that Brown actually acts as conductor for the band on songs where they stretch out instrumentally. And he snuck to the back of the stage during one of the numbers and played a great solo on Hammond organ that I guarantee nobody in the crowd realized was being played by Brown himself.
All in all it was a nice capper to a pretty decent weekend. Harvest planners need to be a bit more together next year, and also need some more diversity (although you wouldn’t know it from this review, the acts were mainly mainstream pop, jazz, or groove-rock) in the acts (if you like hard rock or metal or rap or swing, you were outta luck, and punk and ska fans didn’t fare much better). We’ll see how it goes next year.