Virginia Key Grassroots Festival: A Dispatch From Big Brass Juke's Eric Garcia

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The Virginia Key Grassroots Festival descended upon South Florida like a ninja with a mullet.

The entire Miami music community wondered, "Where the hell did these people come from? Who put this thing together? What's with the crazy lineup?" But most importantly, "How can I get on the bill?"

Fortunately, my band, Big Brass Juke, was selected to play at the four-day fest.

Being a frequent festival attendee as well as performer, I fancy myself a connoisseur of these gatherings. Getting there early to get the lay of the land is key. You never know what kind of logistical nightmare might be waiting at these first-year events: cracked-out soundmen, a clueless staff of interns, delayed set times, or just freaks in general.

That being said, there was none of that. The parking was fine, and the performer check-in tent was very well organized. They slapped a wristband on me and my girl, handed us 20 bucks worth of food tickets, some beer vouchers, and sent us on our merry way.

It was early, and the older hippie presence was already strong. There was overnight camping provided at this thing and hippies do not fuck around. They want be there for the whole damn show and they come extremely prepared.

As I made my way around scattered blankets and lawn chairs, Willie Watson & Evil City was twanging away on the main stage. They were just one of the many acts I had never heard live and I admired the bravery of these folks for putting on something like the Grassroots fest in South Florida.

There were four stages in total, and I wandered over to the Green Pavilion where I was supposed to play that night. The Hindu Cowboys were doing some strange blend of '60s covers and happy violin jams that made my stomach feel weird, so I was off to grab a bite.

The food area was awesome. All kinds of healthy and tasty grub. It was built in the shape of a big square, so all the different vendors kind of shared a communal prep area. The beer was great too. I grabbed a Swamp Ape IPA and went to check out the Del McCoury Band.

Del's band was ripping. His fantastic head of white hair and funny little Southern comments had the crowd going. "Girl, you are awful loud," he joked. "But I can't understand what you're sayin'." That would normally sound kind of dickish. But when Del Mcoury smiles and says so ... Well, it sounds like syrup. You're just happy he's even talkin' to ya.

Elastic Bond was up next at the Orange stage and it was a nice reminder of how this out-of-town festival dropped down on us for four days and really decided to pay attention to a lot of the local acts, regardless of genre.

Then, all of a sudden, I found myself drinking whiskey by the ocean with some friendly festival types who need a bath. And it was time to go play my set.

It was getting damn cold and windy. So I finished the bottle, stepped onto the stage, and saw a quickly growing crowd of eager eyes. These people had come to consume some goddamn music. It was like they were thirsty for it, even though they'd been there all day. The guys in my band picked up on that vibe, and I have to say we played a pretty shit-hot set.

Afterward, I stumbled over to the next stage. I have no idea what the hell a Hobex is, but that band was great. It was really nice to discover them and it made me wonder how many other little gems I missed throughout this whole well-run yet poorly attended four-day social experiment.

I know we live on little besides limestone in South Florida. But I hope this festival is strong enough to take its licks and come back next year to set some roots down again.

-- Eric Garcia

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