Support local music. We keep saying that because bands of the future almost always start with a local fan base; the exceptions being, so called, super-groups or bands that are put together by someone already on a label. There is no shortage of bands busting their collective butts to get a name for themselves so that they can make what they love their career or simply as an outlet to share their musical perspective with a wider audience. The constantly evolving music business is tough, ultra-competitive and many times frustrating for “undiscovered” talent throughout the world. They work so hard and, many times, get so little in return outside of the pride of producing something from their souls that they can call their own. Support local, no matter where local is. Today I would like to share some local talent from all over Florida through our annual, A Not So Silent Night 2017 concert held at Mavericks Live in downtown Jacksonville, FL, showcasing some of our best Rock and Metal bands. Special thanks going out to Brian Woodward of Bleeding In Stereo for not only hosting, but putting us on their guest list. Always a good time brother!
A Not So Silent Night is a long-standing tradition of music fans all over the state of Florida. Not only do we get to share time with our extended Metal Family called the Rockvillains here in Jacksonville, but has also been extended as a toy drive for Wolfsons Children’s Hospital. The pile of toys has always been enormous (since we all know that Metalheadz and motorcycle groups have the biggest hearts, right?), and this year was certainly no exception. Having first-hand experience with a very ill child, Wolfsons is second to none and a more-than-worthy cause for these children and their families that likely will be spending the Holidays in a hospital. Just a little glimmer of Holiday warmth goes a long way in the depths of hell these families have to endure. Horns up to all you fine folks!
First up on the bill was Auditory Armory from Altamonte Springs, just north of Orlando. Boy, this band proves that “get early, stay late” holds true! I have had the pleasure of seeing this killer, heavy Progressive/Alternative Metal band before but still stood memorized by the sheer talent this band exudes. Tight melodies wrapped around a very heavy Progressive Metal core, intelligent and thought provoking lyrical schemes and the musicianship rivaling that of Devon Townsend, Dream Theater and Gojira are what they are known for and they were on their A-Game for the night playing: “Device”, “Perpetua”, “Ashes to Ashes” (Faith No More), “The Light That Was Lost” and “A Path Unknown”. Singer and guitarist April Rose fronts this killer band and draws influences from all over the musical spectrum. When speaking to her after the set, she is extremely sweet, smart, wholly approachable and is so positively passionate about what the band does and where they are headed. The breadth of her musical tastes are as broad as mine are and gave me hint at some of the influence that produces such a unique sound. On stage, her vocal harmonies and deep understanding of melody are clear and never pushed. Not one wasted note, be it played slowly or during one of her neck torching solos. If it is not musical or does not fit the mold of the song, she will not play it. Nothing showy, just pure musical goodness. Bass player Justice Maynard stands as a beast among men on his gorgeous Ibanez six string bass as well. Like April, Justice loves all types of music and plays the big six as a bass instead of as a very low guitar, which is very common in modern music. Funky and fun throughout, Maynard is an absolute blast to listen to and watch, his lines fitting perfectly into Auditory Armory’s complex song writing style. So much perfect give-and-take with Dennis Burns’ and April’s guitar work. Trading leads and rhythm effortlessly, Dennis is no second fiddle. This man is a player and the band’s chameleon. Wherever his playing is needed, he is there with a rhythm along with Justice or drummer Oscar Garcia, a bridge between leads or as a blistering lead man when April is banging out the vocals or playing keys. Definitely the thread that weaves the unique tapestry of Auditory Armory’s trademarked sound. I now have their latest release and will posting a review shortly, so stay tuned.
Next up was Gold Frankincense & Myrrh (GFM). I have heard of this band before but had never had the pleasure of seeing them live, even though they hail from Jax; no surprise since they just came off of a tour on the West Coast and spend little time playing here anymore. Comprised of three sisters (when I was their age, my brothers and I could have agreed on nothing and likely would have ended up with one of us in the hospital if we tried to agree on anything, much-less played in a band together): CJ English (guitar/vocals), Maggie English (bass/keyboards/vocals) and thirteen year old LuLu English (drums/vocals) and playing what they term as Beautycore, GFM is an extremely unique breath of fresh air. By the way, they are also a Christian Metal band and wear cheer-leading outfits and face paint. Okay. Three talented young ladies in cheer outfits playing Christian Metal. Got it pictured in your head? Now, throw it all out. You are not even close. These girls are no joke and are not playing around; simply dabbling in something cute to get attention from their friends. They are, in fact, real, passionate musicians playing VERY heavy music (rough vocals and all) that happen to have struck a great balance between music, an entertaining and engaging stage presence and a positive theme. Not preachy and/or cheesy in the least bit, as the stereotyped Christian moniker often illicit, but simply serves as a positive outlook and perspective instead of as a celebration of all that is bad in the world. Their all original set included: “Stuck In My Suicide”, “Beneath the Skin”, “Judas Kiss”, “Paranoia”, “Twisted”, “Graveyards”, “Death of Giants” and “Dimensions”. They obviously have a great time playing too. Almost like watching a three ball pinball machine, these young ladies bounce from one side of the stage to the other, a la old school Van Halen and kept the audience enthralled in all of the heaviness GFM has to offer from opening song until their set was up. This band was also the only one of the night that had a drum solo that LuLu absolutely destroyed! Who does not love the lost art of the drum solo, right? It is great to see the younger crowd doing stuff that made concerts so special when we old folks were kids. Watch out for these girls, because they are coming for you!
Alright, not to play favorites, but I have been dying to cover the next act, Sunshine & Bullets for quite a while. I have seen them in Orlando a couple of times and they have managed to make it into most of the playlists I listen to daily but I have not had the opportunity to bring them to you before now. This trio was born in Tampa in 2010 comprising Rich Keane, Jr. on guitar and vocals, Amanda Hamers (they are a couple, keeping with family vibe this year’s show represented so well) on bass and vocals and Kyle Wolfram on the drums. While they have added a fourth member a couple of times over the years, they have gone back to what works best for them as a trio. Categorizing Sunshine & Bullets sound would almost be unfair because they successfully synthesize male and female lead vocals with Alt–Rock, Rock and Hard Rock over Metal beats to produce a sound all their own and completely attributable to them alone. Their range is enormous; from heavy and brooding to atmospheric and peaceful, musically and thematically. Such as life, Sunshine & Bullets give sincere and honest perspectives on everyday life. Dark one day, bright the next week with incursions of horror, amazement, surprise and joy in between. Their set included: “The Mechanism”, “Go”, “Everyone’s Watching”, “Let the Giants Sleep”, “Believe”, “Give Them Hell”, “Truths”, “Heads in the Sand” and “In the Air Tonight” (Phil Collins). On stage, Amanda’s easy and infectious smile is juxtaposed with the crazed mad-man antics displayed by Rich. One minute he is singing soulfully, the next throwing his guitar around or playing it on the floor (influenced by Steve Vai, I found out later); all while keeping perfect time and shredding the wood off of his fret board. Good thing their endorser, Dean guitars, is just down the street from where he works! Providing the heavy foundation from where Hamers and Keane live is drummer extraordinaire, Kyle Wolfram. While I did not speak with him after the show, he has a very mature sense of rhythm that I cannot help but believe is born of Jazz. While his beat is very heavy, his groove is very understated and precisely played. Definitely not the drummer “beating on the bongos like a chimpanzee” from the Dire Straits classic. Touch and feel are definitely in his wheelhouse and something that is rare to find in these days of louder and faster. Much respect for this man’s skills! Like April, Rich and Amanda are unbelievably cool and have an expansive taste when it comes to music. I have also learned that they are currently a couple of songs into a new album which I will bring to you when it becomes available. Can’t freakin’ wait for this one! Absolutely love Sunshine & Bullets!
If you dig the sounds of uber-heavy Southern Thrash Metal like Pantera, Silent/Running from Kingland, GA (just north of the FL/GA line, but we now claim them as ours!) has you covered and was, by far, the heaviest band of the evening. I have heard a few songs by them before the show courtesy of my buddy Karl Hasse with KRR Studios, but was officially initiated to their live performance that night. If graded solely on enthusiasm, stage presence, over-all good vibes interspersed with good-natured humor and crowd involvement, Silent/Running undeniably gets an A. So cool, so tightly played and a blast to behold. Add to that bone crushing rhythms, lightening quick leads/soloing, soulful, Southern Rock/Metal vocals and these dudes rate right off the damned scale. While all of the other bands of the evening hang their hats on the diversity of their musical influences, Silent/Running sticks to what they do best: brutally heavy, in your face, good times, Hard Rock & Thrash. Nothing wrong with that considering the seemingly bottomless well of talent these guys bring to bear. Their turn up to bat included: “Trapped”, “Wake Up”, “Best I Could”, “Yesterday”, “Deathblow”, “These Eyes”, “Pride” (DamagePlan), “One More Mile”, “Sinister Son” and “Lost Time”, all but one being a bad-ass original tune. A really cool piece of trivia is that this is another band of family members like GFM and Sunshine & Bullets. Brothers Garrett Cross and Dustin Cross cover guitars/vocals and drums, respectively, while cousins and brothers Bruce Morgan and P.A. Morgan cover guitars and bass. At the level at which they play and number of original tracks played at the show, you would think that these guys had been at it for years; and you would be wrong. Amazing that a band of this caliber is less than a year old and already gaining highly acclaimed notoriety wherever their presence is made known. Yes, they are that good and well worth checking into for yourself. This is one of the best Modern Thrash bands I have heard in a very long time.
Our brothers in Soulswitch out of Orlando were billed next, but, unfortunately could not make it due to an illness with one of the band members. Even though they were unable to play, they do deserve a place among the rest of bands since we have also claimed them for Jacksonville and stand as one of the best Heavy Rock bands in FL. They pack House of Blues every time they play and are always one of the fan favorites when they have played A Not So Silent Night in past years. If you are in the mood for something new, different and thrilling to listen to, you cannot go wrong with Soulswitch. Check them out for sure!
When we welcome new Rockvillains into the family fold, they invariably ask about local talent that they need to check out. Without exception, the host of the evenings shenanigans, headliner Bleeding In Stereo always surface in the top five. Not only are they one helluva band, but a great group of guys that heavily support our local music scene and all of those involved. I don’t think there is a band out there that does not love its fans more than BIS does and it shows each and every time they storm the stage. Hell, I have probably seen them a couple dozen times now, and they never get old or stale. Singer and guitarist Keith Allen fronts the band along with guitarist Brian Woodard, bass player Jeremy Destin and drummer Eddie Floyd. This spectacular quartet of musicians has been earning fans in droves since their inception in 2010, is signed to the CoreMusic record label and have played/toured with an impressive stable of touring acts all over the US. Like Soulswitch, every time Bleeding In Stereo plays, the crowds are guaranteed for the venue. This night, however was even more special. After the announcement of the line up for our annual pre-Welcome to Rockville festival concert party in April, a pile of donated cash was presented to one of our local brothers that was recently diagnosed with cancer to help out with his medical expenses. I honestly doubt that there was a dry eye in the place. He and his girlfriend (more on that shortly) were also presented with prominent seating on stage for the remainder of the evening’s festivities. Then… It was on! With a long list of tunes to choose from, BIS chose to play: “Wound & the Echo”, “Break the Negative”, “High on My Way”, “Spider in the Window”, “What Now?”, “Fast Asleep”, “Say It”, “Pressure”, “Never Coming Back”, “Change (In the House of Flies)”, “The Agitator”, “You Said it Was Real” and “Black or White” for this year’s show. There is a reason that just just about everyone loves Bleeding In Stereo (BIS and lowercase g are the only bands that my wife will go with me to anymore, as a matter of fact). Striking a perfect balance of Grunge/Rock vocals and brutally honest, down-to-earth lyrics with Allen’s traditional guitar style along with the more modern tones provided by Brian and Metal grooves laid down by Jeremy and Eddie, BIS have covered just about all of the musical bases, simultaneously and brilliantly. This is very tough these days but these guys set the bar very high and effortlessly blow past it just about every time they play. In addition to great music and stage presence, BIS had the light show to destroy all light shows outside of Kiss or Trans–Siberian Orchestra this year as well. Out of all the times I have seen them live, never have I seen the spectacle of lights they had Saturday. Too big for a “local” show? Psh. Whatever! This was truly impressive at any level, almost to the point of distraction at times. If all of Bleeding In Stereo’s goodness was not enough, our brother on stage fighting cancer was allowed to “interrupt” near the end of their set. Not only did the audience get a huge “thank you”, but his girlfriend got a marriage proposal and ring (she said “yes”, don’t stress it). A very touching end to a concert that you certainly don’t see every day.
Sound like a good time? Well, it was and always is. The entire evening just could not be picked apart. Great music, great camaraderie, kids running around and playing among the adults really makes this whole Rockvillain thing tangibly real and family-like. Made quite a few friends among these fine folks myself. I would be willing to bet that similar groups of friends exist in just about every corner of the world that share their love of the heavier side of music. Could be three people, could be thousands. It does not matter, because the support of one person on your six can often make all the difference in the world. Is music your outlet? Well, you may want to check out all of the bands above. There is not a dog in bunch and at least one is sure to strike that sweet spot with you. Remember: support local, no matter where local may be located.