The sun was shining, the weather was sweet, and the music made us often uncontrollably move our dancing feet at the second annual Fool’s Paradise in St. Augustine, Florida last weekend. The event was thrown by Live for Live Music, Purple Hat Productions and Silver Wrapper, the main stage taking place at St. Augustine Amphitheatre, a gorgeous venue with over 3,000 seats and state-of-the-art acoustics. The size of the venue gave the crowd ample room to dance while the sound remained crisp and tangible. Lettuce, one of the most unique and trailblazing funk bands of our time, was the headliner of Fool’s Paradise and the only act to perform on both days. The rest of the bill consisted of funk all-stars, both new and old to the scene. Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers and Dead & Company) and Antwaun Stanley (Vulfpeck) received special recognition as the “Artists at Large” over the weekend, both of them sitting in with multiple acts.
The fans took the oceanic themes to heart (mermaids, mermen, pirates, and rainbow funk warriors), sporting some of the most elaborate costumes seen at any festival. The first day began with Organ Freeman, a trio consisting of drums, organ, and guitar. Their smooth and sultry riffs paid an excellent homage to the actor they are named after and had the entire festival buzzing about their show. Organ Freeman was followed by Manic Science, a new collaboration between Break Science (Adam Deitch on drums and Borahm Lee on keys) and Manic Focus (John “JmaC” McCarten), which incorporated hip hop elements with soul and electronic funk.
Recently returning from Japan, Lettuce started their set with the high-energy title track off of their latest EP, “Mt. Crushmore.” Antwaun Stanley sat in for a rendition of “Knock Yourself Out” and “Do it Like You Do,” while Oteil Burbridge sat in for a cover of War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” JRAD finished off the night, their calling card being their ability to bring Grateful Dead music alive in a new and refreshing way, where every song they play sounds like it could be their encore because they never let up the high energy and passion. Highlights of their set included “Good Lovin’,” “Dancing in the Streets,” and ended with an electric “I Know You Rider,” featuring sit-ins from Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge.
The crowd on day two embodied a child who had devoured the best ice cream of his life, only to return wide eyed and salivating for more. The Main Squeeze played old songs such as “Dr. Funk” alongside newer songs like “In A Funk.” Stanley made yet another appearance, this time sitting in on “Return of Mack,” showcasing his and lead singer Corey Frye’s extremely powerful voices. They both wowed the audience by hitting difficult vocal runs while keeping intact the soulful intention behind the lyrics. Next, The Motet, with a slightly different roster coming together in the past year, exhibited the cohesiveness and artistic capabilities of the new unit.
The Floozies were a lovely surprise over the weekend, consisting of brothers Mark (drums) and Matt Hill (guitar and production). Their music incorporated live electronic production alongside their own original instrumentation for funky dance parties with a hip-hop heartbeat. Lettuce’s The Shady Horns sat in with them for a few songs, one crowd favorite being their new song “Funky Jesus.”
Lettuce ended the shows at the amphitheatre with a stacked setlist for their loyal fanbase. The set started with Erick “Jesus” Coomes appearing with crazy masks that he recently obtained in Japan, while they opened up with “The Force.” The entire set was electric, including a profound Pink Floyd tease, putting the crowd under a funk induced trance. There is something about Lettuce that makes the crowd groove in an almost possessed, fluid movement. Stanley joined in the festivities for a rendition of Vulfpeck’s hit song “Funky Duck.” They ended the set with “Sounds Like a Party,” the title track of their breakthrough album Move On Up.
Both late night shows were held about a ten minute walk away at the Elks Lodge. The first night featured Jaw Gems, Eric Krasno Band, and an infinity jam with Eric Krasno and Oteil Burbridge. The second night consisted of members of Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk and The Motet joining forces for a super group of funk. The Elks Lodge was spacious yet intimate. There was plenty of room to dance and the stage was low enough that the audience and musicians felt like one cohesive organism. Dumpstaphunk and Lettuce playing together was the perfect ending to the weekend. They covered popular songs by Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder between their improvisational jams. One of the most memorable covers of the night was “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Croft.
Fool’s Paradise also hosted a few artist excursions including The Shady Horns DJ Set at sea, Putt-Putt with Jesus, Antwaun, and Lyle, and a Ping-Pong tournament with Deitch and Shmeeans. The venue, musicianship, and crowd were all exquisite and inclusive. This festival, only two years old, is already setting the bar extremely high in its infancy. It will be exciting to see how the event continues to grow and the prodigious acts and collaborations that will be displayed in the coming years.