Article and Photos by Miles Hurley
In our growing excitement for the nineteenth annual Floydfest Music and Arts Festival later this summer, The Poke Around is looking back at last year’s event, Floydfest Eighteen, and in particular at the multiple performances given that weekend by the legendary afrobeat jamband, Antibalas. The Brooklyn based, eleven-member group played a set on the Dreaming Creek Main Stage Friday night, in addition to playing a late night set on the festival’s then debuted Throwdown Tent AND making an appearance in the 2nd annual Buffalo Mountain Jam, beside Keller Williams, members of Leftover Salmon, and more.
While an Antibalas set is always guaranteed to leave an impression, this show at the festival was a particularly momentous occasion for the band, and a memorable experience for FloydFest, as hours before the band was set to perform, its lead singer Duke Amayo, better known on stage simply as Amayo, earned his official U.S. citizenship.
While Amayo was away for his band’s arrival and the first half of their main stage set, the lead singer actually traveled straight from his becoming a citizen that morning, and via a plane ride and then a three-hour car ride was able to arrive at Floydfest and walk out onto the stage in the middle of the show. Amayo strode out in front out the crowd, huge smile beaming and hands reaching towards the sky, and joined the rest of Antibalas midway through their song “Tombstone.” And FloydFest’s crowd went wild.
Obviously, it was a moving occurrence to witness for the many festival patrons present. From a fan’s perspective down on the grass, watching this singer join his already grooving, eleven-piece afro-beat funk band, it was a moment both emotionally profound and musically energizing. But it was understandably an especially powerful experience for Amayo himself. In the days following that show, The Poke Around was able to get in touch with Amayo and ask him a few questions about the weekend and his band. Here is how he described his one-of-a-kind experience at FloydFest:
Amayo: “It was completely exhilarating, especially coming off of a miraculous 3 hr. drive to get to the Festival grounds after my flight was delayed and I missed my connection. And I just became a US citizen that morning! I left the ceremony to go straight to the airport. I felt like Ali’s ghost, walking into the ring for a Forman rematch when I walked onto stage, and the people erupted! Some of the guys told me they teared up when they saw me join in during ‘Tombstown.’ They knew what I had been through, and weren’t sure I was going to make it. It was amazing!”
The members of Antibalas, no doubt, were charged with pride for their lead singer and played their hearts out on the main stage. Yet that set was only one third of the music that Antibalas would contribute to Floydfest that weekend. The next day, the band was also billed as one part of the huge, improvisational party that was FloydFest’s 2nd annual Buffalo Mountain Jam. Amayo and other members of Antibalas, includng their powerful horn and drum section, collaborated with members of Leftover Salmon and a bevy of other artists like Keller Williams and Lindsay Lou, on songs like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
Certainly, that collaboration set was one-of-a-kind, but arguably the most impactful appearance from Antibalas that weekend came in their late night set, which began hours after their Friday main stage show—sometime around 1 AM and stretching to well after 3 AM. Late night performances at FloydFest are well-known by it’s regular attendees. They are often the most anticipated part of the weekend. The electricity that forms between the festival’s tireless crowds and the inspired artists that rock out long into the night—whether it’s a bluegrass group like The Lil’ Smokies or a funk band like Pimps of Joytime—is something worth experiencing in person.
Yet Antibalas might have set the bar at a new height for FloydFest late night. Their twilight hour performance at the then brand new Throwdown Tent, to an audience that was spilling out into the roadway way above the hill, was nothing short of exhilarating. The band had played hard on the main stage that day, but in that up close and personal environment, they jammed like their lives depended on it.
Especially Amayo, who no doubt must have been on some kind of musical and spiritual high from the day, and was displaying a peak. One of the more intriguing moments of this late night set saw Amayo speaking directly to the festival goers at the the front of the crowd. Being that this rail-riding line of late-nighters was made up of a number of young people, perhaps it was that Amayo wanted to take an opportunity to impart a bit of wisdom onto the youth.
Part of what has made Antibalas such an important artistic presence since the start of their career, other than their many groundbreaking musical creations, has been their dedication to social and political advocacy. Antibalas’ work has approached a number of personally felt topics, like and immigration and racism, and the band has remained a strong example of the idea that music can be a powerful tool against forces like injustice, ignorance, fear, and indifference. When The Poke Around asked Amayo what he thought has helped the band to do this, he gave a quick but profound answer.
Amayo: When persistent, compelling polyrhythms in music such as ours doesn’t quit, it provides a vibrational template for cooperation and organization, where anything is possible.
Inspired by that presentation in the Throwdown Tent, with Amayo seamlessly alternating between musical performance and thought-provoking speech, The Poke Around asked for a message from this artist that had waited until the year 2018, forty years after moving to The United States, to become a legal citizen. We wondered what he might say to young people disillusioned by our country’s social and political climate today.
Amayo: “First I’ll tell them to meditate on returning to our natural mind state, the time when “Deep Unconditional Love” was supreme, when we were born. Act from this mindset. Anything is possible. And it’s up to us to be the change. I’ll tell them to stop recycling vengeance. Then I’ll express that a lasting solution to our current situation can only come from a place of deep love for our planet and for our fellow humans. And lastly I’ll tell tell them our current state of disillusionment is only temporary as no condition is ever permanent. Be unwavering in your positive activist movements, and all weak and misaligned ideologies will crumble around you.”
2019 is Antibalas’ 20th year together as a performing band, and they have been heavily touring in celebration. After a few dates in California and New Jersey later this month, the band will embark on a full European tour, hitting many dates in France but also Switzerland, Poland and Belgium. At the end of 2018, the band embarked on a journey to the place of the group’s roots, Nigeria, the first time the entire group was able to travel there together, and filmed a full length feature called Journey Back To The Motherland. In our interview following FloydFest last summer, The Poke Around asked Amayo what he expected of that impending trip with his band.
Amayo: “For the band, the Journey will be one of coming full circle, and a spiritual return to the source of the music we play – A real homage to Fela Kuti and the struggle to emancipate the poor and the marginalized. And for me, I can finally show my family that my choice to pursue a music career was a successful one.”
To check out all things Antibalas, head to their website at https://antibalas.com.
As for Floydfest, this year’s event Voyage Home has lots of musical treats in store, such as scheduled performances from Kacey Musgraves, String Cheese Incident, Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family Band, and much more. To learn more information, head to the festival’s website at https://floydfest.com.