As always, the sixth annual installment of the Sunshine Music Festival will be headlined by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the powerful, 12-piece roots music juggernaut led by husband-and-wife festival co-founders Derek Trucks (guitar) and Susan Tedeschi (vocals/guitar). But the ever-impressive supporting acts take on a decidedly more jazzy, funky, and New Orleans-themed vibe in 2018 as the fest lands its customary double-punch on two separate stages in St. Petersburg and Boca Raton on Jan. 13 and 14.
Named for the Sunshine State, the brainchild of native Floridian Trucks (born in Jacksonville in 1979) and the Boston-born Tedeschi has featured their hand-picked accompanists since 2013. Previous years featured the since-shortened title of the Sunshine Music & Blues Festival, with rootsy icons like Dave Mason, Los Lobos, Mavis Staples, Jerry Douglas, Chris Robinson, and the North Mississippi All-Stars.
And while the 2018 variation includes roots music both old-school (Hot Tuna) and new (soulful Houston big band The Suffers), the remaining performers offer even more than the usual avenues for improvisation, unpredictability, and dancing on the respective Florida lawns.
Limitless jam trio Medeski, Martin & Wood also features roots in Florida and Boston. Keyboardist John Medeski studied at the Pine Crest School while growing up in Fort Lauderdale, then moved north to attend the New England Conservatory, where he met bassist Chris Wood. The trio was solidified in 1991 when the two found drummer Billy Martin in New York City.
MMW’s 1992 debut album, Notes From the Underground, was an all-acoustic free jazz affair, since followed by more electric and eclectic gems like It’s a Jungle in Here (1993), Combustication (1998) and Uninvisible (2002). A series of collaborations with fusion guitar icon John Scofield followed, highlighted by the 2006 release Out Louder, and MMW even returned to its inception with an all-acoustic 2012 live CD, Free Magic. In their hands, anything is possible.
Medeski’s prowess on acoustic and electric pianos, and Hammond and Wurlitzer organs, will likewise be showcased with the quartet Foundation of Funk — also featuring Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno and led by the rhythm section of one of New Orleans’ standout bands, The Meters. Bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste have formed that group’s rhythmic engine for more than 50 years now, and formed FOF in 2015 to pay homage to The Meters’ deep funk catalog through new arrangements and a rotating cast of players. If you’re seated during classics like “Cissy Strut,” “Look-Ka Py Py” and “Fire On the Bayou,” check your pulse.
The Big Easy is also represented by Galactic, the 25-year-old Crescent City funk act that’s become an institution based on its dozen CD releases and an ongoing string of molten live shows. The sextet features longtime members Jeff Raines (guitar), Ben Ellman (saxophone), Robert Mercurio (bass), Rich Vogel (keyboards) and Stanton Moore (drums), with trombonist Corey Henry rounding out the most recent lineup. Galactic is likely to play material from its latest release Into the Deep (2015), and its gifted drummer Moore is likely to be particularly inspired in the presence of Modeliste on the bill. Moore’s 2010 solo album Groove Alchemy spotlighted the influence of The Meters’ percussive force, along with James Brown drummers Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.
If there’s a wild card within the lineup, it’s Phish bassist Mike Gordon. Touring as a solo act with a five-piece band, the notoriously quirky musician is likely to deliver a hodgepodge of musical elements with the help of soulful vocalist/guitarist Scott Murawski, funky keyboardist Robert Walter (a linchpin on Moore’s Groove Alchemy release), and the worldly rhythmic battery of John Kimock (drums) and Craig Myers (percussion/n’goni/programming).
All serve as delectable appetizers toward the hearty main course of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The group won a Best Blues Album Grammy Award for its 2011 debut Revelator, and earned a Rock Blues Album of the Year Blues Music Award for its latest studio effort, Let Me Get By (2016). Its 2017 album Live From the Fox Oakland is nominated as the 2018 Grammy Awards’ Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Tedeschi’s stellar guitar playing was honed at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and her soaring growl is a vocal gift that blends the disparate elements of Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt. Trucks grew up on stage as the nephew of the late drummer Butch Trucks, whose group the Allman Brothers Band the young guitarist would eventually join — and to which he added his uncanny brand of finger-picking and slide pyrotechnics inspired by another late founding member, guitarist Duane Allman.
The band’s two namesakes are backed and fortified by 10 musicians and singers, who help create a wall of sound akin to a roots music orchestra: keyboardist/flutist Kofi Burbridge, saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trumpeter Ephraim Owens, trombonist Elizabeth Lea, bassist Tim Lefebvre, drummer/percussionists Tyler Greenwell and J. J. Johnson, and vocalists Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers, and Alecia Chakour.
The Sunshine Music Festival begins at noon (gates open at 11 a.m.) on Jan. 14 at Mizner Park Ampitheatre, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Tickets: $64.95 (general admission), $99.95 (balcony), $129.95 (reserved), and $229.95 (VIP). A special advance 3-D Collector Ticket General Admission 4-Pack is also available for $245 through www.livenation.com or Ticketmaster (800-745-3000).