On March 20-21, the Mobile Aeroplex will play host to the inaugural Mobile AeroFest, a festival with a purpose. The two-day event’s mission is “to improve the lives of America’s injured warriors.”
The variety of events and features planned during the extravaganza will introduce the Azalea City to a new style of celebration. There will be “Hero Games,” a Titan FC Championship Title Fight, a job/education fair, a mobility/adaptive technology expo and the Independence Ride, a selection of biking routes that will put attendants alongside recovering veterans.
Additionally, AeroFest will feature three outdoor stages and one indoor stage featuring some of the best in national and regional musical acts. With many to choose from, Lagniappe is giving readers their pick for this new festival. Tickets start at just $45 for the weekend. More information is available at aerofest.org.
Band: Robert Randolph & the Family Band
Date: Friday, March 20 at 7:15 p.m.
Stage: Stage 1
Frequent visitors over the years, Robert Randolph & the Family Band have generated many fans in the Azalea City. Randolph’s Sacred Steel music has put him into a category all his own, and the jam scene has embraced every note. While the pedal steel guitar has traditionally been associated with country music, Sacred Steel takes the instrument into new worlds by adding gospel, soul and blues overtones.
For his part, Randolph and his crew mingles it with a variety of genres ranging from funk to rock. Every time he sits at the pedal steel, Randolph pulls magic from his tone bar. While other acts have not incorporated the pedal steel into their bands, many have taken note of Sacred Steel’s unique style and attempted to emulate.
“It has kind of caught on in terms of its influence,” Randolph said. “We’ve influenced Derek Trucks and Eric Clapton and John Hiatt. There’s so many guys that have really been influenced by it. You can hear a lot of it in their music. A lot of the country music guys have taken on the influence of Sacred Steel.”
The Family Band’s last offering was 2013’s “Lickety Split.” Randolph said the group is planning to release its sixth major release in early July. Once again, the Family Band will mix the Sacred Steel sound with a variety of genres including rock, funk and jazz, and the AeroFest crowd will get a preview of tracks featured on the new album.
“I’ve recorded a bunch of songs, but I’ve honed in on how to mix in the traditional sacred steel sound and feel with sort of like a secular, really rock album this time around,” he said. “I’ve been writing songs for the past year. I’m gonna pull 12 or 14 that really work together. It’s really going to be great.”
In addition to the new Family Band album, Randolph also revealed that he would be starting a project alongside the North Mississippi All-Stars and John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) called The Word. While this project may seem new to many, The Word actually recorded its first album in 2001. In fact, Randolph cites this as the first album that he ever recorded.
“It was a small release, but people really loved it,” he said. “It’s been highly anticipated ever since. We finally got back together in the studio and rerecorded it. It’s coming out on Vanguard Records, and it’s going to be huge.”
As far as what to expect from Randolph’s live performance, he describes it as a “Mardi Gras/church service/rock concert.” Some audience members might have the chance to get involved with the show. The Family Band is infamous for inviting a number of crowd members on stage to help with the show. The tradition however, has not been without mishaps.
“We did it the other day, and some girl fell all over the equipment and unplugged everything,” said Randolph. “You’ve got guys jumping up there, and security has to throw them off. They’re running across the stage and picking up guitars, and people are falling off the stage everywhere.”
Band: Ryley Walker
Date: Saturday, March 21 at 2:45 p.m.
Stage: Stage 1
Ryley Walker’s unique modern folk sound should appease those wanting to ease into the festival’s second day. Walker crafted his eclectic brand of folk in his hometown of Chicago, which may seem odd to those familiar with the Windy City’s music scene. Chicago characteristically has a rich musical legacy that tends to lean toward alt. rock or blues. However, Walker says it’s changed in recent years.
“Chicago is kind of a hodge-podge of music,” Walker said. “There’s so much going on there. In the last five or 10 years, there has been so many diverse music styles going on there. It’s a town in the middle of the country, so you get every band from every corner of the world, which has a big influence on musicians.”
Walker will be showcasing songs from his latest release “Primrose Green.” This album brings a nostalgic edge to Walker’s sound with an eclectic folk sound laced with jazz overtones. Walker also incorporated jazz philosophies in the studio. The album was recorded live in-studio with “very few overdubs.” Walker called the technique a risk that relied on “spur of the moment decisions,” but believes the finished product justified all the hard work.
“I’m really excited about [“Primrose Green”], and there’s a really cool band on there,” he said. “We’ve got some of the best jazz musicians in Chicago and around the world. It came from jamming and improvising on the songs and dancing on the riffs. That was a big part of making the record and we’re real proud of it.”
Walker is looking forward to introducing new music to the AeroFest crowd. His set will be mixed with the new material and “a cover or two.” The crowd can expect Walker and his band to take whatever song they play and build freely upon it to create a memorable concert experience.
“It’s definitely a unique festival too,” he suggested. “We’re kinda the odd man out, as far as folk tunes, but there’s a lot of big name acts there. So, we’re really looking forward to being up on the big stage and doing our best.”
Date: Saturday, March 21 at 10 p.m.
Stage: Stage 3
After the crowd samples the country sounds of Big & Rich, they should head over to Stage 3 to end the festival in the best way possible. Several years ago, jam rock and EDM melded and forced evolution upon the jam scene. In its early days, Zoogma was there mixing electronica with live instrumentation with some wonderful results. Part rock show and part dance party, Zoogma has been entertaining the denizens of Mobile since their early days.
Guitarist/synth player Justin Hasting admits that the Azalea City is one of their favorite places to play.
“We love Mobile,” he said. “We’ve been playing there for a really long time — it’s one of the first places we ever played. We’ve always loved Soul Kitchen and The Blind Mule.”
Zoogma is the epitome of a modern music industry band. While many acts are still trying to figure how to exist in today’s music industry, Zoogma has a very innovative business practice, choosing to simply give away a majority of its albums.
The band makes most of their revenue from touring and merchandise. Currently, Zoogma is using their website to distribute a live album. Fans can experience live cuts from their latest tour for free.
“We’re releasing two a week from a tour that we did with The Werks,” Hasting said. “It’s live recordings, and we’re releasing them from different cities.”
Zoogma will treat the AeroFest audience to a late-night set of improvisational electronic jam. Break beats will be riddled with guitar licks, and the band will invite the audience to lose themselves in the sonic madness. According to guitarist/sequencer Brock Bowling, crowd energy is what drives the band throughout the set.
“The crowd in action definitely plays a part in it,” he said. “We try to feed off their vibes.”