At the Florida Music Festival in May, the CityArts Factory was prepped for a night with the ladies. Emma Wallace warmed up the intimate, coffee-sipping crowd, and Christina Wagner waited in the wings. But in place of the advertised midbill set from New York's Amber Rubarth, who canceled at the last minute, was a tall, fresh-faced man with an acoustic guitar strumming a gentle love letter to weed. Peter Baldwin, a soft-spoken college kid just entering his 20s, treated the word "hydro" with the same delicate care as Smokey Robinson wrapping his pain around the term "substitute" in "Tracks of My Tears"; his perplexed audience couldn't be more confused. By the end of his brief session, however, the room not only laughed along with him, but they followed his emotional twists.
It would be another five months before Baldwin popped up on Orlando's music radar again, this time with a full band at a packed headline show at the Social. In order to get some play at FMF months prior, Baldwin and his manager, James "Tru" Truitt, handed out FMF fliers in 100-degree heat at Earthday Birthday, which earned them $50 and FMF passes.
"I wasn't even on the bill, but Tru found empty spots where people had bailed out and got me in. There's no record of me playing `the festival`," Baldwin says. With a sheepish smile that's true to the humble person behind it, he explains that he had only been in Orlando for a year and a half at the time, and he was merely a month removed from his first "real" show at a coffee shop. The son of an Alaska preacher, Baldwin graduated from Full Sail University's audio program in March and Tru, whom he met at the school, had big plans for him.
"He approached me about doing some management and gave me the whole rundown of R.E.D. label `Truitt's company, of which Baldwin is both a client and A&R rep`," Baldwin says. "I was pretty flattered so I was like, ‘Yeah, why not?' By April he packed out Tanqueray's for me."
Rock for Hunger
2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008
The Plaza Theatre
all ages; $10-$40
By late September, Baldwin and his four-piece band were finely tuned soul machines. In his breakout performance, Baldwin strutted with a salacious swagger that was equal parts Jagger and Justin Timberlake (who, he admits, is a heavy influence).
"The growth from `FMF` until now was crazy," says Baldwin. "Every performance has just been getting better and better. I don't know why, but there's always just been followers out of nowhere. I think it's because Tru and I were promoting so hard. `The Social gig` was a pretty monumental show to me. It was one where I realized we could actually fit."
He charmed with a sincerely rootsy cover of the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" theme song. He dipped into R&B with original tracks like "If Music Was a Woman," a half-rapped falsetto-funk groove. Baldwin's at his strongest, however, with heartbreaking ballads like his own "Angle Me," a melancholy, nearly spiritual celebration (and slight condemnation) of sex.
"Really what I'm talking about is the audacity of placing one person on such a high pedestal in your life that it supersedes everything in your life, even God," says Baldwin. "I like to just say, bluntly, the motive I think goes behind an action. ‘Angle Me' is `about` putting yourself in a position of submission. It's a precious thing, but it can be so powerful. I'm not a preacher like my dad, but I just wanted to say, ‘This is what happens.'"
A few weeks after his big show, Baldwin received a call to open for U.K. soul-popster Joss Stone, something he was honored to do, but he has more ambitious plans. In addition to a solo acoustic CD he's releasing in December, Baldwin is splitting his two halves — acoustic and band — into separate entities.
"I just wanted to pursue my sound, but I have all these good friends of mine that I love to play with," says Baldwin. "We haven't named `the band` yet, but it'll be a lot of fun for me. I want `the solo work` to be super, super-soulful, but in a new sort of way that I have to really define. I don't want to be limited to anything."
(Also performing at Rock for Hunger are Kardinal Offishall, Passafire, Jah Roots, Social Ghost, Afterglow Radio, Junkie Rush, Laura Reed and Deep Pocket, Ambertone, Kap Kallous, Mirror Pal, G-Ro and the Skateboard Sneakers, Badda Skat, Horizen, Alex Baugh and the Crazy Carls, Dagnese and Union Made.)[email protected]