Will's Lil' Tiki Party (June 26) was the latest themed experiment by the inventive party-makers at Will's Pub. For this, the venue was transformed in one of the most complete atmosphere takeovers I've ever seen here. From the poke food truck outside to the great vintage Hawaiian visuals to all the bamboo, fronds and coconuts covering the walls, ceiling and even the sound booth, it was total immersion. And people answered the call, matching the spirit by turning out in number and wearing enough aloha patterns to permanently damage my retinas.
It would hardly be a Will's event without live music. The one band I hadn't encountered before was new Orlando group the Uke-A-Ladies, a clever name that pretty much spells out their deal. With the setup of an all-female ukulele trio, I know what you're thinking: It's gonna be twee. And it sometimes was. But while so many like them would've gladly settled for the lovely conceit of a cutie-pie act, the Uke-A-Ladies are actually much more. They're not a novelty act that simply tickles your fancy and rots your teeth. Any band with three members who are solid players, good singers and great harmonizers is something to be taken with some gravity, something you'll do once you hear their originals and a gripping rendition of Dolly Parton's "Jolene."
The affair was a grand splash of great music, festive local pulse and kitschy haole fun. Before you go thinking the idea's too vanilla, though, I'm not talking about just any tiki party. I'm talking about a tiki party in the Will's Pub universe, which means typical beach party things like pool inflatables among the crowd resulted in situations that went from wild to violent. This was neither a basic show nor a mere social. It was an event. Summer's officially here, party people. God help us all.
I frequently rue the absence of a real honky-tonk in the area, but the same could almost be said for a real blues club. Thanks to a story we ran two years ago ("King Snake Records, back porch jams, memories of the chitlin' circuit"), I'd heard about the blues jams at the Alley in Sanford. As the article uncovers, Sanford packs some musical heritage that, though little-known nowadays, is deep as part of the legendary and crucial chitlin' circuit. Little of that tradition exists around there any more, at least not with any significant profile. But perhaps some vestige could be seen here at the last Sanford club (and likely beyond for quite a distance) dedicated to the blues.
I wanted to check the joint's real everyday pulse, to see if it had any connection whatsoever to that communal music tradition. So I dove into one of the several jams (June 29) that the Alley holds every single week rather than a feature show. Even though it's open, this is a group jam session and not a basic open mic. And there were some seasoned, real-deal players in the mix so skilled that the only tells that some were playing together for the first time were the introductory post-song handshakes. Another nice thing going on here was that this night's cast was notably diverse in generation, gender and color. That's sweet relief for anyone who's seen too many old white dudes turn the blues into beige.
What looked like a small crowd was actually an astonishing amount of participants since most would at some point in the night take a stab at the stage. In the two hours I was there, I saw at least three full bands' worth of players perform. These were blues people here. It was in the air. Around the campfire of this open stage were community and communion. The blues still lives in this house.
Sanford is currently undergoing its biggest renaissance in memory with lots of new investment. But this tectonic shift is yet another crack for some important history to slip through. That's why a bastion like the Alley and nights like these blues jams are so essential to the full cultural stock of this burgeoning little city. Go get you some.