The Gainesville nine who are worth your time?
In a town like gaineville, there are legions of musicians eager to try their hand at the Big Time.
By Joelle Seligson, Jamie Braun, Jose Duran
A Batman villain once said, "So much to do, so little time." And at some point, he crashed to the ground with a sickening thud and that was the end of him. But the sentiment remains, particularly when you're in a town like Gainesville, where there are legions of musicians eager to try their hand at the Big Time. So here's the situation: you recognize a few of the major players on the local circuit – Agent 99, Star 69 – but you're itching for the really good stuff and you don't know where to start. Well, worry no more! We have uncovered Gainesville's hidden gems, and we lay them before you on a velvet cushion.
Like the one-man bands of old, Berg doesn't need any backup. The 26-year-old singer/songwriter is no stranger to being part of a band, but for now has decided to strengthen his solo skills. By only using an acoustic guitar and looping sounds of drums and a bass line on a Line-6 delay pedal, he has crafted a backup band without one.
Sticking mostly to pop/rock, Berg's influences include the lead singer of the Counting Crows, Adam Duritz, Ryan Adams and U2.
He picked up the guitar when his piano teacher moved away at 14 and his parents never found a replacement. He learned the basics of playing the guitar from Robbie Shank, another Gainesville musician. “I think music chose me, instead of me choosing music. I have a very musical family,” Berg explains.
He is currently working on a full-length album with producer Bob McPeek, the producer of the early albums by Sister Hazel and Less than Jake. He also has opened for Agent 99, Zoso and Big Sky.
2. DEANS ON BASS
“[We're] an eclectic group of musical geniuses brought together from the outer realms of another world. We are the funkiest band in Gainesville. Period.”
So says Dean Perry, the namesake and – appropriately – the bassist for Deans on Bass. DOB's started in 2000 when, as Perry recalls, “A couple of us started jamming and it basically grew from there ... to mammoth proportions.”
Their CD, which was released on Valentine's Day, includes the semi-recent addition of lead singer Laurie Pierre, who lends a crucial dose of sugar and spice to this otherwise all-male band. If you've got even a fraction of funk in your system, their high-energy live shows will set your toes to tapping. An O&B insider tip: tap them well enough and Meeks might just give you his sunglasses.
Swayback has earned a place in the Gainesville music scene and has found a large local following thanks to its strong live performances and improvisational skills.
“We have three horns, and I think we've got such a different setup,” Matt Coleman says. “We're not like any other band, and we have such a different play with textures.”
Swayback just released their first album, “Midtown,” and have opened for national acts such as Deana Carter, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Though they've played at several large venues, including the Great Southern Music Harvest and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the guys say they prefer a more intimate setting.
“We like smaller venues with lots of character,” Jordan Fischer says. “And definitely no seats!”
4. REED WADDLE
So, you liked John Mayer before everyone else. You saw his freeshow in Gainesville. You told your friends. They told their friends. Suddenly he's a TRL superstar, a teenybopper poster and just a bit too mainstream for you to connect with anymore. The solution? Reed Waddle. Though this 21-year-old has all of Mayer's guitar strumming charms and lyrical sensitivities--he was a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition--he is still a virtually unknown UF student, who is ripe for your musical picking. Try his latest release, “Higher Ground,” for an MTV-less dose of some serious singer/songwriting.
5. NICHOLAS PALLESEN
With opera singers such as Josh Groban and Charlotte Church crossing over to the pop charts, classical music has never been more mainstream. To hear the same sound here in Gainesville, look no further than baritone opera singer Nicholas Pallesen.
This 25-year-old voice performance junior has been singing professionally since he was 13.
“Opera is drama,” Pallesen says. “When you sing opera, you're living in a moment, It's like the whole world stops and in that five-minute song and you can express so many different emotions.”
Although his focus remains on opera, Pallesen says he will continue to sing all different styles.
“There's just too much good music out there,” he says. “I love everything I sing so much. I can't choose a favorite.”
6. TOWERS OF HANOI
Hanoi may be quite the plane trip away, but its Towers are right here in Gainesville. Jon Reinersten and Travis Whitton played in the disbanded Appalachian Drinking League, and the pair later roped in Travis' wife Rachel as their lead singer. The foursome was completed by the addition of Michael Gualtieri about a year ago. With its unique sound – described most aptly as an updated Led Zeppelin with a Sonic Youth twist – it is no surprise that Towers of Hanoi won a contest that resulted in them playing for the Suicide Girls Burlesque Tour.
Reinersten raved about the experience, calling it "awesome" and insisting that "it made our day." Towers also put out a self-titled EP on their own record label, Barracuda Sound.
7. JONATHAN SMITH
When it comes to local music, not everything is about hard rock and punk sensibility. Jonathan Smith, a UF senior majoring in music composition, is there for classical and modern classical fanatics.
"I first started playing piano when I was 6," Smith explains. "My parents basically made me take it up, and I didn't like it so I dropped it."
A few years later, Smith says he matured and was able to appreciate the piano, enjoying the more avant-garde side of modern classical music.
When he arrived at UF, he was set on majoring in engineering, but decided he didn't like the idea of doing it for the rest of his life. His parents were less than thrilled to hear he wanted to major in music composition, but he tried to appease them by majoring in Japanese as well and minoring in business. Smith's decision paid off. He has been to many competitions, placing in a few. He says his biggest honor was winning first place at the UF Undergraduate Concerto competition. The prize was having the honor to play a one-time performance with the UF Symphony Orchestra.
Catch Smith in action at piano recitals in the University Auditorium or the Philips Center Black Box.
8. NATALIE MUNIZ
Natalie Muniz, a half-Cuban, half-American singer/songwriter and Gainesville native, has been in the local music scene for more than three years. At 19, she has already created quite a dent in the Gainesville music scene. She knew she wanted to be a singer when she joined the Sonlight Youth Choir in high school and, at 16, she began singing lead vocals with bands around the area.
For Muniz, music is an important aspect in her life. "Music is something you find that is intriguing and charming to you, and communicating that to people with words and sounds," she says.
She has been told she sounds like Natalie Merchant, singing mostly to rock and jazz tunes, with a soulful voice coming out of her petite frame. In addition to singing, Muniz has been playing the piano since she was 4. Her biggest influences include Dave Matthews, Fiona Apple, Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin.
9. MAXWELL EDISON
Too sweet to ever murder anyone with a hammer, Maxwell Edison still manages to rock out with their piano-driven, Beatles-steeped harmonies. These guys were born nearly four decades after the Fab Four first set foot in America-but that hasn't stopped them from making a name for themselves here in Florida by using the same musical aesthetics. Whitlock and Hazen started playing together about two years ago and then decided to incorporate McMullen after meeting him at the late Alligator Rocks. As Lincoln says, "Luckily, that inebriated decision turned out to be a fantastic one." The band frequents the Sidebar, the Shamrock and Market Street Pub, to name a few, and already has a demo out. Check them out before Maxwell Edison-mania inevitably kicks in.