I got last weekend off to an early start ... around roughly 9 p.m. on Thursday. What passes for bitter cold in Florida hadn't lifted by a single degree, so the people roaming the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art had layered up with leather jackets, knit caps and pretty scarves out of necessity rather than fashion statement. Fans of Ringling Underground, the museum's monthly indie music series, seem to be growing diehard.
Members of Alexander and the Grapes were checking pedals and loosening strings that had tightened in the cold air, and their tuning richocheted off yards and yards of all that marble. I hugged the necks of even remote acquaintances as I got closer to the stage, just to steal a little body heat. An extra-long hug went to Shakira Sofer, a.k.a MC YoursTruly the evening's fly ringleader. She prescribed whiskey as she peeled me off and gave me a little nudge toward the ample cash bar.
Combined with the lavish backdrop of the museum grounds, a little toddy helped me forget about the temperatures. The band started their set with a slow, melancholy tune, made especially plaintive by a pedal steel guitar. If I started shivering again, all I had to do was look up at the hulking, stark-naked statue of David -- and all feeling sorry for myself just shriveled up.
A little before 10 I received a summons to the "after party" at Sarasota Lanes, one of those rare places that's not a sit-down restaurant where you can have all ages, full liquor and live music under the same roof. Add blacklights, fried munchies and a star-spangled carpet to dance on, and you have most of the ingredients for a great show. Local production company The Closet supplied the final one: talent.
I planned to thoroughly enjoy some more whiskey at half the price and wait for the turning point in the night, when the crowd would inevitably switch from half-listening and bobbing their heads to bouncing around in a lubed-up dance party. I could never have predicted what actually transpired.
Through controlled chaos coming from The Buffalo Wizards and tasty "frostproof polar pop" by The Plush Monsters, more music-hungry fans came rolling through the doors, stamping their feet and tugging off their coats. The booths, tables and floor by the lanes were soon strewn with cold-weather gear.
Now that we were nice and comfortable, Little Ruckus got everyone into audience participation mode. I don't mean just "dancing like no one's watching" (although there was plenty of
that going on); for instance, the one-man hype machine got the audience to do limbo with him -- to be clear, his spandex-clad body was the bar.
Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt made audience participation look more like possession. During one song we all swapped clothes -- someone had my boots on her hands and someone else's scarf was wrapped around my head like a turban. The lead singer whirled, flailed and bounded around with everyone else, gripping a microphone and belting out raw, emotional lyrics the whole time. He took a break to gather everyone around him in a huddle to chant starry-eyed choruses like, "We're alive! We're in love! We've got hope just because!" For the grand finale, a gigantic sheet descended upon the crowd, creating a billowing tent that shook with dancing bodies.
I use the word "awesome" way too much. But in describing this long night of letting loose, I can't think of a more fitting adjective.