The Applebutter Express made the amazing journey from Bradenton to Bonnaroo – one of the most famous music festivals on the planet – and continues chugging forward with the exceptional upcoming release “One for the Home Team.”
The band recorded the gloriously old-school sounding album “live” in seven days at Emporium Studios in Nashville. That’s the same place where classic records have been made by everyone from Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
The “One for the Home Team” CD release celebration was Tuesday in Tampa at Skipper’s Smokehouse – "You guys were so amazing last night, as usual," reads a review posted the next morning on the band's Facebook page – followed by a homecoming, headlining performance Sunday during the free Pickin’ Picnic festival on Bradenton’s Riverwalk.
“Five years ago I told my sister someday we will play Skipper’s, when you play Skipper’s you have made it,” recalled Kyle Biss, the ukulele player, singer and chief songwriter in The Applebutter Express. “Even when we lived in Bradenton we would go to Skipper’s. I’ve seen every angle, and the last angle was from on stage. We’ve played there several times now but it’s still really special.”
One of the top jam-bluegrass bands in the region, The Applebutter Express began several years ago when Kyle and Shannon Biss (vocals) met in Bradenton. They just happened to be working together in the DeSoto Mall.
Shannon, nee Moore, had graduated from Southeast in 2005. Kyle relocated with his parents from Milwaukee to Bradenton around the same time. They fell in love while selling CDs and DVDs and such at f.y.e. Shannon had been keeping her singing skills to herself. Kyle had spent his teens playing bass in bands around Wisconsin.
“Shannon had no desire to singe on stage,” Kyle recalled.
But then Kyle picked up the ukulele and the couple, he would eventually propose to her on stage at Skipper’s, began singing together. They played at parties for friends. The parties soon became bigger and so did the reactions.
“Before we knew it, I saw a better response than from any band that I’ve ever been in,” the 26-year-old Kyle said. “And with the singing, a lot changed for Shannon after she turned 21 and found her liquid courage. Now, it’s like she’s been doing this her whole life.”
Kyle and Shannon, age 25, formed The Applebutter Express, released a self-titled album, created a buzz with gigs around their new home in Tampa’s hip Seminole Heights neighborhood and then made a huge leap with the appearance last year at Bonnaroo. In fact, The Applebutter Express were the first act from the greater Tampa Bay region to play the mega music festival held annually in Manchester, Tenn.
Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beach Boys were among the other acts on the lineup. The Applebutter Express, which also includes Bradenton’s Matt DeSear on bass and Joe Trivette, of Lakeland, on fiddle, performed at Bonnaroo on a sizzling afternoon last June.
“Incredible,” Kyle said of the show. “That hour and a half was the best any musician could hope for. Basically, there were people for as far as we could see.”
The Apple Butter Express played fun and funky Biss originals – check out the clip of “Wanee Trippin’” below – plus innovative covers of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and the Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post.”
“Shannon grew up with the Allman Brothers,” Kyle said of his wife. “The Allman Brothers and The Band are our two favorite bands of all time.”
The Bisses pay tribute to The Band on “One for the Home Team.” Shannon channels the spirit of drummer/singer Levon Helm with Kyle joining in on harmony vocals for a wonderfully bouncy rendition of the ebullient classic “Rag Mama Rag.” The song first appeared on The Band’s self-titled album from 1969.
“It had been just over a year since Levon passed and he’s such an influence on us,” Kyle said. “If we were not doing originals, we’d be a Band cover band.”
The originals on “One for the Home Team,” mostly written by Kyle, are melodic and memorable with many celebrating a life of perpetual good times. His song “Ragin’ on the Weekdays,” for example, finds the couple trading lyrics about the joys of beer, shots and smoking. “A night spent hell-raising, that seems to suit me best,” Kyle sings.
“In the past year or so I’ve never seen so many sunrises in my life and I’m not talking about waking up early,” Kyle said. “We’re young people with no kids and enjoying our age right now.”
Pickin’ Picnic: is a music festival on the beautiful Bradenton Riverwalk, where attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, folding chairs and blankets. Here's the schedule for the Sunday (May 26) event:
4 p.m. Lady and Gentleman
5 p.m. Faceless Bandits
6 p.m. Good Graeff
7 p.m. Muphin Chuckrs
8 p.m. A Gentlemen Army
9 p.m. The Applebutter Express