SunFest 2018 locals story - May 3 issue of Florida Weekly
Practically ever since its inception in 1983, SunFest has been the prime annual gig that local performers strive for. And the reasons are numerous as the 36th SunFest runs today through May 6.
First, there's the kind of built-in large, captive audience they don't get at area nightclubs. Secondly, locals get the rare opportunity to play through the same massive sound systems as the international headliners surrounding them. Beyond, there are the same backstage accommodations as the touring acts; a one-day pass for the entire day on which an artist performs, and payment for one set that equals or surpasses what they would make playing a full evening at a club.
This year's local and regional artists run the gamut from pop, hip-hop and reggae to rock, bluegrass and a DJ, and may be epitomized by two disparate bands playing practically simultaneous sets on Saturday afternoon.
Opening the northern Ford Stage that day is the String Assassins, a four-year-old, Treasure Coast-based quintet with members ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, and best-known for bluegrass-infused interpretations of material from the Allman Brothers Band to Pink Floyd. The southern jetBlue Stage opener on Saturday is Thoughts, a nine-month-old power-pop collective of teenagers educated at area School of Rock locations that will play mostly original material from its recently-released EP, "Heart It Breaks."
Further contrast lies in the fact that the String Assassins (guitarist/vocalists Mark "Mangrove" Shubert and Matt Gill, guitarist Dr. Jay Kuchera, bassist/vocalist Dennis Lasher, and 23-year-old violinist Paddy King) makes its SunFest debut while the members of Thoughts (vocalist/guitarist Ben Rothschild, bassist/vocalist Angel Leiser, and drummer/vocalist Roman Conde) have already performed at the event multiple times.
"Angel and I played SunFest in 2015 with our previous band, Jumbo Shrimp," says Mr. Rothschild, "although we'd played the kids' stage before with the School of Rock band. But you can't get your friends to come out and see you play covers on the kids' stage the way they will to see you play originals on a main stage. Angel and I left Jumbo Shrimp because we wanted to tour more than the younger members, and Thoughts has done East Coast and Southeastern tours since."
The 19-year-old SunFest veteran sounds practically grizzled compared to the String Assassins' 61-year-old Mr. Shubert, who's exuberant to appear at the event for the first time.
"We're so stoked, but humbled at the same time," he says. "It'll be a high point in all of our careers."
Thoughts will blend in a cover song or two amid its original EP material, while the String Assassins will do the opposite.
"We have around six original tunes now," Mr. Shubert says. "We'll probably do three at SunFest, along with covers like the medley of Pink Floyd's 'Breathe' and 'Time;' Jimi Hendrix's 'Voodoo Child,' America's 'Ventura Highway,' and Led Zeppelin's 'Going To California,' where Paddy does some great violin playing. He's incredibly intuitive, and destined for great things."
The String Assassins' vocal harmonies, guitar interplay and unique arrangements had already made them a formidable unit for years before Mr. King more recently joined full-time. The young violinist's solos stand out, and his rhythm playing provides a percussive quality to the drum-free ensemble. Thoughts presents the classic guitar-bass-drums format, augmented at SunFest by the addition of keyboardist, trumpeter and vocalist Guido Parente for texture.
"We'll do a couple cover tunes," says Mr. Rothschild. "I'm not sure which yet, but one will definitely be Stevie Wonder's 'I Wish.'"
At a recent club appearance, Mr. Rothschild's natural baritone voice easily soared into alto range on the funk classic by Mr. Wonder, while the animated Ms. Leiser moved around the stage like she'd been there her whole life. Which, for the most part, she has. She and Mr. Rothschild's natural chemistry has been honed since the two started playing together 10 years ago with Mr. Conde at the School of Rock's North Palm Beach and Lake Worth locations -- both owned by Mr. Rothschild's father, Rick Rothschild.
The "Heart It Breaks" originals showcase throwback influences -- The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, Chic, and Fleetwood Mac -- all delivered with a modern twist by the trio.
"Roman is a great drummer, and he's the right fit musically and personality-wise," says Mr. Rothschild. "It's comfortable to have all the right parts. And Angel and I are great friends, and she has so much energy. So SunFest will be a blast. It always is."