Reggae surfers ride melodic waves to Blackwater Music Festival

Spinnaker

Jacksonville Beach-area band Saltwater Grass plans to keep the party atmosphere moving at the 2010 Blackwater Music Festival, set to take place Aug. 26 – 28.

The music festival will include headliners such as Slightly Stoopid and Michael Franti & Spearhead, among others. The festival takes place in Live Oak, Fla., at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.

Saltwater Grass plays a special blend of music – a grab bag of different styles coming from the different backgrounds of the band’s six members. The band initially started off as a blue grass influenced band, but as more members joined and drums became a mainstay in the band, the sounds changed to something more frantic.

The initial sounds emanating from the speakers during my time with the band held heavy overtones of ska-induced jam rock and bluegrass. But their sound is more complex and fluorescent than the Sublime-esque genre I boxed them into.

Vocalist Rich Hansen said the band members met near the beach and began playing in bars such as Spare Time Grill & Tavern in Jacksonville Beach.

“We all live here at the beach. We’re all surfers, and we enjoy just this atmosphere and this lifestyle on the beach,” Hansen said. “We wanted to incorporate something with our lifestyles based in with some sort of style of music we played.”

Saltwater is a full-force band, with each member’s musical ability complementing the other. UNF alumni J.P. Salvat and Austin Johnston accentuate the rhythmic patterns with Salvat on percussion and Johnston on bass guitar. UNF music program alumnus Nico Lembo grooves spastically behind the drums, mixing in beautiful rudimentary beats that rival only the utmost badassery of Ryan Daley’s lead guitar work. Saxophonist Jeff Hoff and Daley go back and forth with extended solos which complement each other.

The jazz and blues elements of their music shine, due to the members’ musical prowess and attention to detail. The members work together to point out subtle intricacies of their songs and discuss how they can make them better.

Lembo, who has found major influences in Miles Davis and Steve Jordan, likes the festival direction with which the band is going.

“I would like to see this band tour and have fun on the radio and really try to go as far as you can with it,” Lembo said.

Hansen said the most important aspect of their music is to have fun. The band strives to promote an energetic and lively mood to their songs, priming them for audiences who like to dance and chill to their music.

This tone bleeds over into their live performances, as well. The band might start off shows with a shot of Jack Daniels Whiskey and beer to loosen up and relax the nerves onstage. The band keeps a positive spin on everything, including the lyrical content.

“There’s a lot of songs that talk about the water and surfing,” Hansen said. “Enjoying yourself while we’re young, having a good time always and staying positive.”

Salvat looks forward to being able to spread their music to people outside of Jacksonville at the Blackwater Music Festival and finds the most important aspect of a live show is making sure the audience is attentive the entire time, so the audience and the band are on the same page.

“We’re having a blast, you know, so we’re just trying to make the audience have a blast with us,” Salvat said.

Saltwater Grass just released their sophomore album, “Out of the Everywhere,” at their CD release show Aug. 14  and will be promoting their new material at the upcoming festival.

If you’re short on cash, the World Exchange Team (WET) offers free admission into the concert for volunteers. Volunteers also receive camping and a free T-shirt. Volunteers must place a deposit that will be returned after they have finished their volunteer work. Volunteers must work three, five-hour shifts in order to receive their deposit back.

For more information on the Blackwater Music Festival and a complete list of bands performing at the festival, go to blackwatermusicfestival.com. You can check out Saltwater Grass’s music at myspace.com/saltwatergrassband.