A new column for KITHFOLK! Instagrams from cool travels, kind of like those old vacation slides your Uncle Eddie would share all the time, but cooler.
I recently re-discovered an old flight voucher I’d gotten from taking a bump via Southwest Airlines and realized I only had a month or so left to use it. So I jumped at the chance to accompany by brother-in-law Jake Anderson when he went to Tampa for the Charlie Daniels Celebrity Golf Classic (Jake’s on the show Deadliest Catch). We stayed at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and had a great time, though Tampa’s certainly not one of the main tourist destinations in Florida. That means that there are some really cool things off the beaten path, though. Here are some discoveries and some of the music I listened to n the road. I’d just gotten Beats Music on my phone, and it’s a ridiculously fun streaming music service to use. I don’t know how much of my data allotment I used driving around and jamming tunes, but it was worth it!
Tampa, FL: Golf Courses – Charlie Daniels
I didn’t get a chance to meet Charlie Daniels, but it was pretty great to get up close an personal watching him do “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” and “The South Will Rise Again”. He’s kind of a country music Santa Claus, but man did he have some hot swagger when he was doing his classic Devil Goes Down. He was swinging his fiddle bow like a gunslinger and he had this great move where he blew the rosin dust on the top of his fiddle into a cloud that floated out to the audience. Daniels’ has a life-time of arena performances under his belt (hey, did you know he started out as a bluegrass fiddler in the Deep South?), so he knows to hold a crowd.
Charlie Daniels Playing “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”
Rad Elvis Jumpsuit at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino & Hotel
Jake had to rent a Cadillac on the first day there
Tampa – Tarpon Springs: Haitian Psychedelia and Cuban Cigars
I figured on this being a foodie trip, since I’d have some evenings to myself, so I spent hours before leaving studying up on the hottest restaurants in Tampa and the surroundings. Not fancy restaurants, nah. Underground restaurants tied to the ethnic communities that make up Tampa and the surroundings, like the many Cubans and Haitians. For Haitian food, I talked around and found out about Alèz Haitian Restaurant. The food was amazing, transcendent. I had griot, which was a pork dish that kind of tasted like pork marshmellows. I’d never had pig like this; I think the Haitian chef was some kind of swineflesh wizard. Also loved the pikelz (super spicy pickled vegetables with lime juice) and marinade (fried dough with salt pork). I came in on Friday night and the whole time I was there Haitians kept coming in after work to pick up take-out dinners. Cab drivers pulled up for their dinner, and the Kreyòl language was everywhere. What a beautiful language. I could listen to it forever.
Marinade (fried dough balls w/meat), pikilz, and Jupina soda
Griot. Fried marinated pork, a master class in swine flesh. With fried plantain and an amazing curried rice.
The next day I hit the road from Tampa to Tarpon Springs, which I’d heard had a really interesting Greek subculture based on sponge diving.
As I drove, palm tree lined canals and white beaches rolled past my window, and the hot, dry air of a Florida winter flooded the car. These were my jams:
Run The Jewels
Most Best of 2014 year end lists worth their salt included this intense, fiery hip-hop release from Southern rapper Killer Mike and underground MC/DJ El-P. The beats are amazingly varied, the rap is on fire, and the message matches the mood of the streets today. This isn’t empty bragging hip-hop or needless thugging hip-hop, these are two very different artists bridging the gaps between their talent with totally fresh and refreshing ideas.
Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978
I loved jamming these hardcore psychedelic and garage-y tracks from Haiti in the 1960s and 70s while driving through from Tampa to Tarpon Springs. The vocals recall the glory days of Cuban son, but the voices ring out in glorious Kreyòl instead of Spanish. The guitar work burns with a kind of desperation, and the whole vibe of this release is kind of underground, DIY. This music was recorded during the despotic reign of Papa Doc Duvalier, so there’s a layer of history to the music that adds to the intensity. The bands play for their lives and there isn’t a track on this album that doesn’t burn like anthracite. Highly recommended!
Tarpon Springs – Greek and Cuban Culture
Tarpon Springs may be a bit touristy, but there are fascinating elements of traditional Greek Island life here. From the hardcore Greek sponge divers that created a short-lived industry and a way of life in this corner of Florida, to the Greek musicians who still live around there, to the many restaurants and bakeries. As I was driving out, I saw a community hall packed with people at a community event for Cretans (from the island of Crete). Wish I’d stopped to check that out too. Tarpon Springs also is close by to some amazing beaches on Honeymoon Island. And it’s got solid Cuban culture. I stopped in at Serafin de Cuba Cigar Company in Tarpon Springs and got to hang out for a while with Arnold and Ramon Serafin, a father-son team of master cigar rollers from Cuba. Their legacy dates back generations to a great-grandfather who came over from the Canary Islands to build a tobacco plantation in Cuba. Now based in Tarpon Springs, the Serafins turn out hand-rolled Cuban cigars with Central American tobacco and a lot of well-deserved pride.
Greek Sponge Diver
Arnold & Ramon Serafin, Tarpon Springs
Abelardo Barroso – Cha Cha Cha
Reissued in November 2014, this red-hot disc of fourteen of the legendary Cuban singer Abelardo Barroso’s cha-cha-chas still has the power to light up the airwaves. Recorded in the mid 1950s, these cha-cha-chas relit Barroso’s career and it’s easy to see why. His sea-salty vocals have a deep charisma tat transcends their era, and the breezy Caribbean music that accompanies him sounds like the picture perfect orchestra you’d imagine. Swirling flute lines and sharp-edged violins dance through a haze of tobacco smoke, but always Barroso’s voice is there, guiding you home. It’s no wonder he became a legend in West Africa long after he was no longer able to sing. This is the kind of music that lasts forever.
La Dame Blanche – Piratas
I love Cuban hip-hop, but I’m super behind on the scene. I still listen to Orishas, who I guess broke up forever ago. So I did a little poking and thanks to the always awesome NPR Alt.Latino I picked up on La Dame Blanche aka Yaite Ramos. Ramos is the daughter of Jesus Ramos of Buena Vista Social Club fame, so it’s safe to say she’s knows a lot about Cuban traditions. On her first full LP, Piratas, she jumps with ease between beautiful Cuban jazz singing and dancehall shaking Cuban hip-hop, no small feat indeed. Based out of Paris, she’s leading off a new-wave Cuban trad scene with offshoot group El Hijo de la Cumbia, and this album is produced by Babylotion, who has old ties to Orisha. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this reminds me of Orisha in some ways, but it sounds a lot fresher, practically shimmery with new Parisian ideas. La Dame Blanche is pushing Cuban hip-hop hard in new directions, but has the roots to back everything up. This LP is for real.
Florida Sunset, #nofilter