When more than 200 acts from Florida and beyond turn downtown Orlando into a giant rock ‘n’ roll pub crawl at this weekend’s Florida Music Festival, the lineup will range from newcomers to veterans such as punk-ska outfit Less Than Jake.
Making their fourth FMF appearance, Less Than Jake is the Friday night headliner on Wall Street Plaza.
A lot of things have changed since the band formed more than 20 years ago in Gainesville.
In the beginning, there was no Facebook. No Twitter. No such thing as reverbnation.com or like-minded websites to offer independent bands the opportunity to reach a potentially global audience.
“We were just going door-to-door selling ourselves and playing for the fun of it,” says lead singer and founding member Chris DeMakes by phone from a tour stop in Rochester, N.Y. “We kept going and we never stopped. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would last this long.
“At our height of popularity in 1996, most people weren’t really online,” DeMakes says. “For a good five years, it was all snail-mail and we were writing every fan back. Our first release was on cassette, then eventually it was CDs and iTunes. We started out when grunge was super-huge, then there was rap-rock, nu-metal, screamo and who knows what’s popular now. We’ve stayed true to who we are.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the potential to reach new fans and important industry contacts at events such as the Florida Music Festival, running through Saturday at more than a dozen clubs and outdoor venues downtown.
This year’s Wall Street slot is a big improvement over Less Than Jake’s first performance at the event in 2004.
“We were on a side street, on a really small stage and the PA was really crappy and it was cutting out,” DeMakes says. “My dad was there and he told us, ‘You sounded terrible!’ Ah, well, you gotta take your lumps.”
Orlando band Beebs and Her Money Makers knows the importance of a music-festival experience. They spent last summer on the Vans Warped Tour, an opportunity that emerged from lead singer Michelle Beebs meeting Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman at the 2012 Florida Music Festival.
“For networking, for making new fans, for all those reasons, it’s a good opportunity for bands,” DeMakes says. “You get in front of people who haven’t seen you.”
In Orlando, Less Than Jake will showcase songs from the band’s latest album, “See The Light” (2013). Sonically, the material is faithful to the exuberant approach that powered such signature albums as “Losers, Kings, and Things We Don’t Understand” (1995) and “Losing Streak” (1996).
That reflects the stability of a band built around DeMakes, drummer Vinnie Fiorello and singer-bassist Roger Manganelli, a core unit that has played together since 1993.
“There’s a lot of communication,” DeMakes says. “We’ve been around long enough to know what works and what doesn’t work.”
Less Than Jake’s songwriting is extremely collaborative, he says.
“We all take turns writing,” DeMakes says. “I work with Roger to come up with the shells of the songs and Vinnie writes the lyrics, but we all dabble in each other’s things.”
That togetherness accounts for Less Than Jake’s longevity, he says.
“We keep the same lineup because we’ve been democratic. There’s not one guy riding around in a limo. We’re all sweating our [butts] off in coach to Rochester.”
DeMakes wouldn’t trade the band’s long history for a chance to start again in today’s digital era.
“Knowing where we came from, I like the way we did it — organically,” DeMakes says. “Besides, 20 years from now it will be totally different. We’ll be saying, ‘Remember when there was only Facebook and Twitter?’
“Being a band now, you do have all the technology, but so do the other billion bands out there. You still have to reach people with your music. You still have to touch somebody’s heart. If your music sucks, you’re just going to fall by the wayside.”
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Florida Music Festival
What: 13th annual event with nightly music showcases by more than 200 national and regional acts as well as industry panels
When: April 24-26
Where: More than a dozen clubs and outdoor stages between Robinson and Church streets, Magnolia and Garland avenues in downtown Orlando
Cost: $10 per day