Jennifer Fowler, executive director of The District, sounded pleased to report that construction is on schedule. Hornucopia 2003 - which will be held Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 5 p.m. - will afford the opportunity to sample (to a large degree) the District's new festival grounds. Construction on the east block of the plaza will be done except for landscaping, and there will be access to the east portion of the west block.
Because the new Great River Plaza has no permanent tents, festival organizers have more flexibility in how they lay things out this year. "We have a whole new plate to work with," Fowler said.
And although you won't find additions, the festival is still serving up a great smorgasbord of music along with plenty of hot food. Hornucopia's music M.O. - anything with horns - results in a wide variety of music. Unlike, say, Gumbo Ya Ya (Cajun and zydeco) and Ya Maka My Weekend (reggae), diversity is the key.
Steve Pedigo, a local music expert and a board member of the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, used a food metaphor to describe the musical offerings. "I like it a lot," he said of Cajun and Jamaican food, "but I wouldn't want to eat it every day. Here, you've got everything over two days."
This year features 12 wide-ranging acts, including two local bands. Whether your tastes run to big band, jazz, funk, ska, or straight-ahead rock, there's something for you.
The great unknown of the festival field is Ron Haynes & The Haynes Thing Machine, an outfit led by the trumpeter for the Grammy-winning acid-jazz purveyors Liquid Soul. Haynes and his band will be playing a set each night, but beyond that, very little is known.
What we do know is that Haynes is among many world-class players in Liquid Soul, and there's no doubt that he and his band will burn things up. This is the act that most intrigues Pedigo. He said that Liquid Soul might feature too many luminaries. "When you have too much talent on stage," he said, "it just blows up." Haynes released a solo album, Cool Work, in 1997, and Pedigo said that as a solo artist, Haynes leans more toward straight-up jazz.
Funk, R&B, and soul are the staples of Hornucopia, and you'll find those in abundance with bands such as The Dynamics, Phat Phunktion, and Three Beers 'Til Dubuque. Pedigo says he's looking forward to seeing the Madison, Wisconsin-based Phat Phunktion again, because it brings its full roster on tour - a rarity with bands that have so many players.
The blues are also well-represented, with the Blues Brothers tribute act Shades of Blues and local favorites Shane Johnson's Blue Train. Johnson and his band, of course, don't normally feature horns, but they add that special ingredient for this festival.
Fans of rock music should delight with returning acts Fenster and Johnny Socko. Johnny Socko is a food processor of rock and roll, blending pretty much every trend of the past decade into something that has a lot of ingredients but looks and sounds pretty pure. This is by no means a group for the ages, but it is a great party band. Fenster was part of last year's lineup and was one of my favorites, focusing on horn-accented alternative rock but versatile beyond belief, equally at home with pop perfection and noise rock.
And for something a little closer to the mainstream, you can't beat the Voodoo Kings, who play a style of roots rock music informed by funk that never wanders too far from home but isn't afraid of anything, including some distorted guitar work ripped from alt-rock bands. Unlike alternative bands that polish away the rough edges and become pure pop, the Voodoo Kings excel because they add the edge.
And then there are The Toasters, an honest-to-goodness ska band that's more than 20 years old. While not very well known, the band is considered a pioneer, laying the undergroundwork for mid- to late-'90s ska-revival bands such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Sublime. As Fowler said, people who attend the festival will "love the band once they hear them." The All Music Guide proclaims The Toasters to be "one of the most important American ska bands."
For all the longevity of The Toasters, there's one act in this lineup that's sure to beat it. Even though its leader and drummer is still in his early 20s, the local Josh Duffee Orchestra is a Big Band from another era, playing music from the first half of the 20th Century.
Although Hornucopia is just in its fifth year, The District has been hosting festivals for more than a decade, and Fowler said that a constant challenge has been the typical life cycle of festivals: They grow initially and then stabilize after five years, before losing attendance after eight years or so.
But that hasn't been true for The District. Since 1997, Fowler said, paid attendance has grown 50 percent at festivals in downtown Rock Island. Attendance for the past few years has been roughly 150,000 people. (Hornucopia will generally draw between 7,000 and 10,000 visitors, depending on the weather.)
Fowler doesn't expect an economy that continues to sputter or the shadow of war with Iraq to sap attendance. While those things tend to suck the life out of consumer activity, they actually might help festivals such as those put on by The District. "Festivals provide people a reason to celebrate," Fowler said.
Hornucopia also features plenty of hot food, and a great deal on admission early each night: From 5 to 8 p.m., attendees get two-for-one admission. (Admission is $7.) The festival runs from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. both Friday and Saturday.
For more information on the festival, visit(http://www.ridistrict.com).
Hornucopia 2003 Band Biographies
Saturday, May 17, 5-6:30 p.m., West Stage
Style: R&B, funk, and blues classics
Hometown: Bloomington, Indiana
CDs: You Ain't Got to Go Home, 2001; Doin' It ... LIVE, 1999; Make That Change, 1996
Band members: James "Mr. Dynamic" Hartfield, lead vocals; Dennis Rhoades, saxophones; Aaron Vandermeer, trumpet; James "JB" Black, trombone; Brian Gill, keyboards; Tim Pruett, drums; Danny Alvarez, bass; TJ Jones, guitar
Web site: www.dynamicsonline.net
Saturday, May 17, 5-6:30 p.m., East Stage
Style: horn-driven rock; "to truly appreciate Fenster, you must experience them live"
CDs: Causing Problems, 2000; Fenster, 1999
Band members: Ed D'Angelo, bass guitar; Roman Kravec, guitar; Paul Robinson, vocals; Tony Moore, trumpet; Brian Yarbrourgh, trumpet, backing vocals; Ryan Heitkamp, promotions, marketing
Web site: www.fensterband.com
Saturday, May 17, 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m., East Stage
Style: features rock, horns, melodies, and rhymes; reputation for intense, hard-grooving performances
Hometown: Bloomington, Indiana
Year Founded: 1990
CDs: Johnny Socko, 2002; Double Live, 2001; Quatro, 1999; Full Trucker Effect, 1997; I DO Hope It's Roast Beef, 1995; Bovaquarium, 1993
Band members: Josh Silbert, sax and vocals; Dylan Wissing, drums; Demian Hostetter, trumpet and vocals; Chris Smail, guitar and vocals; Matt Wilson, bass and vocals
Web site: www.johnnysocko.com
JOSH DUFFEE & HIS ORCHESTRA
Friday, May 16, 5-6:30 p.m., West Stage
Style: '20s, '30s, and '40s Bix-era jazz band
Hometown: Clinton, Iowa
Year Founded: 1998
CD: Josh Duffee & His Orchestra (demo)
Band members: Josh Duffee, drums, leader; Matt Craighead, saxophone; Julie Craighead, saxophone; Neal Smith, saxophone; Kelly McNichols, saxophone; Kent Rockow, trumpet; Greg Fitzpatrick, trumpet; Alan Knapper, trumpet; Bruce Bogen, trombones; Chuck Comella, trombones; Scott Morschhauser, xylophone; Scott Silver, guitar, banjo; Dave Abdo, bass; Crystal Snow, flute; Greg Schwaegler, violin
Saturday, May 17, 10 p.m.-12:30 a.m., West Stage
Style: smoothness of '60s soul and raw energy of '70s funk
Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
Year Founded: 1996
CDs: Higher, 2002; Here We Go, 1999; Phat Phunktion
Band members: Jon Schipper, trumpet; Al Falaschi, tenor sax and vocals; Courtney Larson, trombone and vocals; Daniel Wallach, baritone and alto sax; Tim Whalen, keyboards and vocals; Vincent Jesse, guitar and vocals; Sheldon Allen, drums; Jason Braatz, bass; Pauli Ryan, percussion
Web site: www.phatphunktion.com
Friday, May 16, 7-9:30 p.m., West Stage
Style: funk fusion, continually experiments with music, especially during live performances
Hometown: Whitewater, Wisconsin
Year Founded: 1997
CDs: Soul Graffiti, 2002; The Finer Things, 2000; Pipe Circus, 1998
Band members: Patrick O'Brien, guitars and lead vocals; Michael McGavin, percussion and vocals; Jason D. Petitt, basses and vocals; Eric Hutchison, drums; Michael McPherson, trumpet, horns, and vocals; Mike "Satellite" Stocklin, alto and tenor
Web site: www.pipecircus.com
RON HAYNES & THE HAYNES THING MACHINE
Friday, May 16, 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m., East Stage; Saturday, May 17, 9-10:30 p.m., East Stage
SHADES OF BLUE
Friday, May 16, 7-8:30 p.m., East Stage
Style: high-energy rhythm and blues show band, paying tribute to the original Blues Brothers
Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa
Year Founded: 1996
CD: Shades of Blue
Band members: Bob Balayti, harp and vocals; Mike Venier, percussion and vocals; Patti Balayti, vocals; Rita Van Wassenhove, keyboards and vocals; Chris Hammitt, trumpet and vocals; Steve Boll, trumpet; Randee Boll, saxophone; Kevin Oppendike, drums; Chris Kolling, guitar; George Bellovics, bass guitar; Kevin Oppendike, drums
SHANE JOHNSON'S BLUE TRAIN
Friday, May 16, 5-6:30 p.m., East Stage
Style: high-energy blues funk with a rockabilly twist
Hometown: Quad Cities
Year Founded: 1998
CD: Anonymous Johnson, 2002
Band members: Shane Johnson, guitar; Spencer Zimmerman, bass; Jim VanHyfte, percussion; J.C. Thompson, vocals
Web site: www.sjbluetrain.com
THREE BEERS 'TIL DUBUQUE
Friday, May 16, 9-10:30 p.m., East Stage; Saturday, May 17, 7-9:30 p.m., West Stage
Style: high-energy ska, funk, swing
Hometown: La Crosse, Wisconsin
Year Founded: 1997
CD: Blame It on the Fat Kid
Band members: Jesus Arellano, bass and tenor trombones, baritone saxophone; Matt Davis, sound technician and public relations; Jim Hebbe, guitar and vocals; Devin Freedlund, alto and tenor saxophones; Chris Hand, bass guitar; Tim Jackson, trumpet; Kevin Klemme, trumpet and vocals; A.J. Knight, drum set
Web site: www.threebeers.com
Friday, May 16, 10 p.m.-12:30 a.m., West Stage
Style: America's longest running ska band
Hometown: Manhattan, New York
Year Founded: 1981
CDs: Back in Trouble, summer 2003; Enemy of the System, 2002; Skamming, 2001; The Best of the Toasters, 2000; Dog Eat Dog, 2000; and more
Band members: Robert "Buck" Hingley, guitar and vocals; Jack Ruby Jr., vocals; Larry "Ace" Snell, drums; Buford O'Sullivan, trombone; Jeff Richey, alto and baritone sax; Brian (the) Sledge, trumpet and vocals; Mark Darini, bass; Dave Barry, keys and backing vocals
Web site: www.toasters.org
Saturday, May 17, 7-8:30 p.m., East Stage
Style: American roots rock painted with the colors of the blues and dipped in funk; boisterous funk and straight-ahead rock
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
CDs: American Lights, 2002
Band members: Michael Kranicke, lead vocals and guitar; Jeff Kissel, drums; Doug Iha, bass; Rick Deja, saxophone; Jim Stuky, trombone
Web site: www.voodookings.com