It's been called swamp rock, folk punk, streetgrass, steampunk rock and a dozen other names as writers and sundry other music enthusiasts have sought to describe the sound emanating from Lake Worth. In an article a couple of weeks ago, I called it “the Lake Weird sound,” a nod to both the geographic location and the New Weird America brand of freak folk coming from California, though the Lake Worth bands have only the barest of similarities to people such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom.
Whatever you want to call it, the sheer desperation I and others like me have had in trying to describe this sound points to one wonderful fact: In an era in which originality in rock music was thought all but dead, a group of bands in Lake Worth are doing something new.
It began about four years ago, when former punk rockers Tony Bones, Antoine Dukes and Captain Bobo began announcing shows on Facebook that would take place Fridays at a local Laundromat. These were the humble beginnings of Viva Le Vox, the band from which all the other Lake Worth acts would follow, in one way or another. Viva Le Vox started drawing dozens of people to the Laundromat, or even getting them to stop out on the street, where they would play sidewalk shows in one of the few cities in South Florida that tolerates street musicians. When the streets and the local coin-laundry operator became too small, the band graduated to clubs.
Viva Le Vox. Photo by Lindsey Sayre.
“People just weren't sure where to book us, so they stuck us anywhere,” recalls Captain Bobo, who now fronts the band Everymen. He is sitting in the outdoor section of Howley's Restaurant, a Lake Worth institution and a meeting point for many of the bands that move in this circle. Along with Bobo — the band's singer, songwriter,fire-breather and banjo player — bassist the Rev. Timmy and new percussionist the Chuck drink coffee and Shirley Temples. The men are heavily tattooed, especially the good captain, who also sports the sort of mustache that belongs on a 19th century circus ringmaster, a long handlebar that ends in fine points. “I mean, we played some really weird shows,” Captain Bobo says. “I think people just didn't know what to make of us.”
Everymen. Photo by Lindsey Sayre.
Antoine Dukes, the drummer for Viva Le Vox, confirms the captain's recollections when we speak by phone a few hours later. Dukes is out West with the band, which is on tour with the Sawyer Family and Joe Buck, who prior to this solo outing played with Hank Williams III. “Truckstop Coffee was around before us and helped us out when we first started. So did Black Finger, and Raffa and Rainer,” Dukes recalls. “One of the first big shows we played, sort of a landmark show for us, we played at Raffa's open mike at Churchill's, back when [Captain Bobo] was still in the band, and [long-time local promoter] Debbie [Kronick] saw us there, and put us on the touring bills of all these national bands that came down.”
By that time, Viva Le Vox had brought in rail-thin upright bass player Scarecrow Jenkins. Like Captain Bobo, Jenkins has left the band to form his own Lake Worth-based acoustic act, the Loxahatchee Sinners Union. But unlike the captain, Jenkins' departure was not without some controversy. Dukes says Jenkins quit. But Jenkins, sitting in the blistering sun one day outside a Starbucks in Boca Raton, recalls it a bit differently.
Loxahatchee Sinners Union. Photo by Alexis Dyde.
“Being in a band for three months on the road, it does things to people. And I guess everybody's not prepared for what it'll do to you. It'll make you delirious. My last tour with Viva Le Vox, we played something like 43 shows in 47 days, and that was just the last leg of the tour. It'll give you the same weird thing in your head that pirates got when they saw mermaids,” Jenkins says. “And everyone's broke, everyone's hungry, everyone's tired. And at the end of all that, we went our separate ways. I wasn't happy when it happened. I wasn't ready. Because even before I was in Viva Le Vox, I loved Tony's music. But looking back now, in hindsight, I'm glad everything happened the way it did.”
Jenkins' current band and his former one represent the two extremes of the Lake Worth sound. Viva Le Vox is loud, nightmarish, a carnival of the damned. John Wylie, who manages Viva Le Vox and Everymen, as well as his own Lake Worth countrified act, Heavy Boots, says the band sounds “like the soundtrack from a Rob Zombie horror movie, like The Devil's Rejects or something.” Loxahatchee Sinners Union, on the other hand, sounds like a field recording from the early 20th century.
Heavy Boots. Photo by Viva Sigal Sahar.
“We're still experimenting, finding out what works for us, what we like and what we don't,” Jenkins says. “We're still kind of in that beginning stage.”
Of course, the same could be said for almost every band in this scene, which is one of the most-striking things about it. More than half a dozen acts have sprung up in Lake Worth in the past two years, all of them bearing a similar sensibility and a communal outlook that has allowed the scene to grow organically as people rely on one another.
Everymen went into the studio to record its first album at about the same time as fellow Lake Worth acoustic act the Darling Sweets, and Adam Sheetz, guitarist for the Sweets, did the artwork for Everymen's album while also playing slide guitar on it. Lindsey Sayre, the Darling Sweets' vocalist and banjolele player, donated backing vocals.
The Darling Sweets. Photo by Chris Martin.
“Adam and I formed the Darling Sweets together in September last year,” Sayre says. “We started off as a duo and slowly grew. We've been together as a [five-member] band now for four months. … I grew up singing. I'm a classically and operatically trained singer. And Adam and I were friends for about a year before I asked him to start a side project.”
At the time, Sheetz played guitar in another Lake Worth freak-folk act, Black Weather Shaman, but the Darling Sweets has since become his main gig. The new albums by Everymen and the Darling Sweets will be out by the end of August, at which time the two acts will hit the road together.
Everymen's album will come out on the new label Wayward Parade, a joint venture between Captain Bobo, Tony Bones and John Wylie. For Wylie, this is not his first such endeavor; the man started Eulogy Recordings 11 years ago, a label that issued the debuts of New Found Glory, Unearth, Evergreen Terrace and dozens of other hardcore and punk-rock acts from across the country. He also co-owns two tattoo shops, Aces High in West Palm Beach and Black Rose in Deerfield Beach.
“I would never, ever put this on the same level, but it's sort of like Seattle in the early '90s,” Wylie says, sitting in the back office of the Black Rose. “Where you had all these bands who all knew each other and all played together and all kind of came from the same direction.”
Despite being quick to play down any comparisons to the music meccas of previous decades, Wylie sees only growth for the burgeoning Lake Worth scene, “as long as the clubs stay open and keep growing. At this point, we get a couple hundred people out to Propaganda to see Viva Le Vox or Everymen. There's just so much that could happen here.”
But why? How? How is it that a bunch of punk rockers all decided to abandon their distorted, buzz-saw guitars and take up the upright bass and the mandolin, all at the same time in the same place and, somehow, find a sound that has caught on so readily in Lake Worth when vaguely similar attempts at such a scene have failed elsewhere?
“Even the big names like Joe Buck are playing for 50 people in a night,” Dukes reports, “so South Florida has something really special going on. We really appreciate Lake Worth.”
No one seems to have an answer to the Lake Worth question.
“It's just great music, it's fun and easy to dance to, fun to play,” Sayre says.
And it is all those things. But why Lake Worth? Why now?
“I really couldn't tell you, man. The only thing I can tell you is that people like it,” Dukes reports. “The kind of music we play isn't really — I mean, it's modern, but it's old-fashioned. We do a lot of things that people have kind of forgotten about, and maybe that makes it new again for some people.”
But still … Lake Worth? Why did it all come from here, and why so suddenly?
“That was kind of the one question I was hoping you weren't gonna ask,” says Scarecrow Jenkins, flicking the ash from a cigarette and sucking back an iced coffee. “Because I really don't have much of an answer. … I can't really say what was going on in Lake Worth before Viva Le Vox moved there as a group, almost two years ago now, because it was cheap. … Everymen came from Delray, like us. And then, some more people moved there. But as far as the music, I really can't say how it all happened. There wasn't really anybody doing what [Viva Le Vox] did before that, cause we played on some weird bills, man. Like, everybody wanted to see us, but nobody knew where to put us.”
So Scarecrow can't say. And when I put the question to Captain Bobo, sitting and smoking a menthol and trying to hustle another from the waitress at Howley's and cracking jokes at the Rev. Timmy's and the Chuck's expense, he just laughs like two years ago was a thousand and says, “Aw, fuck. I really don't know. I mean, I really can't say. I know we moved here because it was cheap.”
Well, there it is again, and I suppose it's as good a reason as any. The best, most-organic, beautifully original music scene I have ever seen in South Florida took root in Lake Worth, mainly because it was dirt cheap to live there. Wylie also gives credit to the clubs that would regularly put on these bands and the incredibly hard work many of these bands have put in, not just for themselves, but for the other bands involved. And because of that, because they stand together or fall as one, Wylie tells me, “You've come to this at the right time. Because this could be huge.”
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
Viva Le Vox: Granddaddy of the scene, though only 4 years old. This circus freak show moved to Lake Worth a couple of years ago and has since seen a crop of similarly weird bands sprout up around it. Although many of the other acts can't really be called similar in sound, they all share a love of acoustic instrumentation, an appreciation for tattoos and passé facial hair, and a sensibility that is equal parts punk rock and sideshow freak.
Everymen: Made up of former Viva Le Vox member Captain Bobo, bassist the Rev. Timmy, washboard player the Chuck, guitarist Jesse the Mechanic and drummer the Shotgun Jew, whom Captain Bobo refers to as "my little peanut." Shows include fire-breathing and the painful use of a staple gun.
Heavy Boots: The most straight-ahead country of any of the bands listed here, Heavy Boots' high, lonesome sound comes as a bit of a surprise given the presence of guitarist John Wylie, whose Eulogy Recordings label issued debut albums by a blizzard of hardcore and punk bands. Wylie's new label, Wayward Parade, will feature some of the Lake Worth acts featured here, including Heavy Boots, Everymen and Viva Le Vox.
Loxahatchee Sinners Union: The brand-new band of former Viva Le Vox bassist Scarecrow Jenkins, who is most-often described in the press as crazy, charismatic and mustachioed. Other members include bassist Marvin Ray Hawkins, accordion player Esmeralda Nightly and banjo player Junebug Jenkins. The group puts out an old-timey sound that, for Scarecrow Jenkins, represents a pretty heavy departure from the chaotic, spree-killing-soundtrack of Viva Le Vox.
Black Weather Shaman: The first freak-folk band to arise in Lake Worth independently of Viva Le Vox, Black Weather Shaman includes the trio of Armand Ignelzi, Morgan Long and Cecil Lunsford. The stand-out tune “Cuttin' Out the Middleman” is a love song dedicated to someone who stole the singer's kidney and left him in a tub of ice. Long plays keys, Ignelzi plays damned near everything, and Lunsford sings, strums a banjo and gets deeply weird.
The Darling Sweets: Former Black Weather Shaman guitarist and mandolin player Adam Sheetz started this band with singer and banjolele player Lindsey Sayre, upright bassist Steve Satch, ukulele player Irina KGB and tenor guitarist and fiddler Kristen Kelly. With so many different string options, it's not surprising that the group's music comes across as the old-time string bands of the Appalachians.
The Howling Winds: A quartet that evolved from singer-songwriter Jorge Rocha's duo Fight Back!, the Howling Winds also includes upright bassist Rich Vasta, guitarist Tyler Betances and drummer Derek Rosenbauer. Probably the most-accessible act to the mainstream rock fan, the quartet traffics in an electric-acoustic hybrid that is alternately sweet folk rock and straight-ahead rock music.
The Sweet Chariots: Although many of these bands are often tagged as rockabilly or its evil cousin psychobilly, only the Sweet Chariots could accurately be described as such. Jerky, Jerry Lee Lewis-style vocals over rapid-fire bass in two-minute-long songs cover topics such as shimmying till the break of dawn at places where the rock 'n' roll plays a night long.
Los Bastardos Magnificos: Holding down the Lake Weird sound in Miami, Los Bastardos Magnificos has allowed for some cross-pollination for both areas, as the group's strong following in Miami-Dade has offered an introduction to the Lake Worth bands, while Los Bastardos Magnificos have enjoyed more gigs in Palm Beach County locales such as Respectable Street than most Miami bands could dream. The group touches more on outlaw country than the other acts, songs such as “The Whiskey Done Its Job” and “Life Ain't Been Roses” telling you all you need to know about the band's antecedents in Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and the other shit-kickers of country's yesteryear.
Brain Chips: The scene's Broward County connection, Brain Chips bills itself as a “Blues circus revival,” which definitely puts it within the parameters of the Lake Worth acts. A sort of Tom Waits on crack, Brain Chips amps up Waits' signature swing and blends it with a psychobilly sensibility.
Los Bastardos Magnificos will open for Columbia, Ga., country-folk singer Joey Allcorn 10 p.m. Saturday at the Poor House, 110 S.W. Third Ave, in Fort Lauderdale.
Everymen will perform 8 p.m. Saturday at the Green Room, 100 S.W. Third Ave., in Fort Lauderdale.
Brain Chips will perform with Rhetoric Groove and Stop the Presses July 8 at the Monterey Club, 2608A S. Federal Highway, in Fort Lauderdale.
Heavy Boots celebrates the release of its album, the first on the Wayward Parade label, July 8 at Propaganda, 6 S. J St., in Lake Worth.
Viva Le Vox will return to South Florida with a July 12 show at Propaganda. Lansing, Mich., act the Goddamn Gallows and Pittsburgh's Jayke Orvis and the Broken Band also will perform. The bands then will play July 13 at the Poor House.
Contact Dan Sweeney at email@example.com.