The next chapter in the adventures of the Florida Bjorkestra will be revealed Saturday at the Palladium Theater (can we call the book the Encyclopedia Bjorktannica? Who’s with me?)
The little big band that could has been delighting bay area eclecto-pop fans with faithful (and jubilant) live re-imaginings of the works of everyone from Bowie to Bush (and yes, even Bjork) since 2016.
Bandleader and musical mastermind Jeremy Douglass, as always, is the fuel in the aggregate engine – he writes out the parts for everyone (including the horns, and strings, and the complex harmony vocals). He recruits the musicians, runs the rehearsals and acts as ringmaster, ringleader, cat herder (for as many as 20 players and singers at once) and cheerleader. He even hangs posters around town.
At every performance, Douglass’ keyboards anchor the rhythm section.
Saturday’s concert, spotlighting the music of Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake, is going to be, well, a little different.
“I guess more people know who the Florida Bjorkestra is than know who Jeremy Douglass is,” the bandleader laughs. “And I’m fine with that. If it was ‘Jeremy Douglas and His Friends,’ I’m not sure it would even blip on anyone’s radar.”
For 2019, Douglass explains, “I did something new. I thought of all the shows I wanted to do this year, and I made a sort of season announcement. Like I’m trying to be a theater company!
“I knew I wanted to do at least two big shows this year, but I also wanted to experiment with different combinations of these players and do smaller, intimate shows with them downstairs in the Side Door. Just an experiment, to see how it’s received.”
For Joni Hearts Nick – that’s the official name of Saturday’s tribute – just a dozen players will be onstage at the Side Door, the Palladium’s intimate downstairs venue. Rather than the 830-seat big room.
“We started off doing shows in the Side Door, trying to pack too many musicians in there,” Douglass explains. “And 12 was where we topped out! We’re coming back with 12 to the Side Door again. This just didn’t feel like an upstairs, multi-seat show. It felt more like a niche audience thing.”
Jazz vocalist Whitney James, a regular Bjorkestra contributor, will sing 17 songs from the considerable catalog of Joni Mitchell, one of the 20th century’s greatest singer/songwriters (Joni fans, take note: The set includes more than just Ms. Mitchell’s famous folkie tunes; a little bird tells me the band has worked up adventurous titles including “Free Man in Paris,” “Edith and the Kingpin” and even “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines”).
“Whitney’s moving out of St. Pete, so this might be one of the last shows I can have with her, where she’s still in town,” says Douglass. “And I know that she’s been wanting to do a Joni Mitchell show for a while.
“So Joni came first, and usually what we try to do is pair that artist with another, a similar artist. And Joni Mitchell’s really hard – it’s hard to find a wine for that dish. Nick Drake seemed like not really an obvious choice, but I liked it – and I knew that Ed Woltil was an enormous fan, and he would excel at it.”
Woltil, another charter member of the ensemble, will do the vocal honors for Drake – the late British singer/songwriter whose dark, melancholy themes have made him a massive worldwide cult figure (recommended: the 1972 album Pink Moon).
Here’s the lineup for Saturday’s show (in democratically alphabetical order): Colleen Cherry, Joe Coyle, Jeremy Douglass, Dave Hamar, Whitney James, Tom Kersey, Daniel Navarro, Larue Nickelson, Jamie Perlow, Ed Woltil and Rebecca Zapen.
Says Douglass: “It is really the Bjorkestra. They’re all Bjorkestra regular players. There’s just less of them for this show. Just down to the essentials of what we needed to pull this particular tribute off.”
There’ll be other massive, 20-player celebrations, you can count on it. For right now, however, Jeremy Douglass is herding just 12 cats – and he’s happy with it.
“This is where I feel most natural,” he says. “Those big shows are technically an enormous and fun challenge, but I like the small shows, where the audience is right on top of you. I really enjoy that.”
Tickets & info here.