By Cree McCree
Photos by Michael Weintrob/Groovetography

Once a sleepy southern Florida jam-band scene, the Langerado Music Festival graduated to the big leagues in 2006. Eye-opening spectacle rockers Flaming Lips and ear-opening noise popsters Wilco were bookends for an adventurous lineup of artists ranging from founding fathers of funk The Meters to avant-garde high-stylists Brazilian Girls. The festival drew over 10,000 fans to Markham Park outside Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and gave Bonnaroo and Coachella a run for their money.

“Hippie radical drug culture freaks rule!” declared Flaming Lips agent provocateur Wayne Coyne at a no-holds-barred press conference that set the tone for the whole event. “Let’s make George W. Bush bow down to us!” Rising to Coyne’s challenge, The Meters’ Art Neville threw his baseball cap in the ring: “I’m running for president!” And for two days in perfect balmy, sunny weather, President Art, King Wayne and their co-conspirators – onstage and in the crowd – created an alternative reality in Jeb Bush’s backyard fueled by good music, good drugs, and good friends.

Headlined by Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals and The Black Crowes, the festival showcased 41 bands on five stages, including perennial favorites like Umphrey’s McGee, G. Love & Special Sauce, Robert Randolph & the Family Band and Keller Williams. But it was the out-of-left-field acts like sonic sculptors Secret Machines that earned Langerado praise as an eclectic confab, dubbed “a leading light of the festival community” by Spearhead’s Michael Franti.

Twang rockers Drive-By Truckers kicked Saturday into high gear with a spirited set that urged us to “Shut your mouth and get your ass off the ground” and climaxed with the anthemic centerpiece of their Southern Rock Opera, “Let There Be Rock.” Hundreds of voices joined Patterson Hood as he sang the opening lines: “Dropped acid, Blue Oyster Cult concert, fourteen years old / And I thought them lasers were a spider chasing me.”

Over in the Swamp Tent, Brazilian Girls’ Sabina Sciubba was also tripped out: She was channeling David Bowie in an alien soft-sculpture boa and blue-veined body suit that showed plenty of shapely leg. “Pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy, marijuana,” teased Sciubba, leading the crowd in a sultry sing-along with one part for the girls (“I’ve got one! I’ve got one!”) and one for the boys (“I want one! I want one!”). Someone passed a joint up to her as Kraftwerk-meets-Doors keyboards created a louche cabaret of stoned trance dancers on a sunny afternoon.

The surrealism peaked with the outrageous visual theater of the Flaming Lips. King Wayne Coyne made a spectacular entrance inside a gigantic plastic bubble born aloft on a sea of hands. He then re-emerged onstage with a back-up chorus of giant fuzzy animals and proceeded to shoot the crowd with round after round of colored confetti. Swinging an arc light above his head, he turned us into a “giant karaoke machine” for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” pulled out the boxing nun to segue into “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” and moo-ed and quacked his way through “Cow Jam” on a kiddy electric keyboard.

Meanwhile, over on the Sunrise Stage, President Art Neville worked his own kind of magic on the keyboards as The Meters funked it up, old school, and led a heartfelt call-and-response with “Take Me Back to New Orleans.”

The Sunday buzz band to catch was Brooklyn’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, who did not disappoint; hard-edged raveups recalled the Velvet Underground and Violent Femmes, and singer Alec Ounsworth took the crowd over the top with a hair-and-hell-raising version of Neil Young’s “Helpless.” But for fans of avant noise pop, Sunday belonged to Wilco.

A super-relaxed Jeff Tweedy got the crowd in the mood with “Kingpin,” Wilco’s signature scream-along. Then the band laid down a pitch-perfect set of songs that made old favorites soar like they’d just been freshly minted. Guitarist Nels Cline, now a full-fledged Wilco member, continues to push Tweedy and company past their already out-there limits; “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” sounded just like the “aquarium drinker” it invokes, drowning in a swirling sonic eddy. “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” levitated right off the stage in an orgasmic crescendo. And “Late Greats” was the ideal capper for the whole Langerado experience: “So good you won’t ever know / you’ll never hear it on the radio.”