People who came to the Duppies concert on Friday night were treated to not one but two shows. The first was a performance by the ska/reggae outfit that occasions the only dance circle of the annual concert series and the second was a Facebook-organized event by a female hula-hooper/activist bent on protesting what she considered an outrage committed by the City of Gainesville.
This outrage was a City policy that prohibits organized group activities during a concert; in this case it was mass hula-hooping (it could have been a touch football game, car show, or group sheep-shearing, for that matter) and the distribution of goods for promotional purposes in the absence of a prior agreement with the City. That is what happened back in June, at De Lions of Jah concert, when the words “promotion” and “product demonstration” were uttered by a hula-hooper who had handed out her wares to the public and who refused to stop the activity upon City request. Dastardly City!
The Duppies show, unfortunately, got a bit overshadowed by the protest, which was seven weeks in the making. In a meeting with the city, the hula-hooper had asked that the grassy seating area in front of the stage be reserved for the purpose of hula-hooping, a request with which the City would not comply. Hence the protest/confrontation, which removed a large amount of premium seating for the general public. Based on statements made on the Facebook event page, the organizer anticipated being arrested and had arranged bail beforehand.
But enough about hoops and stand-offs and public protests; we are a crumbling society often unable to work together or to see any merit in one another or to accept any workable solutions when personal or political policies are at stake.
The band played on, as it should have, but without commenting on a protest to which it would be inevitably linked.
There were no arrests at the concert, and, aside from the land-grab made by the hula-hooping protesters who laid down their hoops across the seating area well in advance of the show, things ran pretty much as they normally do. A large dog escaped its leash and ran to and fro, evading not just its owner but bystanders who attempted to catch it; the soundman sat under a pop-up tent to escape the rainshowers; people resisted the allure of tuna salad and a beer at the new Lunchbox Cafe in order to eat a hotdog from Steve the hotdog vendor or the other way around; the band didn’t have quite enough material to fill the two-hour show; people worked themselves into sweaty puddles dancing or, in this heat, even standing still.
The Duppies is one of the few bands in town that brings out an underaged audience to Free Fridays. The youthful audience stands shoulder to shoulder at the front of the stage and I can see, at least from a photographic perspective, why: Frontman Brian Hiebel is mesmerizing to watch. He’s all skinny sinew and taut, coiled lines, full of jumped-up propulsion and constantly changing expression. Hiebel uses his body well; his use of physical levels is unparalleled and his expressions move at such speed that a camera cannot sometimes catch it.
The band functioned as a tight machine from the first tune, but then it zipped through ten numbers and finished the first set at 8:36. A prolonged break followed during which the evening came nearly to a standstill. The band took the stage again after nearly half an hour, played eight more songs, and finished out twenty minutes early. The brevity of the sets caused a few people to voice complaints to the City staff , but there was no complaint from the band’s fans, who had thronged around the stage early and stayed glued in their places without a whisper of objection. They worship at a familiar altar of a single set and the Duppies more than played that set through, making up for the lack of more material with their high energy and commitment to showmanship.
Nobody’s perfect. God Bless Skamerica; this is musical territory to be driven at full throttle. A set break is like an accident. Kudos to the Duppies for picking it back up in the second set without having broken any bones. And as for the hula-hoopers, I think there are still phantom rings floating in the air over the Plaza, to be hooped by the Great God of Protest now consigned to forever wiggling his hips to the music of the stars.