With Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival longer than ever, more bands than ever have been added to the companion concert series, Eat to the Beat.
Thirty-two bands, to be exact, will be playing during Food and Wine, which runs from Aug. 31 to Nov. 13, 2017. It’s interesting to note that while Eat to the Beat continues to up its game, the Sounds Like Summer series, which featured tribute bands in Epcot, quietly went away this year.
While the vast majority of the Eat to the Beat musical acts will be familiar to festival regulars (hello Hanson, Air Supply, and Billy Ocean), 11 will be playing the festival for the first time. We’re going to take a look at the new acts and offer up a preview of the sounds that will be filling the Epcot America Gardens Theatre.
But first, a trivia question: Which one of these acts also played 1985’s Live Aid benefit concert? You’ll have to read on for the answer.
The Hooters, Sept. 2-3
This Philadelphia band hit it big in the ’80s with their upbeat melange of rock, folk, and reggae. Their breakthrough album “Nervous Night” yielded the MTV hits “And We Danced” and “All You Zombies”.
The band was formed by Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian, taking their name from a nickname for the melodica, a combination keyboard and harmonica. Before The Hooters signed to a major label, Hyman and Bazilian were enlisted to write, arrange, and perform on the debut album of a then-unknown Cyndi Lauper.
Hyman, Bazilian, and several other bandmates from The Hooters’ ’80s heyday reunited in 2001. Here’s a 2016 performance of “All You Zombies” that’s a good demonstration of the musical chops this band has built up in decades of playing together.
Baha Men, Sept. 4-5
What more do you need to know, than “Who Let The Dogs Out?” It was such a ubiquitous hit that even Mitt Romney covered the song during his presidential campaign.
This promises to be a high-energy show as the band bring their version of Bahamian music called junkanoo. You also might hear some Disney musical touches. The Baha Men covered “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King on the first DisneyMania record. They also performed “It’s a Small World” on another DisneyMania release. Those of us with teenage kids probably recognize the Baha Men from the theme song to the old Playhouse Disney show Stanley.
Just watch this Baha Men performance of “Back to the Island” and try not to dance.
Lauren Alaina, Sept. 11-12
A lot of the acts that play at Eat to the Beat fall in to two categories: older acts with memorable hits and newer acts who came to prominence through TV appearances. American Idol fans will recognize Lauren Alaina as the runner-up from the show’s 10th season.
Alaina rode her TV appearance to a successful 2011 debut album, “Wildflower,” which peaked on the country charts at No. 2. It took a while for her to release her second album, but in January, “Road Less Traveled,” came out, hitting No. 3 on the country charts.
Alaina has an engaging, audience-friendly performance style, as you can see in this video of “My Next Boyfriend.”
Mark Wills, Sept. 30-Oct. 1
Mark Wills enjoyed a string of hit singles during the late ’90s and early 2000s. His album “Wish You Were Here” went platinum with its title track hitting No. 1. He later scored another No. 1 country single with “19 Somethin’,” an upbeat departure from his typical country balladry.
While his recording output has been leaner in this decade, he continues to perform around the country, an excellent guitar player, still in fine voice.
Judging from this video of a solo performance of “Places I’ve Never Been,” he takes requests. So have yours prepared.
American Authors, Oct. 2-3
American Authors is one of the most popular new bands playing the festival. I’m guessing they’ll have plenty of people in Epcot singing along to their anthemic hits.
Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., you can think of them as a more poppy version of Mumford and Sons with banjo accenting their radio-friendly songs. Even if you never listen to the radio, you’ve likely heard “Best Day of My Life” on TV shows and commercials. The song is characteristic of the boundless optimism and energy in their music.
You certainly get a sense of that energy in this live performance of “Hit It,” a song that made its way into EA Sports’ FIFA video game.
Devon Allman, Oct. 6-8
The son of legendary southern rocker Gregg Allman, Devon Allman is a force to be reckoned with in his own right. Before embarking on a solo career, Allman formed the band Honeytribe and was part of the blues-rock supergroup The Royal Southern Brotherhood.
The death of Gregg Allman this past May could very well lend a poignancy to Devon Allman’s performance. You can expect to see some masterful blues musicianship and you might get some surprises along the way.
Allman performs an interesting assortment of covers, everything from Bob Marley and Fleetwood Mac to The Spinners and The Cure. And of course, here, The Allman Brothers Band classic “One Way Out.”
Postmodern Jukebox, Oct. 16-17
This is the kind of band that really works in this festival setting. Founded by arranger and pianist Scott Bradlee in 2011, Postmodern Jukebox delivers covers of contemporary songs in a big band/jazz format.
So I can imagine your average guest walking by the America Gardens Theatre, hearing a jazzy arrangement and then having the sudden realization they’re hearing a Radiohead song. Even if you’re not familiar with the band, there’s an accessibility when you recognize the songs. And older guests, who may not recognize the songs, might still like the musical style.
Bradlee performs with a rotating cast of musicians and vocalists, so there’s no telling who will be with him, but this medley should give you a taste of what to expect.
10,000 Maniacs, Oct. 18-20
To answer the obvious question, no, former 10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant will not be performing with her old band at Epcot. That said, current vocalist Mary Ramsey goes back with the band to their MTV Unplugged performance in 1993, where she sang backup and played viola.
With their folksy sound and Merchant’s distinctive voice, 10,000 Maniacs were part of the emerging college rock scene of the ’80s. After Merchant left for her successful solo career, the Maniacs continued touring, with founding members bassist Steve Gustafson, keyboardist Dennis Drew, and longtime drummer Jerry Augustyniak still on board. Longtime guitarist John Lombardo also often joins the group for tours.
Here’s a recent video of 10,000 Maniacs performing their hit “These Are Days,” featuring Ramsey’s vocals.
Kenny G, Oct. 23-24
Scoff all you want, none of this year’s acts at Eat to the Beat can match Kenny G’s global reach with sales of 75 million records.
And I do mean global. Kenny G is so popular in China that his song “Going Home” has become the unofficial national closing song for businesses like food courts and shopping malls. So don’t be surprised to see that the cast members have suddenly left the China pavilion after Kenny’s performance.
The fact that he still packs in the crowds at his shows worldwide makes it remarkable that Disney was able to snag the smooth jazz legend to play at Epcot. I would expect these shows to get some of the largest crowds of the festival. If you’re planning on going, you’ll want to stake out your seats early to enjoy some of the smoothest saxophone on the planet, as you can see in this performance of “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic.
Blue October, Nov. 2-3
Along with Kenny G, here’s another unexpected booking for Eat to the Beat. The Houston band delivers impassioned alternative rock that has garnered them loyal fans. But you might consider some of the anguished songs a bit out of place for a theme park.
That said, the band delivers a compelling live show, led by singer Justin Furstenfeld, who prowls the stage with an intensity to match the power of songs like “Hate Me.” Multi-instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye, on violin and mandolin, expands the musical range of the band.
Here’s a performance of “Into the Ocean” where you can see the impact Blue October has on its audience.
Squeeze, Nov. 12-13
From a personal standpoint, if I was going to see one band at this year’s festival, it would be Squeeze.
Led by songwriters and vocalists Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, along with keyboardist extraordinaire Jools Holland, the U.K. band produced some of the smartest, catchiest pop music of the late ’70s and ’80s. Through various incarnations, Difford and Tilbrook have been the constants in the band. Their most recent album, “Cradle to the Grave,” came out in 2015.
Here’s a recent performance of the wonderful “Black Coffee in Bed,” showcasing the songwriting and vocal and musical interplay of Tilbrook on lead vocals and guitar and Difford on backing vocals and rhythm guitar.
Finally, the answer to our trivia question: On July 13, 1985, The Hooters helped open the U.S. portion of the two-continent Live Aid concert, following Joan Baez on stage. They were a pick by promoter Bill Graham, who wanted the hometown favorites to play the Philadelphia stage. The Hooters join previous Eat to the Beat acts who also played Live Aid: The Beach Boys and Howard Jones.
New or old, which Eat to the Beat acts are you most looking forward to seeing?