One of the great bonuses of visiting Epcot during the International Food & Wine Festival is the opportunity to see live music during the Eat to the Beat series. In the past, the concert series may have been dismissed for its reliance on one-song wonders or nostalgia acts well past their prime. But I think the people who book this festival have stepped up their game, and the 2016 lineup has some pretty amazing musicians, including many playing Epcot for the first time.
Here are my picks for the artists who would be well worth a special trip to see this fall. They’re not necessarily the most popular, but rather the most interesting for music fans.
Los Lobos, Sept. 29-30
Hands down, the finest group that will be playing the festival, and the one that probably best captures the international flavor of World Showcase. It surely will be magical to listen to these consummate musicians playing their mix of rock and blues interpreted through traditional Mexican music, as the pyramid of Epcot’s Mexico pavilion sits in the distance.
The great thing about Los Lobos is that in the four decades they’ve been together, with a lineup that has been mostly unchanged, they’ve become one of the most dynamic and interesting live bands touring today. In 2015, they were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If there’s any justice, they won’t have a long wait to be inducted.
After years of honing their craft at weddings and dances around their East Los Angeles home, they broke through with 1984’s “How Will The Wolf Survive?” Never a band to stand still, they followed their biggest hit, the title track to the soundtrack of “La Bamba,” with an album of traditional Mexican folk songs. In 1992, they released their experimental masterpiece, “Kiko.” Their music continues to evolve with their most recent record, “Gates of Gold,” one of my favorites of 2015. If you want a good flavor of what Los Lobos is about, here’s a performance of the “Gates of Gold” track “Poquito para aqui.”
Chaka Khan, Oct. 24-25
Another nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the “Queen of Funk” is a living legend who first came to prominence in the 1970s as the frontwoman for the band Rufus and was idolized by artists as diverse as Prince and Whitney Houston.
The 10-time Grammy Award winner went on from Rufus to continued success as a solo artist, including the disco-era hit “I’m Every Woman,” later covered famously by Houston. Then in the 1980s, she sang with Steve Winwood on “Higher Love” and had another hit of her own with “I Feel For You.” In 2008, her album “Funk This” won the Grammy for best R&B album.
If you get lucky enough to catch her act, don’t plan on sitting down long, you should be out of your seat dancing. Here’s a 2012 performance of a medley of songs from her Rufus era in front of a full orchestra that gives you an idea of the power of Khan’s voice and presence.
Living Colour, Oct. 28-29
When they emerged in the 1980s, Living Colour was breaking barriers as black musicians delving into the world of heavy metal with their own mix of funk, jazz and hip hop added in.
Their debut album “Vivid” in 1988 yielded the hit song “Cult of Personality,” which has continued to be heard everywhere from video games to wrestling matches. Something tells me that this distinctly political song could have some additional resonance just a week before the election. Unlike some of the bands at Eat To The Beat, Living Colour still has the core of its original lineup: singer Corey Glover (son of actor Danny Glover); guitarist Vernon Reid, who is No. 66 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time; and drummer Will Calhoun was named best drummer of 1990 by Rolling Stone’s critics poll. Bassist Doug Wimbish has been with the band since 1992, so they have a chemistry decades in the making.
Living Colour will be touring on a new album, “Shade,” due out in the fall, which should give this performance additional energy. As you can see in this 2015 clip from RiotFest in Chicago, they’re still bringing it.
Soul Asylum, Nov. 2-3
Soul Asylum emerged from the potent Minneapolis alternative/punk music scene of the 1980s, along with their notable contemporaries, The Replacements and Husker Du. Similar to those bands, they produced hard-driving guitar thrash with enough melody to get you to sing along, very much a precursor to Seattle’s grunge scene of the 1990s.
The band was prolific, releasing three albums in 1986 and touring relentlessly. The 1988 album “Hang Time” with the song “Cartoon” is a good representation of those early years. Their 1992 album “Grave Dancers Union” was such a huge breakthrough that they played the presidential inauguration for that other Clinton. Perhaps they suffered from the over-saturation of the grunge scene, but subsequent albums never reached that previous peak. Today, just charismatic frontman Dave Pirner remains from the original lineup. You might recognize drummer Michael Bland, who once backed another Minneapolis musician, Prince. The band just released their latest album, “Change of Fortune.”
Here’s the current incarnation of Soul Asylum in a 2014 performance with a cameo from Everclear’s Art Alexakis. Watch to the end for a cool little tribute to Paul McCartney.
BoDeans, Sept. 21-23
In several ways, the BoDeans mirror Soul Asylum: Midwest band (out of Milwaukee) that first emerged in the ’80s and broke through to huge success in the early ’90s with their rootsy style of rock. Songwriting duo Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas were the focus of the group, trading vocals.
Their debut album produced by the acclaimed T-Bone Burnett, “Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams,” earned them Best New American Band honors in the 1987 Rolling Stone reader poll. Subsequent albums yielded massive hits “Good Things” and “Closer To Free.” Today, Neumann is the lone original member of the band, but the BoDeans can boast one of the best drummers in the business, Kenny Aranoff, who you might recognize from his time playing with John Mellencamp.
This performance of one of their early songs, “Fadeaway,” from Milwaukee Summerfest earlier this summer will give you a good idea of their current sound and the power of Aranoff’s drumming.
Wang Chung, Sept. 14-15
First-time performer Wang Chung opens the Eat to the Beat series. They’re one of those bands best known for a hit,”Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” that’s not really representative of the rest of their catalog.
Part of the British new wave scene of the ’80s, Wang Chung scored their first hit with “Dance Hall Days” in 1984. The following year, director William Friedkin tapped the band to score the soundtrack to his film “To Live And Die In L.A.” The band’s modern sound and propulsive rhythms fit the film’s landscape of 1980s Los Angeles, yielding the moody title track. Their follow-up record, “Mosaic” had the country singing “everybody Wang Chung tonight.”
Today’s version of Wang Chung is still fronted by their two primary members, Jack Hues on guitar and vocals and Nick Feldman on bass. This is a performance earlier this year of “Wait,” a song that was on their 1984 “Points On The Curve” album and also ended up on the “To Live And Die In L.A.” soundtrack. You’ll hear the driving rhythm that caught the ear of Friedkin.