It was electronic dance music night on Wall Street Plaza on Thursday's opening night of the 12th Annual Florida Music Festival.
And while the themed emphatsis on particular genres in a worthy experiment (alt-country will be the focus on Friday night on the festival's main stages), the outdoor dance party really never reached a fever pitch.
The crowd never packed more than a third of the plaza for a lineup on the festival's two biggest stages that featured The Soundclash (a DJ duo of Lupe Fiasco and Sky Gellatly) as well as an additional DJ set by DJ M-Squared, the Apopka-based talent who impressed judges with his turntable skills on the second season of BET's "Master of the Mix."
The latter was especially impressive in a nearly hour-long set that inventively blended beat-driven R&B with a few welcome nods to the rock of the White Stripes, Guns 'N Roses and other bands.
Other acts on the plaza were more hit-and-miss.
In the early going, the Makayla Duvall Band didn't exactly fit that description, since the energetic singer was accompanied by pre-recorded music tracks and a handful of dancers for a somewhat forgettable performance. Nor did Orlando's Britt Daley muster much momentum with R&B-flavored songs such as "Lights Out."
Among the singer-songwriter showcases in clubs such as Elixir and Cafe Annie's, sets by the peppy Melanie Eaton (at the former) and less caffeinated Evan Gibb (at the latter) were capable, but not transcendent.
Gibb, a finalist in a recent songwriting competition sponsored by retail chain Guitar Center, offered mellow, melodic original songs in the Jack Johnson mold. Equipped with an electronic looping box, Gibb was able to act as his own rhythm and lead guitarist, a trick that he executes well.
The evening's highlight? It was the inventive and soulful late sets by Orlando bands The Fling and Katie Burkess & the Ruby Rays at Tanqueray's, in a showcase hosted by organizers of the homegrown Jambando concert series.
The Fling -- a hard-charging trio of guitarist Justin Kangrga, bassist Casey Brents and drummer Elliott James -- made crazy stylistic turns from covering Led Zeppelin and Michael Jackson (!) to executing the band's instrumentally demanding originals. At times, there were three drummers playing one kit.
Burkess and her band, meanwhile, stuck to riff-generated, gut-bucket funk and soul, delivered with obvious heart. With more of Orlando's most accomplished bands headed to Tanqueray's on Friday and Saturday, the Jambando stage will be one to watch for the rest of the festival.
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