Lakeland has been adding spaces to showcase local musical talent, but one that some may think is new has been around for awhile. Maddox Ranch, 2505 W. Bella Vista St., has hosted music festivals for more than 10 years, but it hasn’t featured Polk County talent until this February, when it began hosting the monthly Maddox Local Jam.
The Saturday events have brought together artists from a wide variety of genres for a festival experience on the former dairy farm off I-4 near Kathleen Road.
Britt Mathis, 26, is the software engineer, musician, and ranch hand who organizes the event. Mathis, who performs under the name Space Panda, said he became a ranch hand for owners Lynne Maddox and Richard Lemanski and over time discussed a desire to showcase local talent. With his connections with local artists and their shared vision, they decided to make it a reality.
Mathis said his biggest goal is to help build recognition for local artists.
“My vision is to have a space where local musicians can play and get paid to play, which is kind of rare in this town, and to have a place where music lovers can come and relax and enjoy local music,” he added.
Until recently, Maddox Ranch was regularly hosting festivals for electronic dance music, jam bands or cosmic consciousness. Maddox said she wants to steer away from some of the large, adult-oriented events of the past and focus on family-friendly, community-oriented events.
Scenes from last Saturday’s Maddox Local Jam:
Photos by Reems Landreth for LkldNow
The bands –- playing in genres including hip-hop, metal, rhythm and blues, soul, jazz, folk –- have attracted crowds ranging from 60 to 150. The ranch could accommodate crowds of 500. In addition to the music, the Local Jam has featured crafts, artists with displays or live painting, food and drink vendors, and fire spinners.
Tickets cost $10 in advance and $15 at the gate, and festival-goers can also pay to camp on the ranch. (Find the Eventbrite link to purchase tickets on the Facebook page for any upcoming Local Jam.)
June’s Local Jam included the bands Flint Blade, Highway Advisory Radio, Mountain Holler, Mr. Handsome, Space Panda, and TUG, with music beginning at 6 p.m. and continuing into the early hours of the morning.
Mathis, who grew up in Auburndale, is among the performers each month. He describes his music as a mix of soul and R&B, with jazz and folk influences. His eclectic style fits the intention of the festival in bringing a variety of bands together, but having different genres at one event can make attracting more audience members hard.
Space Panda’s latest EP:
“The crowd that I’m cultivating is music fans in general, and they’re out there to support local music,” Mathis said.
In addition to learning how to manage a small budget and his time, Mathis has also had a learning curve as he figures out how to promote the event. He feels that Lakelanders are used to finding local artists playing at restaurants, bars and coffeehouses and are resistant to paying cover or for a ticket. Furthermore, he doesn’t think people realize how much musical talent is in the area.
“I think the Lakeland scene just needs more visibility,” he said. “People don’t know what’s happening.”
Stephani Foster Richards, singer for soul band Lady Moonbeam, also hopes for more awareness of local musical talent.
Foster Richards finds the crowds in Winter Haven to be more involved, and the bands to be very supportive of each other. She hopes that atmosphere will grow in Lakeland as more venues to showcase talent emerge.
She said that usually in Lakeland she finds crowds prefer to watch musicians perform rather than dancing or singing along. At the Local Jam, she was excited to see people dancing –- many of them with strings of lights or objects like lighted hula-hoops –- and making connection with the bands.
“With the caliber of musicianship we have here,” she said, “we should be further along in that feeling.”
Lady Moonbeam played the Local Jam in May.
“Maddox Ranch and Space Panda are really on to something. It was fantastic. I hope that continues to grow,” Foster Richards said. “The land is really a marvel. The trees are so beautiful, the energy is incredible, everyone was so kind.”