The Florida Björkestra Presents the Music of Madonna and George Michael

The Florida Björkestra
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This coming weekend, The Florida Björkestra will bring to The Palladium stage a one-of-a-kind performance featuring the music of Madonna and George Michael.

Prepare for a unique take on these gender-defying and groundbreaking pop icons. Brian Baez (Spike in last year’s hugely popular BUFFYFEST) performs as Madonna. Jamie Perlow, our resident Björk, returns to sing George Michael.

Brian Baez (Image provided by The Florida Björkestra

Most recently from Richmond, VA, Baez studied theatre and voice at Virginia Commomwealth University. After graduation he toured over 35 countries as lead singer/dancer with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. He shore side credits include numerous parks, theatre companies, concerts and sold out solo cabarets including “God Save The Queen”, “Black To Black: The Music of Amy Winehouse” and “Chemo: The New Atkins”.  He has the honor of being hand picked by Grammy nominee Jim Brickman to be his feature singer in concert.

Jamie Perlow (Image provided by The Florida Björkestra)

Perlow is an extraordinarily seasoned performer with a powerful voice who specializes in song interpretation. A native of Buffalo, New York, Perlow has accomplished much in her career since her family moved to Florida. She travels throughout the country and abroad to perform large stage shows, Jazz festivals, Cabaret shows, Tribute shows, private parties and events. Jamie has had the honor of opening for The Shirelles with Shirley Reeves, and The Drifters with Bill Pinkney, who told her that she had one of the greatest voices he’s heard in years.

Backing them up is the all-star Florida Björkestra with strings, horns, a powerful rock band core and some surprise guests – no spoilers just yet.

OUTCOAST sat down with bandleader Jeremy Douglass to learn more about the upcoming show, how The Florida Björkestra got it’s name, and what attendees can expect to see a the Palladium this Sunday.

How did you come up with the idea for a George Michael and Madonna experience?

I love and grew up listening to both of those artists. The whole project, being a labor of love for me, is a way for me to dive down into this music that I love. It takes at least a month to write the arrangements and put it all on paper for the musicians, so I have to love the artist to want to spend that much time with them.

What can guests expect on Sunday afternoon?

A stage filled with St. Pete and Tampa’s best musicians. Two engaging lead vocalists with amazing, stand-up-in-your-seat-and-shout voices, and a playlist filled with songs you forgot how much you loved.

Are there any surprises? Can you give us a hint?

We’ve got a trick up our sleeve for sure, for this show. It’s made rehearsals, scheduling and stage-plotting a challenge, but dammit – it’s worth it.

I understand that gender identity/fluidity is touched on in this show. In what ways?

We have a male vocalist, Brian Baez, singing Madonna songs in his rich baritone/tenor and Jamie Perlow (our resident Björk) is singing the George Michael songs. This entire show is built around the greyness of sexual identity and fluidity.

Of course men sing love songs to men, women sing love songs to women, men can identify as women and sing songs from a woman’s perspective and vice versa. Our cast includes LGBTQ community members and we live in a very LGBTQ-inclusive community, so it’s important for us to address these issues on the stage as well.

Both Madonna and George Michael took leaps in the field of sexuality and identity in pop music while others were still taking baby steps. This is the best way we can think to tribute and honor those achievements as well as their music.

Obviously George Michael is an icon to the LGBT community. Is it intimidating to honor the life and music of a legend, especially of one who is no longer with us?

Well since you put it that way, maybe it is now!

We’re pretty confident that we’ve got a firm grasp on his music and will present his work with the sensitivity and power it demands.

How did your team prepare for this show?

On their own, both Jamie and Brian have been living with their songlist for more than a month now.

I started arranging the music for the band in February. We split the band up into sections: horns, strings, rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, guitars, percussion) and vocals. Due to the challenge of scheduling such a large group, each section rehearses their parts separately. The rhythm section (the backbone of the whole band) has been in weekly rehearsals since the beginning of March. Same for the vocalists, just a different night of the week. Sometimes, show day is the first time we all play it as a group.

Tell us about the orchestra! 

For this show we have 18 musicians, including myself. That’s piano, bass, drums, 2 guitars, percussion (vibraphone, congas, etc), 4 horns, 4 strings and 5 vocalists. Other shows have had more, depending on what the music calls for. When we did Buffyfest last year, where we played the musical episode from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, we had 21 musicians.

Why the name “Björkestra”?

The Florida Björkestra started as an experimental project for me. Prior to naming the group, I wanted to translate Björk’s electronic music into an all acoustic performance. I needed horns and strings to pull that off. Thankfully I have lots of excellent friends who are also excellent musicians. We called the band The Florida Björkestra for our first show, not really thinking there’d be more shows. But there were. And we’ve evolved and grown since then, but have kept the name.

What is your favorite part about this show?

These players, my friends in this band, are what I call “working class musicians.” I’m one myself. We’re in the wedding bands, playing the bar gigs, hauling gear all over town to play in any number of situations where live music is called for. They work hard and they earn their pay and deserve more for all they put into their craft. So, my favorite thing about this show is that it can exist at all, and that I can pay my friends like the professional artists that they are, and that we live in a town where this is possible, where people will come see it and support the effort that goes into it. Everyone wins.

Also, Jamie Perlow singing Queen’s Somebody To Love is a highlight for me. I can’t wait for everyone else to see it.

Does this show tour, or are you based locally?

No plans to tour any time.

Why is it important to keep this group local?

We’re all local. In fact, my first apartment was directly across the street from the Palladium back when it was a church. I lived there in 93-95. Almost all of us live in St. Pete. Some are from Tampa though we don’t hold that against them.

The sheer size of the group makes touring too expensive. But that’s ok. I’d rather build special events for this town and have people come in from out of town to see them. I’m proud of what this city have evolved into and I want to give it amazing concerts produced by local musicians and artists.

You said you host 2-3 shows annually. What’s up next and when?

Our next show is September 29 where we’ll revise the Buffy musical. For that show we have Nicholas Brendon, who played Xander, coming to attend. We couldn’t be more excited.

Tickets prices range between $15-$35 and can be purchased here.

Show date: 2018-04-15

Location: The Palladium at St Petersburg College
253 5th Ave N
St Petersburg, FL 33701

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Written by Rachel Covello

Rachel Covello is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity consultant, and LGBT advocate. She is the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, a Chester County, PA nonprofit organization, and CEO of OUTCOAST, an online marketing and concierge platform marketing the Gulf Coast as an LGBTQ-inclusive place to VISIT, CELEBRATE, and LIVE.

Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA, NGLCC, NLGJA, and Out & Equal.

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