A Double Shot of Southern Comfort With Tom Petty and the Tontons
The pride of Gainesville, Florida, Petty had sort of the home-field advantage Saturday night on the Hangout Stage, playing just one state over and practically a direct Interstate-10 shot from Heartbreakers territory.
Of course, Petty and his present lineup — including longtime partner and trusty lead guitarist Mike Campbell (“We call him the co-captain,” Petty announced), other original members Benmont Tench (keyboards) and Ron Blair (bass), and more recent additions Scott Thurston (guitars, harmonica) and Steve Ferrone (drums) — delivered the goods and the hits.
“A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” “Free Fallin’” and “You Wreck Me” were churned out in reliable fashion before the group intros, and Petty (right) followed up with a neat rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.”
Just a couple of hours earlier, in a much tinier space with an audience that could fit comfortably inside the pool area to the right of Petty’s Hangout Stage, the Tontons of Houston, Texas gave it their all, too.
This unassuming, equal opportunity band also took the I-10 route — but in a 18-passenger white van coming from the opposite direction — about the same number of miles from Gulf Shores as Gainesville.
Part of the charm of this diverse festival is discovering groups like the Tontons for the first time, and exotic lead singer Asli Omar brings the youthful looks, the slinky dance moves and a breathy, ethereal voice that somehow fits in nicely with the three-piece band’s solid rock sound.
Omar and her group — Adam Martinez (guitar), Tom Nguyen (bass) and Justin Martinez (drums), along with occasional guest Chris Rehm (rhythm guitarist) — were making their first major festival appearance after years of touring primarily through Texas. They’ve recorded a self-titled album and a couple of nice EPs, Bones and Golden, and will soon release another full-length (still untitled), which they’re finishing up in Austin. The Tontons, from left: Adam Martinez (guitar), Asli Omar (vocals), Tom Nguyen (bass), Justin Martinez (drums).
In Gulf Shores since Thursday, the Tontons were enjoying the rock star treatment, watching trending acts such as Shovels & Rope, Grizzly Bear and the Dirty Projectors during the day and dining with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James in the Artists’ Lounge at night.
Omar and Co. made the publicity rounds, too, and their pre-show acoustic performance at Media World (right) on the second floor parking area of the Phoenix All Suites Hotel was delayed due to the ruckus the Roots were causing just a five-minute walk in the sand away.
Unflustered by the commotion, a calm, cool Omar seemed to enjoy just hanging out while answering 10 (or so) random questions:
1. Do you prefer to hang out, hang loose or hang tight?
“For sure, hanging loose. We’re really casual people. Hanging out seems like you’re gonna go someplace. Hanging tight is like you’re waiting for something. We like hanging loose. Just chill out, you know.”
2. When you perform, is it business or pleasure?
“Pleasure all the way. I have the best job in the world.”
3. Origin of group name?
“It’s a reference to Star Wars (the Tauntauns were a species of snow lizard in The Empire Strikes Back). We’re all nerds. And we spelled it wrong because you will get sued very quickly if you do anything …”
4. Craziest member of group and why?
“On the outside, I think people think that I am just because I’m the most vocal. But honestly, it’s probably Adam. He’s the party guy.”
5. Who did you want to be growing up?
“I kind of think I went through phases where I wanted to be different things. I had a phase where I really wanted to be Wilma from The Flintstones, for some reason. I wanted to be a ninja for a while. When I got older, I looked up to Billie Holiday. I always listened to jazz artists, especially females, because it was one of the few art forms where women were not only respected but they were like revered. They were the ones that led their own band and they were the singers that people came to see. And in the music industry with females, there’s not much of that going on anymore. It’s starting to be that way again but not the way it was. You don’t have a plethora of musicians (like that), except for maybe Britney Spears. I don’t think I’d want to look up to her. Sorry, Britney.”
6. What in your parents’ record collection did you value most?
“Well, my father’s from Somalia, so he grew up listening to a lot of strange music. So I grew up listening to a lot of weird music, like Indian music and Arabic music. My mom (Jennifer Jones) is from Gary, Indiana, and listened to a lot of Motown and I think that was probably what influenced me most. She babysat for the Jacksons a couple of times. She just always had a lot of Motown playing … Stevie Wonder (who Omar was excited to see closing the festival Sunday night) … Marvin Gaye … the Temptations.”
7. What’s something about yourself most people don’t know?
“It took me 11 or 12 times to pass my driving license test. And, in all honesty, I probably shouldn’t have passed when I passed. I can’ drive at all. I don’t drive the van. I’m the worst driver in the world. I’m 24 now and I was 23 when I passed. (laughs) And I started taking the test when I was 21.”
8. Since you’re here in Gulf Shores, how do you become a shore thing?
“I think in order to become a shore thing at Gulf Shores, you have to consume a lot of beer and just fall asleep on the beach at some point this weekend. But a sure thing, there’s gotta be something a little bit interesting about you. You gotta stand out from everybody. You gotta be confident.”
9. Where do you go from here (but not literally)?
“Hopefully, to the top. One would hope. As great as this is, I don’t want to go back to having to work a day job. I’d like to be a strong influence in the music industry. I want to prove to people that you don’t have to be all flash and no substance.”
10. What’s your biggest fear?
“I wish I could say something profound like ‘not achieving my potential.’ But, honestly, it’s the dark. I’m super boring. I’m as blind as a bat and the second that these contacts or glasses come off, everything blends into one. I sleep with a night light on. The dark and roller coasters. I hate roller coasters.”
11. Vinyl, mixtape or playlist?
“Mixtape, which you can make, you can customize. Cassettes fit easily in places, you can put it in your purse. I grew up with mixtape, I grew up in the ‘90s. I listen to a lot of jazz, a lot of bossa nova. … I’d have to say the one thing that’s been on my playlist consistently for years is Luis Bonfa’s Solo in Rio 1959. … And that’s one thing I’ll never get tired of. … To me, it’s what love sounds like.”
12. Which movie do you identify with the most: A Star Is Born, Rock of Ages, Almost Famous or Lady Sings the Blues?
“Definitely Lady Sings the Blues. I wish I could say Almost Famous, but we’re not that much like rock stars. We’re like, ‘Hey, it’s 8 o’clock. Let’s go back to the house and have a couple of beers.’ Go to sleep early. The craziest thing is taking NyQuil to go to sleep on tour. That’s about it.”
13. Playing at the same times as Bassnectar and Slightly Stoopid, what do you have that they don’t?
“A rockin’ female … no. (laughs) I honestly think they cater to a different crowd. I think that if you want to hear something a little bit … not typical, not something that you’re not gonna hear on the radio … you can hear Bassnectar right now, just turn on the radio. You don’t have to seem him live, although I hear he puts on a great show. I think I put on a better show. (laughs) But only time will tell.”
This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. Photos by Michael Bialas. See more from the 2013 Hangout Festival.