The Flobots at Kilby. Photo: Frank Carroll
Salt Lake City was ground zero for a flobots invasion on Wednesday, May 15. Best known for “Handlebars,” the unconventional Flobots brought their brand of hip hop with a conscience to Kilby Court and a packed house. Kilby was bursting at the seams, overheating and exhausting to the fans. The show’s somewhat last-minute move to Kilby made for a much more intimate time with the bands. The opening act was a Salt Lake City native by the name of Burnell Washburn. If you have not caught Burnell before, you need to make it a point to go to one of his shows. Burnell started off with a few songs that got people interested in his performance. His brand of hip hop expressed his hope in the heart of all of us and our ability to make the world and ourselves better. Next came the very interesting and talented MC that goes by the name Wheelchair Sports Camp. Kalyn is the vocals of the group with a live drum accompaniment by Gregg Ziemba. Wheelchair Sports Camp is a duo that many found very intriguing, mainly due to the fact that Kalyn raps from a wheelchair. Born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta meant that Kalyn would forever be confined to a wheelchair. Refusing to let this affect the rhymes she wrote, played and spit, Kalyn chose to share her talent with the world. Her set was met with loud cheers after each song’s end.
The air was thick with anticipation as the Flobots were getting ready to take the stage. The band formed in 2004 when Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit joined for a Rock the Vote show. In assembling, the band found a love for the hip hop music they were playing. The Flobots’ unconventional approach to hip hop has found wide appeal. The Flobots’ refusal to exclude fans from any time in the band’s career has led to a rabid following. The crowd was anxiously waiting for any sign that they were about to take the stage. Having been whipped into a music-starved mass after excellent performances by Burnell Washburn and Wheelchair Sports Camp, some attendees were pacing outside while others were squeezing closer to the stage to be closer to Brer Rabbit and Jonny 5. When Kenny O took his place behind the drum kit, the crowd lost it, chanting “Flobots” in an effort to speed up the process. When bassist Jesse Walker and viola player MacKenzie Gault appeared and began warming up, the crowd cheered wildly. Finally, Brer Rabbit suddenly appeared on stage and the crowd lost it once again, finally getting what they all so desperately wanted. Jonny 5’s vocals started into the opening song and the crowd was assaulted by Brer and Jonny 5’s back and forth hip hop stylings. The crowd was hanging on every word and singing along for the entire time. When “Handlebars” was finally played, the whole of Kilby sang along in unison.
The Flobots treated Salt Lake City to a very positive and introspective set. As most fans know, the Flobots are a band that wants you to take a look at the world around you and ask what change you can be a part of. Jonny 5, Brer and the entire band are deeply involved in the Denver community they call home. With the advent of Flobots.org, the band has started an organization that lives out the messages in the music they play, giving people a follow-up step by empowering them to promote positive change in the community. The organization has become a self-sustaining, music-based program in schools and treatment facilities for teens. With this in mind, and blown away by the show, I walked away having had a great time with a group of musicians that live the life they choose to share.