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Huckleberry Funk jams and grooves at Oliver Winery


Dexter Clardy of Huckleberry Funk sings as Mike Gronsky and Matt McConahay play guitar and bass behind him. The band performed Aug. 18 at Oliver Winery. Hannah Reed

The adventures of the band Huckleberry Funk may have little to do with Mark Twain. 

Still, the Bloomington-based group wrote another chapter of energetic rock, rhythm and blues and hip-hop Saturday on the patio space at Oliver Winery, as part of Oliver's Summer Saturdays free concert series. The winery will feature a free musical performance every Saturday until October 27.

Huckleberry Funk exploded from the start with peppy rhythm and blues vocals and guitar work. Keyboard player Alex Dura laid down an old organ synth while bassist Matt McConahay laid down a punchy track.

“At the heart of a Huckleberry Funk show, the audience can expect powerhouse vocals, face-melting guitar solos, a touch of East Coast horns and rock-solid grooves,” according to the Huckleberry Funk website.

Wearing a floral, collared v-neck, lead vocalist Dexter Clardy brought vocal charisma to each song. He interjected falsetto at moments, or lead his vocals into falsetto flourishes.

“Silky smooth is how I like to do,” Clardy sang.

Dexter Clardy sings as Alex Dura plays the keyboard behind him. Their band, Huckleberry Funk, performed Aug. 18 at Oliver Winery. Hannah Reed

Huckleberry’s Funk’s musical style embodies this idea. The band brought the hallmark lyricism and musical conventions of rhythm and blues and developed them in different directions. Sometimes, a song would include a few verses in a modern hip-hop style before jumping back into a classic funk tune. Other times, the guitarist paved the way for a psychedelic, Led Zeppelin-esque guitar solo.

Charged with confidence, Clardy sang lines such as, “I broke up with my lady, so nothing holding me,” and echoed phrases such as “Down to the whipping pole” and “killing me softly” with soul and emotion. 

Guitarist Mike Gronsky made his wah pedal and whammy bar work, whether wandering through slow, impassioned solos or bringing fast paced, staccato funk grooves. 

In slower moments, Gronsky would nosedive into solos bordering on psychedelic before resurfacing into the original groove of the song.

Huckleberry Funk’s energy always had purpose and a plan. During a slower song, Dura laid down a synth like a vibraphone lullaby while Clardy sang slowly, both performing as if rolling up and down in quiet, slow waves. When the drums and bass kicked in, the song developed into a slow-funk love song.

At the heart of Huckleberry Funk’s performance was the lively, dance-worthy fun. The group performed against verdant scenery, including a hill of picnickers on blankets and a pond in the backdrop. People around the band danced and swayed, wine glasses in hand.

Whenever Gronsky or Dura pulled off a flourish or vibrato on their guitar or keyboard, smiles would go through the band members. 

“After endless nights of self-reflection and some words of wisdom from a good friend, it became clear that 'funk' is much more than a genre — it’s an attitude,” according to the Huckleberry Funk website.

The band performed original music but also played a few covers, including “Give It to Me Baby” by Rick James and “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” by Carl Carlton.

No matter what genre Huckleberry Funk explored, funk was the focal point and fun was the product.

“I’m feeling funky, I can’t lie,” Clardy said between songs with a smile.

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