My first big decision was: which guitar to bring along? I opted for my new Martin OM-28, packed in a good quality padded gig bag to save on space in my vehicle. Yes, this was risky. Such a nice guitar needs attention; I was heading to Florida for most of the trip and I knew it would have to reside in my truck for the eight days we were at sea on the cruise ship. I made sure to loosen the strings, but not entirely as guitars are braced to assume a certain amount of stress from the strings will be present. I have to admit I held my breath when I got to our rental in Lake Worth, post-cruise, and removed it from the gig bag but all was well. The big thing was as much as possible to avoid extreme heat. That, combined with the humidity of Florida was a recipe for warpage and who knows what else…. In any case, by exercising care my new Martin survived just fine and I’m glad I had it along rather than a lesser guitar.
But back to the cruise. I always look forward over the course of the 22 cruises we’ve taken to hearing the musicians on board, especially the guitarists and this one as most of the others did not disappoint. The show band that played for all the production shows was the best I’ve heard. I was particularly impressed with how they handled the charts for a brand new neo-Soul singer who boarded the ship one day. They had ONE rehearsal and absolutely nailed the tunes. This is one more example of why I am constantly in awe of truly professional, work-a-day musicians. Just like their counterparts in recording studios everywhere, they must handle a wide range of music, not just playing it to perfection but also capturing the essence of the style of music they are playing, be it Broadway/show tunes, rock/pop or even backing up opera singers.
The guitarist from the band even did a couple of one-hour performances in the ship’s atrium of solo jazz and bossa nova tunes on an amplified nylon-string. And he was excellent at these, too. Hat’s off to the ship orchestra on the Crown Princess – and all other bands that have to perform flawlessly for audiences that can be indifferent to their abilities. As always, one of my long standing musical fantasies of playing on a ship came to mind. If only I was 30 years younger – and single, ha!
Back in Lake Worth we went to a local bar to hear a man and his lady friend (with a trumpet player who doubled on bass) who bills himself as: Not Rod Stewart. Yes, that is correct. What a hoot. Do a search online using that name and you’ll see what I mean. He is an older Scottish guy who dresses (down to the chopped haircut), sings and talks like….Rod Stewart. His show was very good, although a bit off color at times. He is extremely popular in that part of Florida and always packs the house. My wife and I couldn’t stop giggling and we knew this was a musical night we would never forget. Good on ya, Not Rod. Just another work-a-day musician who’s found a niche and will keep exploiting it as long as crowds still want to hear “Maggie May.”
Then is was down to Key West for another 10 days of fishing, margaritas (many, many), and again hearing some music in multiple locations around town. As has been the case for the last couple of years the absolute highlight was the incomparable Ericson Holt on piano and vocals. I’ve written about Ericson a few times before in this space I know but I can’t help but say again: He is one the finest proponents of New Orleans-style blues and jazz that are around today. What a voice, what chops. His covers of Fats Domino, Tom Waits, even Chuck Berry and Elvis (!) in his own style, plus many more, are not to be missed. He is pretty much an institution around Key West and has so much work in that area that he hardly ever leaves. His own material is first rate too. However, and here’s a strange thing, I enjoy Ericson much more when he plays solo rather than with other musicians. Not because they are not good; I heard an electric guitarist with him one afternoon who had monster blues chops but Ericson’s piano playing is so solid – his bass lines with his left hand are absolutely powerful and unwavering – I feel like other musicians detract from his sound. He does play with multiple combinations of players in Key West and I’m sure they are fine, but give me Ericson by himself.
I had many conversations with him and it was enlightening. Yet another true pro, with no attitude whatsoever. I look forward to hearing him again, whenever I can.
Elsewhere in Key West, it was pretty much same old, same old. Lots of singles playing Tom Petty covers and sing-alongs. This is the reality of playing in a hardcore tourist town. They have gigs so God Bless, I guess. I couldn’t do it, for a lot of reasons. My favorite band of the last few years in Key West, the Doerfels (now calling themselves Fuel on Fire) have gone on to Nashville to seek fame. They deserve it, believe me. But I do miss them. And my favorite bar, the Little Room, has yet to reopen after damage from the hurricane last year. I sure hope they get back on their feet. I have heard lots of great music in that place. It used to be one of the only places on Duval for grown-ups, if you get my drift.
So now I’m back in my studio in West Falmouth, listening to new music and doing my lesson planning for next week and beyond. Almost all my students are scheduled, which is a relief. Then this Sunday I will return to my long-standing gig at the Daily Brew Café. The owner has let me know that I was missed, another relief!
Back to reality. But I’m fortunate. My reality is very good, indeed.
Peace & good music,