Steve McAlphabet Motorcycling Music Across America
Celebrating Sarasota Music

Celebrating Sarasota Music

About a week ago, I had a few people comment on a YouTube video I uploaded 11 years ago. Even when I wasn’t using money, I looked for ways to serve the community. I hosted an open mic tonight at Pastry Art and tried to get video of everyone who performed.

One of those performers was Thomas Curault. Unfortunately, Thomas passed away recently, and the commenters thanked me for having captured and shared the video.

It made me glad to have been a participant in my local music scene, and it inspired me to get back into it again so I decided to attend the new open jam night at the Bahi Hut. The Bahi Hut, the third oldest tiki lounge in the world, is on the route of my city tour with Discover Sarasota Tours.  I usually crack a joke about them not having changed anything since 1954. “They haven’t even vacuumed since then,” usually gets a pretty good laugh, but considering that the floors are made of wood, I may actually be right about the vacuuming. 

However, it has changed quite a bit since 1954, and has even changed quite a bit more in the last year or so. The main bar is basically the same, according to the newspaper clipping on the wall. And it is certainly possible that it’s the original thatched ceiling and pecky cypress walls, because they’re just not really making that anymore. 

However, they have added a spacious outdoor lounge under high thatched ceilings. The reed walls allow for breeze, which is also assisted by the oscillating fans.  And the stage makes for a great place for music.

So on last Thursday’s tour, instead of my usual joke, I told them I’d be playing at the new jam night that just started last week. The house band includes James Varnado, Gustav Viehmeyer, and Johnnie Barker, who are quite possibly the best drummer, guitarist, and bassist I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, I didn’t play with them. 

The host Dawn invited me to play when the band took their break and were replaced with other musicians who didn’t know any of the songs I wanted to play. Having been mostly a solo artist, lone wolf that I am, it can be a bit of a challenge to play with other musicians for the first time. I may want to stick with being a solo performer.

But it is always fun to play with people, even when it doesn’t go the way it does in my mind’s eye when I’m practicing. However, I also got to hear some more of Sarasota’s incredible musicians, like Bruce Klein, Suzanne Lucas, Tbone Rhodes, and a handful of other people with music in their hearts.

Gustav told me a few months ago that the first gig he ever had in Sarasota was at The Flow Factory, and after the jam, he added that it was one of the reasons he moved to Sarasota. I started The Flow Factory in a warehouse where a friend was letting me stay after my year of financial abstinence. We had some really great times there, but some of the best were the live music events we staged.

One of the first shows we had was a duo called Djanghost. Gustav and another guitarist (whose name I can’t remember) played an incredible set of Gypsy jazz inspired by the great Django Reinhardt. Though I wasn’t very familiar with that style of music at the time, I was truly amazed to watch Gustav’s finger work as he ran up and down the fret board at dizzying speeds.

Recorded at The Flow Factory on Saturday, February 8, 2014

Although I have regrets over what could have happened with The Flow Factory had I stayed there, I am proud of many of the accomplishments we had. But I think one of the greatest things it accomplished was convincing Gustav to move to Sarasota. He was one of the most incredible guitarists I’ve ever met, and I am honored to call him a friend.

As I was leaving the jam at the Bahi Hut Thursday night, James Varnado invited me to the Sunday evening jam at Cottonmouth in the Village of the Arts. The crowd was small due to the heat when I arrived around 5:30, but the musicians were incredible. I really am very fortunate to live in a place with so many amazing musicians. I learned that the camera in my phone doesn’t quite record what’s in the frame when I’m zoomed in.

Watching Gustav Viemeyer, James Varnardo, and Johnnie Barker play together is a magical experience. They are each masters of their instruments, and adding in an opera singer to belt out an improvised version of Summertime was astounding. Sherri Seiden was the first vocalist invited to the stage, and she just blew the doors off.

The next singer to get up was AJ from AJ and the Automatics. When I first started my YouTube channel about 16 years ago, the third video I uploaded was a live performance by AJ and the Automatics playing at the 5 O’Clock Club for a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Katrina. After he blew the roof off of the place (if it had a roof) with songs like The Thrill Is Gone and Use Me Up, I shared the video with him, and he told me that I had a gem that I needed to hold on to. 

Eventually, I had my time on the stage, and I can’t say it’s not a challenge to follow such incredible talents. But it was a lot of fun to see other people howling along with my rendition of werewolves of London, which I had never played for an audience before. And while it’s a lot of fun playing for other people, it just feels like such an honor to be able to celebrate the other incredible musicians that I get to experience.

All of this is to day that I lead a very charmed life.