Island Hopper: There’s a first time for everything

When the Island Hopper is not hopping about Marco seeking entertainment for your delectation, she has a full and rich social life among friends.

Women friends, to be specific. My girlfriends and I have had a fairly regular weekly gathering of gals for the last couple of years, with a group that can consist of anywhere from four to 16 regular attendees.

We didn’t actually set out to create a formal “girls’ night” — it evolved gradually, at first two or three of us gathering on my lanai for drinks and dish. A couple other friends got wind of the impromptu social events and joined in, and we enjoyed our talks so much we made them a regular occurrence at alternating houses. Then some of us would bring in a new friend we’d met, or someone we thought might hit it off with our gang. Gradually the thing exploded into its present huge roster of chickies.

At first, though, it took a bit of time for us to grow comfortable with the expanded group. We had to get to know one another, learn our rhythms, build trust, see where we all clicked together. No matter how interesting and warm each individual woman might be, when thrown all together, we had to learn how we best meshed.

I found myself thinking of the evolution of girls’ night this past weekend, when I ventured into Crazy Flamingo to see a new configuration of local musicians billing themselves as Richard the Stiff. (If you’re not getting the double entendre, please allow me to come over to your house and inundate you with Beavis and Butthead and South Park reruns.)

Guitarist Mark Wesley leads the foursome on electric guitar, backed by Tantrum’s Jimmy Velusky on acoustic guitar and John Evangelisto on drums. They’re rounded out by Wes Peterson on bass, and the group turns their collective talents to a play list made up mostly of classic rock covers, with the occasional original tune thrown into the mix.

I happened upon the band on their very first, virgin public appearance, a fact made unfortunately evident with ample sound problems, pitch issues, and musical snafus.

It’s hard to judge the brand-new band on their maiden flight. Kinks have to be worked out. They have to learn to mesh, as did we ladies when we first began gathering. The four have had only a couple of garage rehearsals, as Wesley revealed (and, in fact, the impression they gave this past weekend was more of the middle-aged garage band variety than of the capable musicians that, separately, I know them all to be).

Here’s where they’re strong — or will be with a little more time to jell. Wesley is a guitar player extraordinaire, a fact you need no more than a single song to pick up on — and Richard the Stiff wisely lets each number contain a screaming guitar solo to showcase his considerable skills.

Velusky, Evangelisto, and Peterson are clearly skilled, though equally clearly unrehearsed as a unit. Harmonies are solid and serviceable enough. But there are some speed bumps the four have to get through before they live up to the promise of their separate parts. Sound quality is tinny and faraway. Vocals tend to get swallowed by heavy drums and bass — not always a bad thing at this point, as the singing is uneven.

Some songs — too many, actually — seem as though they’re being fleshed out for the first time by the band, and it takes a minute to recognize such familiar tunes as Can’t Get Enough of Your Love and Mustang Sally (the latter of which comes out sounding dark and minor at first, lacking the bluesy jive of the original).

Wesley, who’s quite the one-man show in his solo act, playing guitar, harmonica, bass pedal, and even pan flute, seemed reined in the night I saw the band, even his powerhouse growl of a voice sounding toned down and raspy.

Velusky handled most of the lead singing duties, with a voice that was competent if unremarkable, and Peterson took lead on the bulk of the rest, sounding not quite certain of his ability to do so. Wesley was relegated mostly to backup except on too rare occasions, like on Stevie Ray’s Sweet Little Thing.

Their play list is good, though — high-energy, crowd-pleasing tunes that hover mostly in the classic rock territory, but opens hospitable arms to include artists like the Gin Blossoms and Dwight Yoakam.

In fairness to Richard the Stiff, the band merits another look once they get their feet more firmly under them as a unit.

But, just as patience with our girls’ nights ultimately yielded the amazing fruit of an extended group of warm, loyal women friends, I’m hopeful that time together will help Richard the Stiff make the most of its constituent parts. Check Crazy Flamingo’s schedule for their next appearance later this month.


And check my e-mail address — — for fascinating repartee and answers to all your Marco Island entertainment queries!

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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