Island Hopper: Nevada is only a few minutes away

It was not a happy Sunday afternoon. Your Island Hopper was feeling a bit stressed this past weekend. Pressing deadlines, a slew of chores to be done, and feeling a bit behind the eight ball with work had all combined to put me in an irritable mood, compounded by yet one more thing on the to-do list: head out to hear some music for the column.

I swung my magical Honda into a spot in the Snook Inn’s parking lot and hauled my overburdened cookies out of the car. A Snook employee was walking in behind me.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” he asked cheerfully, gazing up at a flawless blue sky. Well, okay, yes, it was, I admitted grudgingly to myself. The heat had broken just a little bit, I supposed, humidity had eased back, and a little trade wind was cooling things off still more. Fine. Better than it had been for months, I conceded.

Inside I took at seat at the bar and ordered a refreshing pink lemonade. Next to me sat visitors from Boston, the woman proudly announcing her provenance with a Red Sox T-shirt, and excitedly gearing up for the game at three o’clock.

“This is beautiful,” her hubby noted, staring out across the sparkling waters of the bay. We struck up a conversation, and the couple was intrigued to learn why I was there. The husband looked incredulous. “You have to come out and socialize? This is your job?” he asked me, as though making sure he had his facts straight. I nodded.

“Well, that sucks!” he blurted out, tongue well in cheek.

And suddenly it hit me like a mallet: I forgot to be grateful. I moved lo these many years ago to Southwest Florida for the very things I was sitting there enjoying — and making a living doing it. I’m living a lifestyle most people save up all year to come experience for a week, a month, or a season if they are lucky, and I had begun to take for granted just how much, well, that doesn’t suck.

It’s a common malady for full-timers in paradise. I think it’s human nature to forget how lucky we have it and whine about life’s little irritations. My new Boston friends reminded me to step back and see what’s around me, and not to lose sight of all the wonderful things that bring most of us here in the first place.

But what brought me to the Snook on that day was musician Nevada Smith.

Smith’s got the requisite island-Buffett vibe down pat: Tropical-print shirt, straw Panama hat, shaggy blond hair and mustache. But don’t dismiss him as background music for piña colada-drinking vacationers. With a musical background that includes playing with a trio at the Playboy Club in Chicago in the ‘70s, touring the U.S. and Canada, and playing drums on a demo for Kevin Cronin, former lead singer of REO Speedwagon, Smith’s got chops.

He’s also got one heck of a fine stage moniker — which he hems and haws about explaining when he’s asked (which is often, he reveals), then finally admits is simply his given middle name.

Though he’s experienced on a multitude of instruments — beginning with clarinet at age eight and progressing to bass guitar, drums, banjo, and guitar — it’s the latter you’re most likely to see him playing at his solo sets. Smith’s a talented player who seems comfortable in an array of styles, from R&B to reggae, surf music to classic rock.

Here’s a sampling of where Smith ventures on the musical map within a single set: George Benson to the Beatles; Paul Simon to Bob Marley; Neil Diamond to Santana. He gives his own twist to his covers, whether it’s an extra-funky version of Otis Redding’s Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay or a tropical-flavored Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard by Paul Simon. His singing voice is solid and sure, a chameleon tone that goes from a gritty Van Morrison sound to a lighter, smoothed-out sound for the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood. And he’s a mean whistler, as he’s liable to demonstrate on any number of tunes.

Yes, you’ll get your Buffett — but probably not the ones you’re expecting: More like Son of a Sailor and A Pirate Looks at Forty. Smith is, after all, a transplanted Floridian, here for over 20 years from his native Chicago, and clearly embracing the lifestyle.

He greets regulars by name, offers trivia questions, exhorts his audience to dance, and otherwise engages his crowd. At the set I saw, Smith’s audience was actually listening, actually clapping — a too-rare event at a lot of local venues on a lazy weekend afternoon.

Smith plays the Snook again Sunday and Oct. 20 from 6 to 10, as well as making a couple of appearances there every month. Otherwise, he’s in parts north: Fort Myers’ Channel Mark on Mondays, Naples’ Pickled Parrot Thursday nights, and private gigs the rest of the week.


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