Island Hopper: The evolution of music in Southwest Florida

Most movements, when they begin, start so small that at first there’s no way of detecting it’s actually part of a wave of something bigger.

Who could have known, for example, when Paris Hilton and her sister Nikki were making the party rounds, commanding first Page Six, then the gossip rags, then even mainstream publications and TV, that the pair would presage a wave of celebs famous for nothing more than their celebrity?

How could Bob Vila have predicted the existence of whole network channels devoted to home improvement? And did the makers of Pong foresee Halo 3?

And over in East Naples, on tucked-away Bayshore Drive, do the owners of the Bayshore Coffee Company know that they might be on the vanguard of a whole new cultural scene in Southwest Florida?

Last Thursday night I ventured into the little coffee and sandwich shop to check out the trio Devi Shine, and was reminded what I’d loved about the place the last time I was there. Owners Donna Hall, Chris Hall-Futrell, and Fred Futrell have decorated in java chic: burlap coffee bean bags for curtains, cocoa colored walls with dark chocolate trim, the work of local artists adorning every vertical surface.

Choose from an array of coffee beverages, or slide over to the wine and beer counter for a different kind of brew. There are fresh-made pastries and a variety of made-to-order sandwiches, which you can take to any of the cozy tables dotting the restaurant, or outside onto their patio.

Show up on a Tuesday and you might find Ellen Wachs’ Soul Safari East. Wednesdays you’re likely to stumble onto their open-mike night for budding area performers. Other nights you’ll see bands you might not find at your average tiki bar: Original rock band Wonderful Johnson, blues band Little Eddie and the Fat Fingers, jazz artist Bob Zottola, or all-female acoustic rock band Devi Shine.

Led by Jen Zen on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Devi Shine plays an intriguing and unexpected mix of music. It’s not just that they venture beyond the usual female-singer playlist (Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, Janis Joplin and the like). It’s not just that their set covers everything from country to pop to classic rock to alternative. With a voice saturated with the richness of Diana Krall, the soulful wail of Martha Davis, and the smoothness of the Indigo Girls, Jen Zen helps create Devi Shine’s unique sound. She’s got a sultry smokiness on Johnny Cashs I Walk the Line, a sweet lilt on Maroon 5’s She Will Be Loved.

Her voice seems more grounded in the lower register than the upper, but that doesn’t stop Zen from a solid Mr. Jones rendition, her high notes right up there with the Counting Crows original, or make her shy away from James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful.

Bass player Aurora Wells lends perfect harmonies to most numbers, her voice lovely and smooth and a fine counterpoint for Zen’s deeper tone. Wells also plays a mean bass, and the band wisely features her playing on songs like Brown-eyed Girl and the funkified Hotel California.

Drummer Holly Wood is familiar to audiences from the many bands she’s played in the area. A solid percussionist, she drives the rhythm of Devi Shine with an insistent backbeat, the only downside of which is that Devi Shine creates almost more sound than Bayshore’s space and sound system can adequately handle.

To me, the band is a find — there’s something musically very interesting about the trio, whether it’s the fact that they salt in original tunes among their covers, or the unique synergy among them, or the feel of a blossoming and vibrant local music scene they’re helping to create at Bayshore.

Despite it’s innocuous neighborhood-coffeehouse feel, Bayshore may be right on the forefront of a real budding music scene in our area. The family-owned establishment welcomes newer bands to play; and they are fostering the kind of musical community that has been slow to really blossom in Southwest Florida.

“There’s this really contagious musical excitement among us,” says Zen. “We haven’t had anything like that. It’s like a Greenwich Village, like a SoHo or Boulder. It’s infectious.”

Check out Devi Shine every other Thursday at Bayshore from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. You can also find them at the Naples Grand Resort, Wahoo’s, and Lucky’s — check out their schedule at www.myspace.com/mackermusic. And check out Bayshore’s always exciting lineup at www.bayshorecoffee.com.

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And check out ME at tiffanythescribe@msn.com!

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