Island Hopper: Change is good

Change is a funny thing. I’m writing my column this week for the first time on a laptop computer. Yes, your little Island Hopper is rather severely behind the technological times, as up until this week I have also been connecting with a dial-up modem.

I’m sitting at an outdoor cafe, rather than in my usual spot at my desk in my home office. The flexibility and convenience of it all is something I know I will soon wonder how I lived without (as I did when I finally — years behind the curve — caved in and got a cell phone and turned in my pager).

But for now I’m having trouble mastering the built-in keyboard. I have not yet figured out how to connect to the Wi-Fi here at the cafe, and will have to ask some nice computer-savvy patron for help when I’m ready to turn this column in. While I know it’s all ultimately for the best, at the moment I’m working on adjusting to a whole new situation, and my learning curve seems dauntingly steep.

Which was one reason I could relate this past Saturday night while chatting with the band DigDive. The last time I saw the band, they were a foursome appearing at Crazy Flamingo, unplugged from their usual electrified set at local bars like the Ridgeport Pub in Naples. This time around it was just front man Justin Raymond and guitar player Jesse Hatch, tucked into the corner booth at Nacho Mama’s that serves as the restaurant’s weekend stage.

When I inquired about the missing band members, Justin and Jesse revealed that the face of DigDive has gone through excessive changes this year — three separate band configurations that broke up for a variety of reasons (read: “artistic differences”).

With all the challenges of keeping together an amalgam of different personalities, work ethics, and musical styles, Justin and Jesse, for now, have opted to play as a duo. The two have worked together for seven years, and despite the potential limitations of a smaller configuration (for instance, their sets now feature the occasional use of tracks to fill in their sound, where they never did before), the upside is the solidity of their partnership.

When the two took the stage after we’d talked for a little while before their set began, I was initially leery. They’ve lost their drums and bass, and the band now consists basically only of Jesse’s guitar and Justin’s voice. I expected a stripped-down sound from the hard-driving alternative rock set I’d seen from them as a foursome.

Yet within just a couple of songs my worries proved groundless. In my last review of the full band, what jumped out at me most were the very elements DigDive has pared down to: Hatch’s masterful guitar playing and Justin’s full, solid, versatile voice.

Justin was weaned on the alternative music DigDive covers, and his predilection for the style is obvious in his powerful vocals — whether it’s the fluid melody of Alice in Chains or the driving energy of Shinedown.

Hatch creates an unexpected wealth of sound with his instrument, with Justin filling out the melody on his own guitar. The two have top-notch harmonies that they use well — whether it’s on Shinedown’s challenging Fly from the Inside or the Flys’ Got You (Where I Want You).

But you’re as likely to get the Beatles or Elton John in a DigDive set as you are Linkin Park or Daughtry. In fact, after hearing Justin tell a story about playing a wedding where a guest requested Britney Spears — and the two improvised a cover — I even got them to noodle out a few lines of Baby One More Time, with their own funky slant on it that robbed the tune of its bubblegum pop and made it almost cool.

That’s one of the things that makes a DigDive show so enjoyable: their spontaneity, their flexibility, and their willingness to give just about anything a try with their own spin on it. A DigDive show is full of that kind of cover song — a familiar tune that takes on a fresh quality once Hatch and Raymond get their talented hands on it.

The format of two rather than a full band seems to lend the duo more freedom. They experiment more, presenting a smattering of originals along with their covers. Change, in other words, while not always looked for or even welcome, can often have positive side effects.

Sitting here enjoying a cup of organic coffee at a sunny patio table outside, one of a half dozen solo patrons clicking away on my laptop for the first time in my life, I can relate. Sure, it may take me a while to figure out how to tap my little mouse pad just right to avoid new screens jumping up at me seemingly at random. But eventually my computer upgrade is going to offer me new opportunities that weren’t possible to me before. One door closes; another one opens —and change, as they say, is good.

DigDive plays Nacho Mama’s every Saturday night. Come season they’ll be at Crazy Flamingo’s Thursday-Saturday nights on alternate weekends, as well as a handful of area bars from Marco to Naples. Check their MySpace page — — for their playing schedule.


And help me practice my laptop skills by e-mailing me at!

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