9080 Collier Blvd, Naples, FL
Tom, Tina and U.S. Express is one band you won’t want to miss. The three-piece combo at Cracklin Jack’s is an unlikely trio but they know how to blend their music and voices. Renowned musicians who have entertained across the country, they don’t perform. They entertain and that’s the way they want it.
“Our goal really is not to just play music. It never has been. Of course, when we first started out, we were concentrating hard on getting our music down until it was automatic,” said Tom Gard, guitarist. “Our goal is to entertain. It doesn’t matter where we’re going to play. We figure people hire us as entertainment, not just hiring music. We see this time and again.”
The band also includes Tina Gard, Tom’s wife, who plays the mandolin and Linda Farmer, playing bass.
Situated on the outside patio of Cracklin Jack’s where people are sent to wait for their tables, humor is one of the band’s assets as well as their talent and foot-stomping music.
“We’ve had a request, (pause) but we’re not leaving yet,” Tom said in between a song. He had a funny comment every time. This was two hours of fun entertainment, and the best part is that the band had as much fun as the audience. Some people came just to enjoy their music and antics.
The Gard’s are originally from Pig, Ky.
“There’s no way you can sophisticate a pig,” Tina said. “There are 14 people in Pig, and two of us are gone. Tom and I are married and living in the same house. We have a license — a fishing license, but we have one,” Linda jokingly said. That’s how the entire two hours went.
According to Tom, he and Tina started out as a duet. When they started doing festivals that had an ‘open stage,’ the Gard’s would choose some lead pickers, such as a banjo, bass or fiddle player and put the group on the list to play. Their first festival was in Berea, Ky. at the McClain Family Festival.
They then started playing at other festivals and decided to put a band together. A banjo player named Stretch actually went to them and encouraged Tom and Tina to go to more festivals. Stretch put a mandolin in Tina’s hands and told her to start playing. She did. Prior to that, she only sang.
Their youngest daughter played bass and Linda Farmer soon joined them. Farmer started out playing country music on the guitar in 1980.
Tina stated that entertaining is all they do. “When it becomes work, we won’t do it anymore.”
Tom said that bluegrass has opened many doors and opportunities for them. He and Tina did a tour in British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska twice and have also played with name bands and celebrities, such as Bill Monroe, Alison Krauss, Rickey Skaggs, Kris Kristofferson, The Whites, Jim and Jessie, the Osborne Brothers, Ralph Stanley and many other bluegrass and Grand Ole Opry favorites.
“We never had stars in our eyes. We just wanted to go out and play and have a good time. We’ve also done college concerts and only in bluegrass could you have that type of opportunity,” Tom commented.
None of these musicians can read a note of music. Tom said it’s all in the head and you have to try to get it out. They sure know how to do that.
“I’ve written several songs but never wrote the music down. When we copyright it, we just record it and send it in,” Tom said.
Tom started in bluegrass playing the guitar when he was about 15 years old. Explaining the origin of bluegrass, he said it generally has five basic instruments: the bass, flat top acoustic guitar, mandolin, five string banjo and fiddle. Some bands will also have a Dobro.
“It’s a resonator guitar that looks like it has a hub cap on top of it and is played like a Hawaiian or electric steel guitar. A few guys in Everglades City use it.”
He continued saying, “Bluegrass came out of a lot of Irish and Scottish music. As a matter of fact, the Appalachian or mountain music actually came out of Scottish people who settled in Pennsylvania. They brewed their own brew. The state eventually put pressure on them to license, register and pay taxes and they wouldn’t do that. So they moved out to the Appalachian Mountains and brought that music with them.
“Scottish style music evolved into mountain music, and mountain music got sophisticated, if you will, into bluegrass and acoustics. Bill Monroe was known as the father of bluegrass because of the style he developed out of that mountain music which is considered traditional bluegrass,” said Tom. “There’s also contemporary and progressive bluegrass. We do a little of everything. We rewrite a lot of stuff.”
The last song they played was Tina’s rearrangement of “Amazing Grace.” What started out to be spiritual ended up being bluegrass. It was outstanding.
Tom, Tina and U.S. Express are not new to Naples and Marco Island. They not only do private parties but for the fourth year, played at Wesley United Methodist Church’s annual Cowboy Dinner.
The band plays Monday and Friday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. at Cracklin Jack’s located at 9080 Collier Blvd, Naples, 774-6000. This is their fourth year at Cracklin Jack’s and their gig concludes the second week of April. A return engagement is planned for next season beginning January, 2009.
For booking information, contact Tom and Tina Gard at 270-246-1668.
Phyllis Bator has been involved in music all her life. She plays piano, won organ contests, and has been writing for over 10 years having been published many times. Any new entertainment you are aware of, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.