GOODLAND — Historically, they lurk in gloomy forests or dark caverns. The females tend to be more intelligent and kinder, although any of them may eat small children, according to lore. There is no official record of them gathering to play free spirited music under a bridge, but right here in Goodland, on the southeast tip of Marco Island, that’s just what they do.
They are known as the “Goodland Bridge Trolls,” and for over eight years now, people of all ages, from all walks of life come from near and far and begin to gather at what the ‘Trolls’ call their ‘little oasis.’
At this hidden edge of paradise, just before sunset where the Marco River meets the sloped bank under the Goodland Bridge, musicians and spectators park their cars on the county property right next to a marina at the entrance to this historic little fishing town of only 350-some residents. They come with their chairs, some bringing their kids, fishing rods, Frisbees and dogs, and many bringing their instruments to join the impromptu concerts of Rock and Roll oldies, Country, Bluegrass, and even original music. It all falls into place naturally, like it’s been well rehearsed.
“The gatherings down here, the music, there’s something about these gatherings that’s magical,” says local artist and “unofficial lead Troll,” Terry Lee, who fittingly sports a dangling cigarette and an eight inch long salt and pepper beard. While he tunes his guitar with the precision of a surgeon, you can see something powerful in his big hazel eyes, something soulful.
“I’ve been coming out here for eight years. It’s like one of those miracles in life. It’s spiritual, like Saturday night church. People fish, eat, play Frisbee, or just sit back, take in the music and relax,” he says.
For Lee, 52, it seems the music is a healing force for a body ravaged by Muscular Dystrophy 35 years ago, a challenge that clearly did not defeat his spirit or his love of music.
Sitting in front of an authentic crab trap makeshift table, Lee says that the events under the bridge started more than eight years ago with two guys he affectionately calls the Chief Trolls: Carl and Steve, who grew up together in Everglades City, and who “live out in the middle of nowhere.” He doesn’t even know their last names, but is grateful for the tradition they started. Neither has been attending recent gatherings, he said. Other original Trolls include Bo, Zia and Charlie. There’s more.
As the sun sinks toward the horizon, a melodic rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” fills the air, and other musicians appear seemingly from nowhere, and more spectators arrive for the unconventional concerts.
“In season, I have seen crowds as big as 60 people,” says Lee.
For the Smith brothers, Andrew, 18, and Ryan, 21, from Marco Island, playing music with the “Bridge Trolls” on Saturday nights offers an opportunity to express their artistic urges in a totally non-judgmental environment, and provides an alternative to perhaps less than wholesome activities that lure many teens out of boredom.
Dad, Tom Smith, a self- employed finish carpenter on Marco said, “Until Ryan started playing his guitar down here with the Trolls about a year ago, he really couldn’t get the hang of it, so he just didn’t pick it up much. Now, he plays with the best.”
Smith’s wife Cindy, holding 16-month old foster son Logan Joseph, looks on. Smith’s engaging smile begets a dad’s pride as he motions toward another man playing guitar, and says, “That’s who taught Ryan a lot, Robert Snyder.” Snyder is the owner of R. Snyder Heating and A/C on Marco Island, and a mean guitarist. Meanwhile, Smith’s other son Andrew finds time to cast a fishing net during a self- imposed break from playing the wash tub instrument that moments before rocked the rhythm of his musical talent. All the while, people show up, and the music plays on.
“It’s like a big river family,” says Smith, who started coming about five years ago, and even dawns a beaded “Troll necklace,” worn by others and made especially as a token of the Bridge Trolls. “Nate Martin (one of the original Bridge Trolls, and a professional recording artist currently on the road) even wrote a song for us called The River Family Symphony,” he said.
Bart Scala comes to play guitar, but that’s not all. “It’s just magical here. I love the natural feeling. And the acoustics under here, listen,” he says and shouts, “Hello!” The word travels and echoes through the columns and beams beneath the bridge, blending with the music as smooth as a silk scarf in the wind.
The gatherings under the bridge are frequented and enjoyed by the adjacent marina’s Dock Master, Mike, and his dog, and even an off duty police officer once joined in on guitar. There have even been former government officials at play under the bridge where the Bridge Trolls meet. The area is patrolled by the Marco Island Police. In a phone interview, Captain Baer of the Police Department said, “We are aware that people meet there and fish and play music. We make sure to patrol everywhere, including the edges like where these people meet. We are not aware of any problems there.”
The air brings a welcoming coolness as the sun sets, and suddenly a harmonica harmony rifts through the gentle breeze of the Coconut Palm and Gumbo Limbo at this ‘little oasis,’ and the melody gets louder as it moves closer.
“There he is!” shouts Bart.
“Been waiting on you!” says Terry Lee. “Where’s Maggie?”
Another Troll arrives home under the Goodland Bridge, ready to play music.
Ready to be a part of the magic.