MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island and music go together. Whether it’s the Caribbean steel drum sounds of JRobert, rock and roll rolling out of Stan’s on a Sunday in Goodland, or just the gentle lullaby of the wavelets sweeping in from the Gulf of Mexico, this is an island with a soundtrack.
But if you had to pick the quintessential Marco music makers, the band that says Marco Island, you’d have to go with the Marco Island Strummers. Over the past 14 years, Marco Island Strummers have shown up at all kinds of events, with a wide variety of ensembles, from the Blessing of the Fleet at the MIYC, to providing a patriotic music bed for Memorial Day commemorations at Veterans’ Community Park.
Depending on the occasion and the season, the Strummers might consist of anywhere from the full complement of 22 musicians, plus or minus the number pictured on the cover of their 2012 CD, “Paradise Found” to a group of half a dozen at the Farmers’ Market, or just bandleader Wes English playing a solitary keyboard, as he did for the ACS Cancer Walk.
This season, you have a great opportunity to catch the band the whole band with shade, refreshments and in comfort, as long as you bring your own beach chair. The Marco Island Strummers will be playing every four weeks as part of the City of Marco Island Parks & Recreation Department’s free Winter Concert Series, Sunday afternoons under the Mackle Park “air-nasium.”
While concertgoers are encouraged to bring their own seating, many people don’t stay in their seats, getting up to dance to the music. Some, like Carmela and Fritz Rath, travel a circuit around Southwest Florida, looking for chances to dance, and show off their well-choreographed moves.
“We love to dance, and this is just happy music,” said Carmela.
While the band is big on horns bandleader English, a retired surgeon, doubles on slide trombone the emphgasis is on the banjo. They have multiple banjos, and have featured as many as nine, said the band’s secretary/treasurer Lisa Hammond. And after all, the name is “Strummers,” and the banjo is even featured in the group’s logo.
In a highlight of the shows at Mackle Park, many of the band’s groupies, otherwise known as the players’ wives, join in the Parasol Parade, taking up colorful mini-umbrellas and promenading around the band and the audience to a Dixieland melody. As English explains, this is an old New Orleans custom from funerals, where the band would play mournful numbers going to the graveyard, and more lively, spirited music on the return.
The Strummers offer up a wide range of musical styles, anchored in what Wes English calls “riverboat music,” with a mix of patriotic songs, polkas, blues, old-time country songs, minstrel tunes, and a whole lot of Dixieland. They venture into more recent popular music, playing Jimmy Buffett numbers this is Florida, after all and Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” The mix of numbers gives standout band members such as banjo virtuosi Norman Tererri and Richard Ferrara a chance to solo on their instruments, or take a turn singing lead vocals.
“The Strummers are always very popular. People love them,” said Mindy Gordon, recreation supervisor at Mackle Park. “All the winter concerts are fun. Live music, dancing, and a hotdog booth it doesn’t get any better than that on a Sunday afternoon in Marco.”
During the season, Mackle Park will host a rotating series of ensembles for the Winter Concert Series, with all shows kicking off at 2 p.m. each Sunday. The Michael Nardi Band plays the first gig, on January 5, followed by Bob Smith & Friends January 12, and the Music of Marco Big Band on January 19. The Marco Island Strummers play their first Winter Concert Series engagement on Sunday, January 26. After that, the bands should repeat in turn, but the final schedule has yet to be posted.
The bands change from one week to the next, but every Sunday afternoon during the season, it’s a party, and the chance to hear “the sound of music” at Mackle Park.
If you go
Winter Concert Series at Mackle Park
2 p.m. Sundays during the winter season
Free. Hotdogs and refreshments available. Bring your lawn chair.
1361 Andalusia Terr. Marco Island, FL 34135
Phone: (239) 642-0575
More info: www.cityofmarcoisland.com