Niche music fans stay connected
With pop music, the tunes find you, even if you don’t want them to, whether through your car radio or a happy-hour singer strumming three guitar chords to a karaoke track when you sit down to dinner. But with less-commercial musical genres, you have to go looking for the music.
Often, the fans have to take a hand in promoting the music via word of mouth so that their music-loving peers can find local performances.
That’s where music societies and fan email-blast newsletters come into play to spread the word. In Southwest Florida, email lists and websites help fans of bluegrass, blues and other niche acoustic music genres connect with live performances of the music they love.
Russ Morrison, a bluegrass concert promoter in Naples, sends emails and maintains a Facebook page for bluegrass and other acoustic performances in Collier County, and Palmgrass Acoustic Music Society of Southwest Florida does the same for Lee County.
The Southwest Florida Blues Society sends a weekly email blast and maintains a website calendar for blues music performances from Marco Island to Englewood. The Paradise Coast Parrothead Club maintains a website calendar dedicated to Jimmy Buffet-style tropical rock performances in Collier and southern Lee counties.
“People come to Naples and say, ‘There’s no music here,’ but there’s all kinds of great, fantastic music — they just don’t know about it,” Morrison said. “The only way a lot of people know about any of this music is through newsletters or email blasts because the artists can’t afford advertising.
“Ricky Howard — he is a guitar player from New York City — has a jam session at Weekend Willies (in Naples) and has a (blues) group called Mudbone,” Morrison continued. “The bass player and the drummer, when they’re not on the road with the Neville Brothers, they play in it. You just never know who is going to be playing there, and guys come and sit in and they’re phenomenal. But unless you get on somebody’s mailing list, it just flies under the radar.”
Morrison said the Southwest Florida bluegrass scene is so well hidden that a well-known, published bluegrass scholar who retired to Naples was unaware for eight years that bluegrass music performances took place in the area.
“The first time he heard there was any bluegrass, there was a big write-up in the paper about our Bluegrass Saturday Night, and he was blown away because he didn’t know there was any bluegrass here,” Morrison said.
A bluegrass musician himself, Morrison began organizing the Florida Fish Hook Tour, which is a confederation of venues that book traveling bluegrass bands in order to make it economically feasible for the musicians to perform in south Florida.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with fish, but if you are slightly inebriated and you look at the state of Florida, it looks like a fish hook,” Morrison said. “The goal is to support acoustic music — not just bluegrass — so I build tours for them to come down through Florida and back out, because it’s hard to get enough money from each venue for bluegrass to justify a single-gig trip. You’ve got to have more than one gig to justify the gas, so I have a loose network of people across the state who can either get venues to work with us or who have a venue — a sort of loose amalgamation.
“We’ve been quite successful, but it’s a struggle trying to get the word out and trying to get enough money to make it work,” he continued. “I don’t want to bring someone just to bring them; I want to bring someone good, and they generally cost more money. I’ve just built the mailing list as much as I can. The venues, especially small ones like restaurants where these bands play, don’t have the money to advertise properly — and the bands sure as heck don’t — so I try to support them as much as I can.”
He sends out calendar emails several times a month detailing upcoming performances. Morrison also organizes the annual Neapolitan Opry Cluster Pluckin’ that highlights local acoustic acts of genres ranging from bluegrass to jazz to blues to Celtic music.
Although serving as a concert organizer and promoter, Morrison does not charge anyone for his services, as he simply wants to see more national acts performing in Collier County.
“There’s no risk involved because going in I know I’m not going to be making anything,” he said with a laugh. “There’s no uncertainty about it.”
When Mel Suran moved to Southwest Florida a few years ago, the blues fan was disappointed by the difficulties he had trying to locate live blues performances.
He had moved here from the Pacific Northwest, where the Cascade Blues Association published a newspaper with a two-page entertainment calendar that posed members with the conundrum of so many performances that Suran said it was hard to decide who to go see.
“I was hungry for some blues, so I started browsing around and talking to different people who had a connection with blues music somehow, and I said, ‘I wish I could find a resource that dedicated itself to informing people to where blues music is,’” said Suran, who co-founded the Southwest Florida Blues Society. “Little did I know I would become that resource.”
Even with a determination to find blues performances and the power of the internet available to him as a search resource, Suran had difficulty learning that a dedicated blues bar existed in Southwest Florida.
“It took me three years stumbling around looking for blues before I learned of the Buckingham Blues Bar, which is the longest standing, straight-up, nothing-but-blues venue in Southwest Florida,” he said. “What it’s done for the blues community at large — I’ve seen four different bands spawn from the musicians who go to the jams there — so it’s done a lot for the community as a whole, but it took me three years to learn of the bar.”
Suran also was unable to locate of many of the blues musicians and bands in the area.
“I had no knowledge of Mudbone before the society setting up,” Suran said.
Through the nonprofit blues society, Suran sends a weekly email e-blast as a perk to society members that provides a comprehensive listing of blues performances and other genres of interest throughout Southwest Florida, and occasionally the state, that is complete with all needed information.
He also maintains an excerpted events calendar viewable by the public on the society’s website, but to access complete information there takes more work for nonmembers.
“I kind of incorporate into the design of what I publish from a tourist’s standpoint because we all know that Southwest Florida gets people from all over the world,” he said. “When I look at artists’ websites a lot of times the listings are for the local people in their area who know where they’re playing by virtue of knowing the name of the venue.
“The idea of the way I built it is so that for people vacationing in Southwest Florida the entire resource is there, with the day, date, time, artist, venue specifically with address and phone number, and the web links for the venues and artists to help you decide if that is the venue you want to visit or the artist you want to go see,” Suran said. “I have had people say they wait weekly for that on Wednesday morning to plan their blues week.”
The blues society doesn’t post its events calendar to social media.
“I’m not on Facebook much, so for me to get a notice that somebody’s playing here tonight, that’s too late,” Suran said. “I needed to know yesterday to figure out what I’m going to do today. That’s what we’re all about, in the interest of keeping the blues ‘A(LIVE),’ and I always capitalize the entire word with the parentheses on ‘live’ because we’re all about live music.”
Connect with this writer @LauraTichySmith (Twitter)
Find live music
What: Florida Fish Hook Tour bluegrass newsletter
What: Southwest Florida Blues Society weekly email blast
By mail: P.O. Box 166, Matlacha, FL 33993
Cost: Individual $20; family $15 each; blues artist $10; venue or business $100 (two membership cards)
What: Palmgrass Acoustic Music Society of Southwest Florida
What: Paradise Coast Parrothead Club