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Riding a High Tide into the new year

Band is a Times Square mainstay

December 29, 2015
By John Morton - Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

High Tide is Fort Myers Beach's house band.

When you play front and center every Friday night for five years in the heart of Times Square, that's undisputed. And with it comes a big perk - the headliner slot before a projected crowd of at least 2,000 under the glow of the fireworks on New Year's Eve.

"It's for sure our favorite gig and our biggest gig," said Scott Novello, the band's leader who handles bass and vocals. "We play about 300 shows a year all over the region but nothing is like New Year's Eve in Times Square."

Article Photos

High Tide is, from left, David Moore, Scott Novello and Dan Shepard. The band plays Times Square on New Year's Eve for a fifth straight year.

High Tide consists of Novello, guitarist Dan Shepard and drummer David Moore. The unpredictability and changing faces of a Times Square crowd fits the band's personality, Novello said.

"People always ask us what kind of music we play while we're setting up in the clubs, and I never know how to answer them," Novello said. "I usually just say, 'That's a good question.' Truth is, I don't know.

"In Times Square, people are just happy to be there and happy we're there. We don't have a style as much as a sound - kind of a tropical vibe. It fits that scene well.

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"It's a no-pressure crowd, like we're all in this together."

Twist his arm some more and Novello will finally offer up an answer.

"We're kind of in between Bob Marley and Pink Floyd," he said with a chuckle, well aware there is no common ground to be found there. The band does, however, perform unique covers of songs by both in its set.

Fact Box

New Year's Eve events in Times Square:

Thursday's New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square will feature two local bands. Hester Prynn will take the stage from noon to 5 p.m., followed by High Tide from 7 p.m. to midnight and beyond.

The day will also feature a 20th birthday presentation to be held at noon for the town of Fort Myers Beach, with a variety of officials making presentations. Free cupcakes will be provided by Cupcakes in Paradise. At midnight, a fireworks show will take place at the public pier.

Variety is key, both in the set and in the crowd.

"The turnover in the crowd is always refreshing, especially when you play a five-hour set," Novello said.

And that will be the case again Thursday night, as High Tide takes the stage at 7 p.m. and finally pulls the plug well after 2016 arrives.

Will "Auld Lang Syne" be one of the songs?

"We'll get that request, along with 'Margaritaville' and the other usual ones. But that's not us," Novello said. "We don't really learn songs, and maybe it's because we're the band that never rehearses. We're always playing live and usually a song comes from improvisation while we're jamming. That's why none of our covers sound much like the song."

The primo Times Square gig was the result of some good fortune. Novello is friends with Plaka restaurant owner Stavros Malakaikas, who wanted to establish some live music in the area.

"But we really couldn't play in a Greek restaurant like that on top of people while they ate dinner," Novello said. "So the Sunset Celebration stage was created instead and we just happened to be the band he knew. And that was just a month before New Year's Eve. So next thing we knew we had this big show - we had spent years wondering why everyone else got all the good gigs around here. Suddenly, we had something that was ours.

"Not that we take it for granted. I'm amazed they haven't gotten sick of us yet. For sure, it's nice to be wanted."

Times Square means the world to Moore as well. For 15 years he was literally a fixture at the PierSide restaurant, glued to a stool as a one-man band who played the drums and sang over prerecorded guitar and bass bits. During his breaks, he'd sit outside and watch High Tide play in the fresh air with the sunset as its backdrop.

"I thought, 'These guys have some chops. Not bad,'" Moore said. "We became friends. Then, management changed and dropped me and I was out of a job. It didn't take me long to really miss Times Square."

Two years ago, Moore played with the band as a fill-in while it auditioned drummers. It soon became clear High Tide had already found its man.

"Right away, when I took the seat behind the drums in Times Square I had people recognizing me on their way to the PierSide. They still slap me on the back as they walk by," Moore said. "I had forgotten how fun it was to be in a band. I was solo for 24 years."

The crowd Thursday night is expected to be huge, the New Year's Eve party taking place in conjunction with the town's 20th birthday. Nerves won't enter in for the veteran rockers, however, and their musical pedigree suggests why: Novello played in a band that has not only played the iconic CBGB's in Manhattan but took the stage at the Woodstock 25th anniversary show in upstate New York, his set coming between those of Metallica and Aerosmith; Moore was featured on a Todd Rundgren album and in Modern Drummer Magazine for his computer techniques; and Shepard has jammed with the likes of new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members Cheap Trick.

"We've been around the block, so we don't get fazed," said Novello who, at 52, has been a full-time musician for the past 10 years.

The draw of Times Square does subject the band to many people who may not otherwise see it, and one record producer a few years back did approach Novello.

"He wanted to get us into the studio, but unfortunately the man died. It was a freak thing," Novello said. "He thought we should be doing things on a larger scale, and so have some others, but if that doesn't come it is fine by me. I really don't care - what I'm doing now is great."

So Times Square can count on its resident rockers for years to come?

"Consider it indefinite," Novello said. "As long as I'm still standing."



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