Getting their groove on
What do a foundry owner, a lumber wholesaler and a retired labor union employee have in common?
Creative minds and musical skills.
Ed Summers of Estero and Bob Williams and Mike McMillan of Fort Myers Beach meet up on Wednesdays as The Pearl Street Band to jam out to a few of their favorite songs at Truly Scrumptious in Santini Plaza.
While the ice cream shop is usually closed for dinner, Wednesdays are an exception. The band gets meal and the customers get free live entertainment for the once-a-week dinner special.
And the Pearl Street men don’t have trouble filling the diner with friends, family and fans. They even have a set of regular listeners.
“To our surprise, people come back,” McMillan said.
But once the three men – and usually a special guest musician – pick up their instruments to play a tune, it’s clear why they attract their own fan base.
Claiming “Americana” as their genre, the Pearl Street Band strums to blues and ballads thrown in with a little island-folksy stint.
Chuck and Cassie Conrad try to cross the street every week to listen to them play.
“They always mix in a different artist with their core group,” Chuck said. “And it’s a nice mix of covers and originals.”
The Pearl Street Band didn’t actually start out as a band. It was mistaken as a band.
The three “core” members would often play together in the area. Then, they were asked if their band could perform at a local fundraiser.
“They didn’t know we were a band,” Williams said. “So I said, yeah, we’re a band.”
Listeners aren’t going to hear the same portfolio as other places on the island, said Williams, one of the band’s guitar players. Williams and McMillan are both songwriters; Summers, the base player, is happy to strum along to their tunes.
“We do a lot of originals or obscure covers.” Williams said.
The three men also try to collaborate with other local artists in their style, each week featuring a guest. The band, and the special guest, often practice on Tuesday before playing to the public at Truly Scrumptious.
“We’re not an open mic, but we’re open to collaboration with some practice,” Williams said. “When a guest comes in to play, we have to figure out on the fly how to work with them while they play their own material.”
Bill Veach, another island resident, is an unofficial fourth band member and frequent special guest. A songwriter himself, Veach also plays guitar and a cajon drum, adding some percussion into the strings band.
“I was a long-haired rock and roll drummer in high school,” Veach said. “I played guitar for a while and re-entered playing when I retired.”
Collaboration and expanded opportunity doesn’t end of Fort Myers Beach: the four men are all members of the Americana Community Music Association, an organization based in Fort Myers that draws together singer-songwriters from the southwest Florida area together to collaborate and grow together. The website defines Americana as a contemporary music genre incorporating various American styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, blues and R&B. The organization hosts about 60 events a year, including a weekly show held Saturdays at its main rented venue, the All Faiths Unitarian Congregation at 2756 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers.
Williams is the vice president and McMillan a member of the board.
“We have under-the-wire, not famous yet, musicians touring with a local opener,” Williams said. “There’s an emphasis on original music.”
Veach said playing for the ACMA was some of his first experiences playing his own music in front of an audience with the guitar. When he used to play drums, he was hidden in the back. Adding the fact that at the ACMA, he’s playing in front of other songwriters, he used to get nervous.
“You’re standing up there with the mic and your guitar,” he said. “You might as well be naked.”
Williams said he and the other band members encouraged Veach to keep trying it out, because the group is very relaxed and not intimidating.
The ACMA holds events elsewhere in the county as well; some of its members, including the Pearl Street Band, will be participating in the Lovers Key Songwriters at Sunset, held in the beach gazebo Thursday, Jan. 4, beginning at 4:15 pm. A barbeque will be held before.
McMillan, Williams and Veach all write original content and they all have a different way of going about it. Williams and Veach often think of the lyrics before thinking of the music, but Veach said he’ll sometimes re-write a whole song because he found a sound he liked.
“Some fly out of the sky, some are painstaking,” Veach said. “The process is random, and creative.”
McMillan is opposite: usually, the tune comes to him first, long before the words settle in. The words have to have a connection to the music, he said.
“Bob and I are storytellers, McMillan is the musician,” Veach said.