The local live music scene is rich and varied, but those who fill the air with song have one thing in common: a passion for pleasing audiences
By Mary Ann Benyo | Photograph by Chuck Snyder
From the September 2015 issue
On a warm summer evening, gentle lounge music floats across the boardwalk from Victoria’s Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach. Lively steel drums bring a Caribbean lilt to the deck of the Rusty Rudder overlooking the bay in Dewey Beach. And rock, blues and jazz pulsate from bar bands throughout the beach area as patrons laugh and chatter, enjoying the chance to mingle, dance with friends, or just soak up the sound.
The appeal of live music, especially in summer resorts, is self-evident. But the nature of that appeal varies from style to style, place to place, and audience to audience. Speaking of pianist Jeff Irwin, whom the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel hired more than 20 years ago to play at Victoria’s, Jennifer Zerby simply says, “The guests have certainly enjoyed him, so we kept him all these years.” One key to that longevity is the intimate, personal touch Irwin brings to every performance. Explains the hotel’s marketing director: “A lot of our guests are repeat guests and they look for him. He gets to know them. They walk in and he starts playing their favorite songs.”
A similar dynamic exists with bar bands, though they typically please fans on a larger scale, sometimes hundreds at a time. “There’s nothing like seeing somebody perform their songs live,” says Vikki Walls, the entertainment director for Highway One, which owns and operates 10 bars and restaurants throughout the area. “The energy, the people singing along. … It’s wonderful to hear them on vinyl or a CD or download, whatever. But when it comes to seeing that band you love? Actually seeing them play their instruments? That’s what it’s all about.”
Indeed, though it’s not unusual for any local bar or restaurant to have live music, it’s the raison d’être for Highway One’s Bottle & Cork. “If I can’t get a band or concert there, it’s not open,” Walls says.
She is responsible for scheduling national bands at area concerts and music festivals throughout the summer. Meanwhile, Highway One principal partner Alex Pires handles bookings for most of the local groups that play at his establishments, including Love Seed Mama Jump, a six-member cover band that has maintained a huge following among more than one generation.
“We played a lot of cool places,” says Rick Arzt, Love Seed’s lead singer, “but our favorite place is probably the Rudder. We started there 23 years ago on Thursday nights. We’re still there, and that’s what we consider our home.”
Arzt explains that Love Seed was born out of the group’s passion for playing music. “I just love it, and the other guys feel the same way,” he says. “We never had any idea you could make money at it or make a living at it. We did it to meet girls and to play music and to get free beer. Those are your aspirations when you’re 17 or 18.”
Nancy Thompson, Love Seed’s office manager for nearly a decade, says she knew them back when they had “a really hard time getting booked as a college band.” Over the years, however, “they’ve paid their dues.”
Paying their dues included chasing every artist’s dream of taking their originals on the road. They toured up and down the coast from Atlanta to Vermont and covered a bit of the Midwest as well. They had another dream, too: getting a record contract, and they came close several times with Sony and again with Artemis Records during the mid-1990s and early 2000s. “It didn’t pan out, but that’s cool,” Arzt says. “We gave it several good shots.” (They have self-recorded many originals, however, CDs of which are sold at shows. Full albums and single tracks also can be downloaded at the group’s website, loveseed.com.)
About that time, however, another inevitable obstacle to dream-chasing came into play: Some of the band’s members were getting married and having children. The road was becoming less appealing.
Indeed, one of the biggest forks in the road many local bands in coastal Delaware have faced is marriage. No matter how great the lure of touring, or how large the prospect of success looms, it often can’t hold a candle to the joys — and demands — of starting a family.
The solution for these dedicated musicians has been to find places to play locally. And, often, to give up the idea of showcasing their original songs and instead mastering cover tunes. Indeed, many have embraced the idea with a vengeance, forming rock-solid relationships with their audiences that have lasted for decades.
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