Music to Our Ears
Tallahassee marches to a new beat as music scene expands
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Currently, Durrance is the front man, lead singer and songwriter for Tobacco Rd Band. His music is gritty and raw — traditionally Southern with rock influences. The subjects of his songs include the joys and trials of his children, the heavy comfort of a shotgun on your shoulder, the smell of freshly tilled earth and appreciation and respect for the U.S. military.
courtesy of Eric Durrance / PhotoPhactory
Eric Durrance is the frontman for the homegrown, four-member country music group, Tobacco Rd Band.
Memorable Tallahassee moments for Eric Durrance include opening a sold-out show for Cole Swindell at The Moon, performing in front of a crowd of 10,000 at the New Year’s Eve Festival and headlining the fireworks show on July 4 at Tom Brown Park. For Durrance, his career is only gaining momentum, as it’s apparent his deal with Jake Owen will be a groundbreaking step in music making. He’s excited, without a doubt, but still humble. It’s all about his roots.
“I’m forever grateful for the love Tallahassee has shown me,” Durrance said. “I hope I’ve proven Tallahassee is a place that can launch you into your wildest dreams and catch you gracefully if you come crashing down.”
It’s no secret that Tallahassee welcomes a new crop of young adults with each incoming wave of college students. A lot of these individuals have flourishing musical talent, some study the progression of music history, many create rhythms in dorm rooms and a few brave, talented and proactive souls take to the local bars and venues in pursuit of sharing their songs.
Kurt Stevens attended Florida State University and was in a fraternity. Looking at him, you would think he was your average college guy. Hearing him sing, you would understand how he ended up in Nashville. Stevens writes his own music and has performed at the infamous Bluebird Café. He credits his success to Tallahassee.
“When I talk about my career, I never forget to mention how blessed I was to be able to go to school and live in Tallahassee,” Stevens said. “Now I am focusing on my songwriting craft, and I have the performing part down because I was lucky to start my career in a place that harbored live music.”
When Stevens arrived in 2012, he was surprised to find that live music wasn’t as popular with his peers as he thought it deserved to be. He wanted them to take a break from electronic music in dance clubs and tune into live music. He set out to make this happen by approaching a place he and his friends frequented: Potbelly’s. For four years, Stevens brought crowds to venues such as Clydes, Bullwinkles, The Strip, The Moon, Pockets Pool Hall, College Town and more.
One of those listeners was Zan Frett, who plays bass for several local bands and performs solo acoustic acts. Frett asked Stevens for an audition and was soon playing all over Tallahassee and the rest of the state.
“Because of Tallahassee, I’ve met mentors and am performing alongside artists who will one day be the face and future of music,” said Frett. “The venues and opportunities they provide are growing and becoming more of a professional atmosphere.”
Tyler Denning, seen strumming and singing in Tallahassee’s bars on any given weekend, had a similar start, walking into bars and asking to play. He also struck a sweet note of success.
“Tallahassee has been the foundation of my entire musical journey,” explained Denning. “I played my first acoustic shows here, formed my band here and we’ve recorded both of our albums here. I’ve received opportunities here that would be extremely hard to come by in larger cities.”
Those opportunities have included weekly gigs at the likes of Fifth & Thomas, The Moon, Side Bar, Fire Betty’s and opening for the Steve Miller Band. “Our music scene is the best I’ve seen in my nine years here, and it’s poised to get exponentially better.”
Ryan Raines is a talented drummer who studied jazz drums at FSU and plays for a handful of regional acts.
“The audience here is super receptive, which is validating and encouraging,” said Raines. “I think the Midtown music scene is best, with great-sounding venues and distinctive atmospheres. They are automatic draws.”
Nestled in the heart of Midtown is the haven musicians and those who love music and food have been craving: Fifth & Thomas. Their concept is exceptionally composed: Don’t make the food, the cocktails and the music compete; instead, have them merge together, forming a beautiful symphony. A true masterpiece doesn’t go unnoticed and, more often than not, begs to be copied.
Competition cuts both ways, of course, and Fifth & Thomas is part of an explosion of new restaurants and other music venues that have popped up in Midtown and beyond. “The live music scene is taking the city by storm, which is awesome,” a Fifth and Thomas employee observed.
Music Makes The World (and Tallahassee) Go ‘Round
Bill Wharton, affectionately titled, The Sauce Boss, has been making music in Tallahassee since the late ’60s. His on-stage gumbo making would come later. Throughout the years, he has witnessed Tallahassee change and evolve. Through it all, he always returns.
“Tallahassee has always been a retreat for me,” said Wharton. “The kind of place where you can write and explore a creative performance. A great town for an artist. I’ve seen a lot of creative spirit here. It feels good jamming with the young ‘uns as well as old friends, and welcoming new faces and new venues make for a hoppin’ scene. We keep growing and creating.”
Music grows within us, and because it does, it creates emotions. It transports us to a time with someone you love, a loss or even just a fall day when the sun shone a little brighter than usual. Music enhances our intelligence, as seen in the test scores and creative abilities of those who study it. It soothes those in need of a smile, and it heals. Take, for instance, stroke victims whose voices have been taken, but who suddenly and unexplainably find their words, thanks to music.
Music is meant to be heard, yes, but also to be felt. When the stage lights have dimmed, the equipment has been cleared and the musicians are on their way home or to the next show, they hope that they’ve struck a chord that will resonate long after the last note is played.