So how’s that music thing working out?

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You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!

The voyage that never was: Kemah to Fort Myers

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Well, it turns out that the Tina Marie Too is not moving to Florida next week, and I won’t be making my first delivery. That’s ok, though. It means more guitar jams at Watergate Marina.

Several people still wanted to see the animated GIF, so I’m leaving it posted. Eventually at some point the Tina Marie Too will make the trip, just not next week as was previously planned.

Out on the town in Port St. Joe

We didn’t spend all of our time in Florida on the beach. Each evening we made it back to the rental house just in time for sunset — and what spectacular sunsets they were.

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While the downside to our rental is that it wasn’t within walking distance of the beach, the upside is that it was just a few blocks from downtown Port St. Joe.

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We walked into town Friday night for dinner at Provisions, which came highly recommended by all the locals. I sampled the paella while Mary tried to seafood pasta. Both were exceptional.

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Afterwards we stopped by The Thirsty Goat, which seemed to be the center of Port St. Joe nightlife, for a cold brew and some live music.

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The Bo Spring Band played Friday night, and they were phenomenal.

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Saturday morning we tried both the Bin4Eleven coffee shop and the No Name Cafe, which are just a few doors down from each other on Reid Avenue. Both had very decent coffee, but the No Name Cafe was a bit more austere and half the price.

Then we took a stroll through all the art, decor, and antique shops. Despite all the interesting paintings, knick-knacks and dead starfish we saw, we only made one purchase all weekend. We bought Dixie Belle a new sailboat collar at Bow Wow Beach. She was quite excited to wear it when we got home.

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Saturday we picked up dinner from Joe Mama’s Wood Fired Pizza. Joe Mama’s is a chain in Florida, but we’d never heard of it. The restaurant was absolutely packed when I went in to pick up the order, but the pizza itself didn’t quite live up to expectations. The flavor wasn’t bad, but the crust was very soggy and floppy.

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Our rental was just across the street from the United Methodist Church, and Sunday morning we could hear the hymns floating over on the breeze. We made another trip into town for coffee and maybe some breakfast, only to find that aside from the gas station and fast food places, there is absolutely nothing open Sunday mornings in Port St. Joe. Since we had to drive back to Tallahassee anyway, we thought maybe we could stop in Apalachicola for breakfast, but we only found one place open there. Sunday morning breakfast was a bust. I guess when it comes to small town Florida, either be prepared to cook on Sunday mornings or head over to church for the free coffee.

Port St. Joe: St Joseph Peninsula State Park

We had one Saturday scheduled in Florida, so we decided to spend it exploring St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which is consistently rated one of the best beaches in not only Florida, but the nation. Much more sunscreen was applied.

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The park is at the end of the St. Joe peninsula and has the larger gulf waves lapping on the west side, and the calm clear waters of St Joseph Bay on the east. The drive from St Joe was around 35 minutes. According to their site, the state park boasts 9.5 miles of “snow-white” sand beaches and “aqua-blue” waters.

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Entry to the park was a mere $6 per vehicle, but there are no dogs allowed, so our new friend Turtle had to stay home and catch up on his reading.

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The park also has 119 campsites for those that want to hang out longer for some serious fishing, kayaking or SUP.

The gulf had more beach, bigger waves and got deep quickly, which made swimming much more fun that it was at Salinas Park. Everyone spent lots of time in the water, which was also more clear than the water at Salinas Park, but still not quite clear enough to get a good underwater selfie.

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As we sat and stared out into the blue, I kept seeing something move out of the corner of my eye. I finally grabbed the camera and stared at a couple of holes in the sand for the better part of 5 minutes. Then I finally saw this little guy flicking sand around cleaning out his burrow.

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These things are called ghost crabs, and once I saw the first crab, I started noticing them all over the beach. They’re pretty shy, but if you sit quietly for a few minutes, they’ll pop up to say, hello.

After several hours of playing in the surf, we began digging around and playing in the sand. There is something about pointless, mindless physical labor that is so relaxing. So naturally after digging what was a pretty impressive sand hole, we decided to bury two people in it, and make them into mermaids.

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After quite a bit more goofing off we decided to wander over and check out the bay. The water on this side was shallow for hundreds of feet out and totally clear. However, if you plan to venture into it, I highly recommend wearing shoes of some sort because it was teaming with crabs and spiky anemones.

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After exploring the area, we grabbed an empty shell and walked back to our chairs. As we packed up the car, we got a surprise when a crab made an appearance from the “empty” shell, demanding we put him (or her) back into the bay. We set the crab free and headed back to Port St. Joe.

Port St. Joe: Salinas Park and Broke-A-Toe horseback riding on the beach

Friday was our first beach day, and the decision was made to try out Salinas Park on Cape San Blas Road.

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Salinas Park caught our interest for several reasons:

1. It wasn’t too far from where we were staying in St. Joe.

2. It was free.

3. It’s dog friendly.

4. It’s where we were already scheduled to meet for Broke-A-Toe horseback riding on the beach that evening.

The county park was established in 1991, and it has bathroom and picnic facilities, but we didn’t come across any showers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any showers, but if there are, we didn’t find them.

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When we arrived Friday morning, we basically had the beach to ourselves. The sand was white-ish, but the water stayed shallow for quite a ways out. We spent most of the day lying on the beach, applying and then re-applying sunscreen, but not much time in the water.

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We also discovered the hidden dark side of Florida beaches — the biting flies! They came and went throughout the day, but when they bite, it HURTS!

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After finishing the sandwiches we’d made for lunch and all of the drinks we packed in the cooler, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the cars. Kelly and the Broke-A-Toe crew had already unloaded the horses for our 4:30 p.m. ride on the beach, so we enjoyed some shade while they finished saddling up.

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We had wondered whether or not we needed to pack pants and shoes for the riding, but due to county regulations the horses can’t go faster than a walk on the beach, so it’s a nice slow ride, perfect for beginners or people wearing swimsuits and flip-flops.

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One very special thing about the Broke-A-Toe horses is that several of them are rescued horses and older horses, and all of them were extremely sweet, especially compared to some of the ornery horses I’ve known.

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After a quick horse-steering demonstration, we headed back down to the beach to discover a pod of dolphins was frolicking less than 100 yards offshore. It was magical. Even the horses were watching the dolphins, and as we rode down the beach, the dolphins swam with us. My only regret was that I had a wide-angle lens on the camera because I had been planning to shoot our horseback riding experience, not offshore marine mammals, so the dolphins just look like specs in the photos. I should have brought a zoom.

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Our ride guides not only made sure no horse poop was left on the beach, but they also proved to be great photographers.

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The ride back up the beach went a little quicker than the ride down because the horses knew there were hay bags waiting for them at the trailer, but the entire ride was very relaxed and enjoyable.

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This really made a great post-beach pre-dinner activity, and it added a little something special to our day. Of course, they can’t guarantee dolphin frolicking every ride.

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Going topless at Port St. Joe

Sometimes there’s just no way to avoid renting a car. Our weekend trip to St. Joe, Florida has us flying into Tallahassee, which was almost two hours away. Then, our adorable rental house was within walking distance of downtown St. Joe, but it was a few miles from the beaches.

I first investigated the average cost of rentals. It seemed like we were going to pay about $35 per day for a mid-size sedan while a convertible sports car was $90 a day. An extra $55 per day didn’t seem justifiable, but I had this fantasy in my head about driving down the coast in a convertible that just wouldn’t go away. Plus, Fred always had a convertible back in his bachelor days, and I knew he missed driving one, and I really wanted to surprise him.

I decided to try the Priceline name your own price tool, and I put in $50 per day for a Mustang convertible. Boom, it was accepted by Budget Rental Car. Thanks, Shatner!

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Driving that car around with the top down was close to the funnest thing about the trip. (After hanging out with my sister, of course).  Fred really loved driving it too, and we had no shortage of friends willing to ride with us to the beach.  All in all … I think it might be my new favorite splurge.

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Now, it did tend to make our hair a bit unmanageable, but hey, that’s the price you pay for fun.

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It’s a very pretty drive from Tallahassee to Port. St. Joe, and we got a unique view of the scenery.

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We were still envious of the boaters anchored out along the route, enjoying life on the Florida coast … but not AS envious.

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The 2015 Mustang handled well, and the top was quick to move up and down. We had space in the trunk for multiple folding chairs, coolers and bags during our treks to the beach. And while Mustangs have never had a luxurious backseat, we had no complaints from the two medium-sized adults riding with us. However, the car electronics proved a bit glitchy. The entire first day there was a “hood open” warning on the dash even though the hood was definitely shut and latched. It wasn’t until Fred finally popped it and shut it again that the warning finally went away. Sometimes the back-up camera would stay on for what seemed an extended period of time after shifting back into drive and moving forward for quite a distance, and the entire info-tainment system was laggy. The Eco-Boost engine was zippy, but not what I would call “fast,” and averaged 25.8 mpg during our four days of driving.

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But probably the coolest (and definitely most unnecessary) feature of this car was the fact that when you unlocked the car in the dark, the side view mirrors project the running horse Mustang emblem onto the ground beside the car!

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Despite quite a bit of driving, when we returned the car Sunday afternoon there were no hidden costs or additional fees. The Priceline price was solid, which was more than we can say for the next car we rented straight through Budget Sunday evening — but that’s for another blog.