Florida’s Gulf coast finally is getting a taste of what Gainesville has feasted on for two years — the musical talents of Sarasota native Michael J. Weiss, a lively singer-songwriter with a weakness for Jimmy Buffett, Dan Fogelberg, James Taylor and bare feet.
After 10 years away from home, Weiss, a graduate of Cardinal Mooney High School, is finally booking gigs in familiar territory.
“When I left Sarasota, there wasn’t any night life,” Weiss says. “Then again, when I left I wasn’t old enough to drink, so what did I know?”
The 29-year-old son of Sarasota pediatrician Robert Weiss and Forty Carrots Family Center founder Diane Weiss, Weiss started playing the guitar during his sophomore year at Eckerd College, in St. Petersburg, where he tortured his roommates with the same three chords strummed on a broken guitar he and his brothers used as a toy when they were kids.
His first guitar lesson came from a student he met on a study-abroad trip in London. Weiss learned how to clumsily pick Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” before receiving one lasting bit of wisdom: Girls like guitars.
So, Weiss spent his college years holed up listening to Tom Petty, Paul Simon and Jackson Browne.
“It was something fun to pass the time,” Weiss says. “I was terrible. My poor roommates at Eckerd used to sit around with pots and pans and mock me.”
After college he worked as a scuba-diving instructor in the Florida Keys, until Hurricane Wilma sank his houseboat in 2005, driving him back to the mainland, where he worked at a series of marketing jobs before moving to Gainesville to pursue a second bachelor’s degree.
Although the storm destroyed all of Weiss’ possessions, it prompted him to pen his most popular song, the autobiographical hit, “Dear Wilma,” a folk-country tune that became a staple among bar-goers in downtown Gainesville.
“When I moved to Gainesville, I basically said I’m going to do what I have to do to make money,” Weiss says. “I waited tables, bartended and worked a couple of PR jobs. One restaurant let me off my shift one night a week to play guitar for a couple of hours, and I borrowed equipment from friends because I figured it wouldn’t last.”
The restaurant, a trendy Mediterranean bistro, proved the perfect start for an aspiring singer-songwriter. Seated behind a wall in a dark corner by the restaurant’s front door, Weiss was shielded from the intimidating stares of college students.
“It was a nice transition from sitting in my bedroom where no one could see me to playing for a crowd of people for the first time in my life,” he says.
The gig grew from one night a week to six, forcing Weiss to purchase his own equipment. He lived in Gainesville for two years, playing at restaurants and rock-music venues. His first album, “Paradise for Me,” released in January 2008, is a mix of trop-rock and blues, acoustic recordings and live performances.
Weiss describes his second album, “Live in Your Living Room,” which was released earlier this year and includes the tracks, “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” and “Paradise Found,” as “good, beachy fun.”
A self-proclaimed Parrothead, (Weiss has been to 11 Buffett shows) the musician says he isn’t out to become the next John Mayer or Jason Mraz.
“Ninety-nine percent of music on the radio is about love lost, love found or horrible pain,” Weiss says. “It’s so cookie-cutter. The musicians may be extremely talented, but they’re forgetting the fun factor.”
In only two years, Weiss, who currently lives in St. Petersburg and is studying for a prosthetics degree at St. Petersburg College, has logged more than 300 shows from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale, including Gecko’s, in Palmer Ranch.
“I’m excited about Sarasota,” Weiss says. “The Sarasota crowd doesn’t care so much about what other people think. From what I’ve seen, they’re willing to let their hair down and have a good time.”
IF YOU GO
Michael J. Weiss will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, at Gecko’s Grill & Pub, 5585 Palmer Crossing Circle. For more information, call 923-6061 or visit
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