It’s another sunny day in Sarasota, a day just like the day before. The sky is cloudless, and the breeze smells vaguely of coconut sunscreen and jacaranda blooms.
Well-dressed pairs of men and women are sitting at outdoor bistro tables along Hillview Street and noshing on heaping salads.
Cars with leather interiors and convertible rooftops are cruising up and down Tamiami Trail.
Birds are singing. Cell phones are jingling. A feisty waitress with a ponytail and dimples is darting between tables, making small talk and good tips.
Under the shade of a palm tree, with a borrowed guitar at his feet, sits David Smash; his shirt half-buttoned, his blond hair half-slicked back, a long chain dangling from his neck.
“This place is like a Hollywood dreamland,” Smash says surveying the scene around him. “Back home, America was a myth — like life after death. Once someone goes to America, they never come back. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s so good.”
Two months ago, the 19-year-old, whose real name is Dovydas Mašcinskas, was still living at home with his parents and little sisters in Lithuania, where for five years he fronted an American-style, rock-and-blues band that landed the musician on several televised music competitions, including the 2009 season of “Lithuania’s Got Talent.”
“Lithuania is small,” Smash says. “There are only six TV channels and 14 radio stations all playing techno and pop. There are only a few music producers, and none of them will work with an American-style musician. They see no product.”
Sarasota saw a product.
After graduating from high school, Smash had intended to take his act to Germany or the United Kingdom, but he ended up on the Gulf Coast of Florida instead, thanks to the power of Facebook.
After watching videos of the teen performing with his band on YouTube, Bradenton musician Steve Arvey began communicating with Smash via Facebook.
It didn’t take long for the Lithuanian front man to sell his guitar, amp and drum set and move to Sarasota, where Arvey, a 54-year-old, rock-and-blues veteran, set up the performer with gigs and borrowed equipment.
“He’s a whiz kid,” Arvey says. “At 19, he’s got more musicianship than guys twice his age. And he’s done his homework. A lot of the beach bars in town are looking for these Jack Johnson-types. David’s got much more heart and soul than that. He’s an inspiration.”
In less time than it takes most musicians to book one underground dive bar, Smash has already played Ocean Blues, Kojak’s Palmetto Ribhouse, the Siesta Key Oyster Bar and WSLR’s auditorium, where he opened earlier this month for the Dirty Bourbon River Show.
“Everyone is so friendly here,” says Smash, who met his band mates at a local jam session. “They keep telling me I’m great. I’m not used to it. In my country, we don’t encourage people to be special. After my first concert in seventh grade, my teacher came up to me, not to congratulate me, but to tell me, ‘Don’t get your nose too high in the air.’ I was just a kid who played my first song.”
The flattery is flowing now, though it seems Smash, who is staying with a new friend in Gillespie Park, is still too culture-shocked to be affected by it.
A former competitive swimmer, he describes himself as a “sportsman,” who is as passionate about eating healthy and working out as he is playing music.
“I keep my mind clear,” he says. “I’ve read all the literature on drugs and alcohol. I know what they can do to you. When you waste a lot of energy on stage, you have to replace it with a good diet and exercise. A lot of musicians are tired and falling off the stage by the end of the night and I’m still full of energy.”
The first week he arrived in Sarasota he joined the YMCA and purchased a $50 bicycle off of Craigslist, which he pedals to and from gigs.
“It’s the best bicycle I ever had,” says Smash. He adds, “Can you believe there’s a website where you can purchase things from people?”
On stage, Smash is full of swagger. His throaty vocals make him sound like Jerry Lee Lewis, and his slide guitar makes him sound like Chuck Berry.
Off stage, he’s the earnest son of a former heavyweight lifter and stay-at-home mother, who, when Smash was 13, cobbled together 20 euros to buy him a no-name acoustic guitar from a flea market in Germany.
“My father had a lot of rock ’n’ roll and doo-wop recordings,” Smash says. “We listened to Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. — the golden library of music. My father said the clearest water is at the beginning of the river, so I started learning the roots.”
His musical influences are obvious: Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Chet Atkins, to name a few.
The rest of the Smash package is a combination of ambition, self-discipline and charm gleaned from having spent his youth studying the mannerism of American movie stars, from Gary Cooper to Clint Eastwood to George Clooney.
Though he was taught English in school, he admittedly grasped most of the language by downloading all six seasons of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
“At first I couldn’t understand much,” Smash says. “I had a dictionary and I was looking up words like ‘homie.’ After four or five episodes I was walking around saying, ‘You can dig it.’”
Arvey, who has spent his career touring venues around the world, says Smash has a character strength that can’t be manufactured: sincerity.
If you ask Smash what it is that sets him apart from other musicians, he’ll say it’s his principles and classic rockabilly sound.
“People will get sick of Lady Gaga one day,” he says. “The techno hits of last summer won’t last forever.”
Almost on cue, an SUV with candy-coated pop music thumping from its open windows speeds past his serene spot in the shade. Smash, however, is too busy ordering a second orange juice to notice.
“I got to play a couple songs at the Ritz-Carlton,” he says. “I spoke with some guys there, and they were talking about the bad economy, and I thought to myself, ‘C’mon guys. We’re sitting at the Ritz-Carlton. How bad can it be?’”
IF YOU GO
The David Smash Band plays every Monday night at Ocean Blues on Hillview Street in Southside Village. In addition to playing the guitar, Smash plays piano, drums, harmonica and xylophone. For more information, call 366-3010 or follow David Smash on Facebook.
Currently 1 Response
- Ah, I'd love to hear him sing and play. Since he comes from what I refer to as The Motherland (all my grandparents emigrated from Lithuania) I'd love to show him soem support.
28 Spotlight Kids Auditions!
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
28 Wordier Than Thou storytelling and prose open mic
10 Lend Me a Tenor
7:30 pm - 2:00 pm
13 A Taste of Downtown Food & Wine Festival
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm