The Grouper Cheeks band has been making music through the pandemic — most recently with a tribute song to Sarasota.
Kenny Goldstone had plans for his new band.
He and his many friends had come together as the Grouper Cheeks in late 2019 to rock out and play cover songs for people in the Sarasota County and Central Florida areas.
After months of rehearsing, they booked their first live gig — it was all set for March 2020.
It’s safe to say that things didn’t go the way Goldstone had hoped.
But good artists improvise, and Goldstone and the rest of his new bandmates decided to go with the flow. If they couldn’t play live, they’d make their music remotely. The Grouper Cheeks ended up recording month in and out from their homes during the pandemic.
It’s not what they expected, but they’ve ended up exactly where they want to be.
“The pandemic sort of created a very strange and wonderful opening to pursue music in a way that (we) never had a chance to do before,” Goldstone said. “I woke up the morning (we canceled the gig) and wrote the first original song for the band. That cascaded into multiple months of us recording from eight different locations.”
Skip ahead to 2021 and the band has been performing live at venues since July, most notably at the Pops Sunset Grill in Nokomis. Goldstone leads with vocals and an acoustic guitar while Jason Capobianco and Craig Daily play guitar, Dave Franko handles sax and percussion, Matthew Pengra works the keyboard, Shawn Rinehart rocks the drums and a few others handle editing and background vocals.
It’s a busy operation, but it’s also a labor of love. All of the Grouper Cheeks players have day jobs — Goldstone has an executive position with Full Sail University in Central Florida — and view their time with the band as a passion project.
“Some of the pressure is off, and it gives us a little bit more latitude,” Goldstone says. “When we think about recording music, we don't have to say ‘We have to fit one certain genre.’ It gives us a little more flexibility in our creativity.”
The Grouper Cheeks had humble beginnings. Goldstone – who was already part of a Sarasota County cover band — started playing acoustic guitar on his own from time to time. When some of his friends and coworkers at Full Sail heard the news he was performing, they wanted in.
“They just said, ‘Well if you're going to play then we want to play with you,” Goldstone said.
One bandmate became three, which eventually became a grand total of 10 musicians playing together. The majority of the band lives in Central Florida but routinely makes a trek to the west coast to play in Nokomis and other Sarasota County locations, something for which Goldstone is grateful.
Two of those members — Brad Floyd and Leslie Brathwaite — are engineers and mixing professionals who mix the band live during shows. They also were critical in helping record the songs during the pandemic, where Brathwaite would receive the many audio tracks from each bandmate and mix them into proper songs from his studio in Atlanta.
“The bigger struggle wasn't the (remote) technology, it was that some of the individuals really felt suppressed by not being able to be collaborative with somebody else in the room,” Goldstone says. “The cool thing was to learn and start to figure out how we can facilitate and make (recording) feel more collaborative.”
As for the type of music they play, the Grouper Cheeks like to keep it loose. Some of their songs dip into heavy rock while their cover of “I Go Swimming” by Peter Gabriel has more of a funk-pop feel.
“We’re rebellious in that we do not plan on leaning into any certain genre,” Goldstone says. “If there’s a certain direction we want to go, we’ll just let it happen.”
They’re working toward releasing a full album in spring 2022, but in the meantime, Goldstone jokes it’s a singles world and the band puts out each song as it finishes it. It has released three so far this year with another five in production.
The band recently debuted one a brand new song, “Sarasota Sun,”a relaxing love letter to the Sarasota area.
It’s inspired by Goldstone’s many years living on the Suncoast and references many famed Sarasota area spots, such as Longboat Key, Manasota and those famed Sarasota sunsets. It’s that variety of locales and the local beauty that Goldstone wanted to pay tribute to.
“I just started writing some chords and thought ‘Man, I’m feeling a connection between these chords and this town,” Goldstone says. “You can be 15 minutes from beautiful farmland and oak tree shadows, and then you’re 15 minutes away from a green flash on one of the most gorgeous beaches in Florida during sunset.”
Goldstone and his band mates are human, with the same anxieties and unease as anyone else during this pandemic — some bandmates have immunocompromised relatives and loved ones they’ve had to be particularly careful around to keep safe.
Goldstone is of the mind that making music and collaborating with his friends in the Grouper Cheeks has been something that’s kept them happy and sane over the last year and change.
They already have plans for their next song — they’re thinking of give it a Memphis rock feel.
“(We get) sanity from this,” Goldstone says. “I’ve talked to friends who don’t have an outlet like this and I can tell they wish they had something similar. It’s important to find something that diversifies your life and gives you something to fill a void that might have occurred during all of this.”
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