Forget going quietly into retirement. The members of Lakewood Ranch’s Blue Pelicans are ready to rock their golden years.
It’s a beautiful January afternoon in Lakewood Ranch, and Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” is pumping out of the sunny clubhouse just past the open gates of Indigo. Behind the mic, a 60-something sporting a trim white beard and Woodstock tee belts out the lyrics, which unspool before him on an iPad.
“The wild night is calling / C'mon out and dance,” he sings, as the drummer pounds out the rhythm below a familiar jangle of twin guitars, keyboards and soaring sax.
It’s been said that you have to put off being young until after retirement, a point well illustrated by the members of The Blue Pelicans. As Lakewood Ranch’s rising troubadours of feel-good classic rock, these five retirees — all ex-pats from the corporate world — have managed to pull off the ultimate second act: starting a rock band after 50.
They did this by mixing good old-fashioned work ethics with boyish exuberance and just the right amount of devil-may-care confidence to crush Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” in front of a bar crowd.
In just three years, The Blue Pelicans (Ken Combs, Bill Irvan and Tom Perillo on guitar and vocals; Bob Sharak on keys; and Anil Warrier on drums) have cultivated a loyal following around a crisp sound and crowd-pleasing lineup of The Beatles, Eagles and Van Morrison hits. Maybe you’ve caught one of their gigs. They regularly play private parties and barbecues around town, in addition to the Naughty Monk, where last August they threw down a three-hour Woodstock set in front of nearly 150 people in honor of the festival’s 50th anniversary.
“People showed up in their tie-dyed shirts and all their peace, love and music paraphernalia,” Irvan says. “That was a rush.”
LIVING ROOM ROOTS
The Pelicans began in typical Lakewood Ranch fashion: with a sign posted to a community bulletin board.
Perillo, 60, was the first to make a move. A native New Yorker, the hobby guitarist spent 25 years managing financial systems for Barnes & Noble before retiring to Indigo four years ago. Hoping to snag a few jam buddies, he hung a “Musicians Wanted” sign in the clubhouse by the pool, which grabbed the attention of Combs, a retired Sarasota CFO who briefly played with a band in Port Charlotte. Irvan entered the picture soon thereafter.
A retired engineer, Irvan, 66, cut his teeth performing John Denver and Jim Croce tunes at coffeehouses when he was a student at the University of Kentucky. Although he sidelined the hobby years ago to focus on his career, he never lost interest in playing — or singing.
“Bill’s voice changed things for us,” Perillo says. “It pretty much allowed us to do any song we wanted at that point.”
With permission from the community, they moved their jam sessions out of Combs’ living room and into Indigo’s clubhouse, to the delight of nearby poolgoers.
When Warrier moved into the neighborhood in 2017, he couldn’t help but notice the group was missing a drummer. A musical neophyte, the 59-year-old had never even considered playing the drums during his 32 years working in supply chain management at Colgate-Palmolive. After listening to Perillo, Combs and Irvan each week, however, the new retiree decided to make a bold move. He signed up for lessons to become the band’s drummer.
“The first lesson I took, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m doing this,’” Warrier recalls. “My teacher (Garrett Dawson at The Drum Studio) said, ‘No, you can do it,’ and he got me going.”
What kept him going was watching Perillo, Combs and Irvan rock out. Novice or not, he wanted in.
“The end of the story is Anil’s really good!” Perillo says with a laugh. “He’s been a real surprise.”
"I don’t know of any other community in Lakewood Ranch that has a band. … Residents will come to the pool just to hear them practice.”
— Tami Prince, Indigo Lifestyle Director
The band started gigging as a four-piece on New Year’s Eve 2017 with Warrier on his old electronic drum kit. A few months later, the group met Sharak, a longtime Lakewood Ranch resident and regular at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall’s Pro-Jam sessions.
“I played a couple of songs, did an audition,” Sharak says. “They liked the way I played the solos to all The Beatles songs, and that was it.”
Of all the Pelicans, Sharak has the wildest backstory. The 72-year-old army veteran-turned-CPA played the accordion as a child. By 10th grade, he was in a wedding band and by college a nine-piece soul band. Sharak even played bass guitar on a riverboat in Pittsburgh before pushing aside music for a 32-year career as a financial executive at Johnson & Johnson.
“I said to myself, ‘I have to earn some money,’ and music wasn’t the way I was going to do it,” says Sharak, whose first Pelicans gig was in mid-2018. “Thirty-two years later, I’m done with the corporate world and getting back into music.”
FULL BAND RISING
The Pelicans are as polished and harmonious as any seasoned cover band. They rock and roll without overwhelming the listener or grating on the ears. Their sound is tight, and their love of playing is palpable. In fact, the group vibes so well together that people assume they’re listening to a veteran ensemble.
“I don’t know of any other community in Lakewood Ranch that has a band,” says Indigo Lifestyle Director Tami Prince, whose office is located in the clubhouse where the band rehearses each week. “I’ve heard them play the same songs over and over, and they just keep getting better and better. It’s created a really cool atmosphere at Indigo. Residents will come to the pool just to hear them practice. I see people dancing and singing along. It’s exciting.”
One of the band’s favorite local sing-alongs is its monthly happy hour slot at The Sheridan at Lakewood Ranch. “It’s a little bit of giving back to the community,” Irvan says. "You can tell [the residents] are having a blast, which makes it even more fun.”
Fun is a word that comes up often when talking to the Pelicans. It’s like the old Dick Van Dyke quote: “Retirement means doing what you have fun doing,” a tag line that could double as the motto for the band.
Perillo says that forming a band as older, wiser guys has worked to their advantage. There’s less squabbling. More compromise. A better understanding of not having everything go your way. And best of all, larger chunks of free time.
“There isn’t a better hobby when you retire than getting together with other guys and playing music,” Combs says. “That’s the best retirement thing you could ever do, I think.”
Sharak agrees — with one caveat.
“As long as it doesn’t become a job,” he says with a chuckle.
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