MUSIC PREVIEW: Local songwriters return to rock Suzy’s
Mike Hess believes in local music.
Since the nineties, Hess, a local musician, himself, has fought to promote deserving South Bay artists within the beach cities. Now he is back on the scene, hosting a new songwriters’ showcase at Suzy’s Ragin Cajun on Thursday night.
“I hosted and produced the South Bay Songwriters’ “live demo” Industry Showcase in 1997 through1998 at the Suzy’s location, then called the Hermosa Steak Out,” said Hess. “It was quite a success and garnered a lot of attention. We even got covered in the South Bay weekly section of the L.A. Times during its run.”
The showcase began as a half-hour slot of a weekly open mic. Soon the owners asked Hess to expand the show to a full, three-hour standalone gig every week.
“While we filled the house with audience most nights, my real intent was to get industry people down from LA and get these songwriters signed,” he said. “A lofty goal that unfortunately never quite materialized. At least not yet. What we did accomplish was making lifelong friends, most of whom are still playing, writing and pursuing their dream.”
Two of those artists are Kevin Howland and Chad McCann.
“Mike and I hit it off right away,” said Howland. “I think musicians usually feel comfortable around other each other. He liked my songwriting, and he was always calling me to go here and there to perform. We had a lot of fun doing it.”
Howland now performs in two tribute bands: the Backbeats ,covering the Beatles, and Full Moon Fever, covering Tom Petty.
“The bands keep me fairly busy,” Howland said. “Yet, now and then, I still try to make time to write music. If you have the calling like I do, you just can’t let it go.”
“I am truly looking forward to seeing all the other songwriters again,” said Howland. “For me, It will be a fun reunion beyond words. I think everybody coming out to see us, will not be disappointed. It will be raw, and unplugged songwriting, with no gimmicks.When the show is done, you will know you just saw something special.”
Chad McCann also took a full break from music after Hess’ first showcase ended.
“Due a seizure disorder, my performing had to be put on hold for a time,” McCann said. “Those problems were overcome and I’ve since returned to the stage. I now live in Orange and perform regularly at various showcases and coffee houses throughout the Orange County area.”
McCann is now back to playing guitar, singing and writing his own music.
“I have been told my stuff sounds like a cross between Bob Dylan and Randy Newman with an original spin that’s all my own,” he said. “The opportunity to return to the South Bay Songwriter’s Showcase and revisit the treasured memories created there is a gift that I will cherish.”
Cristina Vallarine came into the fold a little later in Mike Hess’ South Bay efforts.
“I got involved by playing open mics at a old coffee shop in Hermosa beach called Sponda’s,” she said. “That is where I met Mike Hess and the rest of the gang. I live in San Diego now and I used to play down here a lot at open mics and I hosted karaoke. But I haven’t been playing music as much lately besides an occasional jam session with friends.”
Vallarine has been told she sounds like Jewel and Sheryl Crow. She should round out the night of local music well.
Just added to Thursday night’s lineup is the Lemon Kicks, an all-girl band from the South Bay. The band is Erin Schalk, 16, on guitar, Nicole Wilson, 15, on bass and Natasha Williams, 21, on drums. All three girls sing.
The Lemon Kicks will add a youthful edge to the songwriter showcase. And Hess still believes local gigs like his can lead to some of the artists getting attention from the labels.
“I’m a believer,” Hess said. “Something big could happen here.”
Mike Hess hosts his reunion of the South Bay Songwriters Showcase Thursday, February 27 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Suzy’s Ragin Cajun, 1141 Aviation Blvd. in Hermosa. The show is free, and all ages are welcome.