You might have seen them perform at The Ritz recently, or at the Seafood Shanty or the Port Hunter last summer. Maybe you heard one of their jam sessions at a Chilmark Potluck last winter, when they were still honing their skills, or maybe you’ve seen their iconic band poster around the Island — the one with the rustic-looking photo featuring a distressed cocktail napkin that says “Chandler Blues Band.”
If you’re lucky enough to have caught one of their sets, you know they bring a refreshingly new, harder, louder blues sound that keeps the crowd moving, and they’ve become a fixture on the local music scene. If you haven’t seen them yet, you’ll have another chance tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 27, when they take the stage again at The Ritz.
The five-member Chandler Blues Band is made up of Kyle Higley on guitar and vocals, Kevin “Skip” Medeiros on drums and vocals, Mike Chandler on guitar, Michael “Icey” Baird on harmonica, and Lance Fullin on bass.
Last week we took some time to get to know the boys behind the band over a round of drinks at The Ritz. (They all drink beer, except Mr. Fullin, who’s a Scotch kind of guy, three fingers of Johnny Walker Black to be exact.)
Mr. Higley and Mr. Medeiros played in a band together years ago, and through mutual friends, an ex-girlfriend and her mother, the rest of the band was formed by late 2013. Mr. Baird was initially recruited to play harmonica when the band decided they wanted the sound of one but didn’t have a harmonicist. He picked up the versatile instrument, and has been playing ever since.
Mr. Chandler moved to the Island a few years ago, and had gone 10 years without playing in a band. “I had wanted to be in a blues band. Then I met these guys. It was a lucky, happy accident,” said Mr. Chandler.
When the group first started jamming weekly in Mr. Medeiros’ tiny studio apartment in West Tisbury a year ago last December, they didn’t have a name and were still feeling out one another’s talents. Their first gig was at a Chilmark Potluck Jam last February. They embraced the “cool, local vibe” of the show, and took the opportunity to jam onstage together. They were the last band to play that first night, and most of the attendees had already filtered out, but a dozen friends remained, and they kept them on their feet. They continued to play the Potluck Jams through last winter, and expressed appreciation for the events and what they do to foster talent and camaraderie among local musicians in the off-season, in addition to giving them gigging experience as a band. The Potlucks also forced the group to develop a band name. After a few failed suggestions playing off one another’s last names via a group text, the guys settled on Chandler Blues Band, after Mr. Chandler, as Mr. Medeiros said, “because he’s the tallest. It just rolled off the tongue.”
The band played their first benefit show in May of last year, thanks to local blues musician Gordon Healy, who billed the band for a fundraiser to benefit the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard at the Seafood Shanty. Mr. Medeiros knew Mr. Healy, and had played with him before. “It was our first official gig in a bar. We were on a poster. It was the moment we felt legitimized,” said Mr. Chandler.
The benefit helped the band secure weekly gigs at the Seafood Shanty, where they played every Wednesday last summer, and some Sundays too. From there, opportunities snowballed, and they stayed busy, playing as many as two or three times a week, including sessions at the Dive Bar and P.A. Club in Oak Bluffs and the Port Hunter in Edgartown.
While the band welcomed their busy summer schedule, it took its toll. “By the end of the summer, it was getting weary,” said Mr. Baird. Like most artists on the Island, the band members all work full-time day jobs on top of their musical schedule. Mr. Medeiros juggles his job as drummer along with his job as barista at Mocha Motts, and there were many summer nights with the band that turned into long days at the coffee counter. “We’d get out of some shows around 2 am, and then I’d need to wind down, but only had a few hours until work. It was often a question of whether I should sleep or not,” said Mr. Medeiros.
Despite all of their own hard work, they’re eternally grateful to their friends and families, local business owners, and other musicians for helping to spread the word about their music while cultivating such an inviting local music scene.
“[Gordon Healy and Don Groover], those old blues guys have really helped us out,” said Mr. Baird. “Johnny Hoy, [the late] Maynard Silva … we wouldn’t be a band without those guys. We get props from the older generation [of musicians] and the younger kids too. Everyone seems to get a kick out of us. We’re cross-genre.”
And they’re still in the process of evolving their sound. To date, the band’s sets have been a combination of blues standards and originals. “We want to get out of basic blues, and develop our own style of blues. We want the focus to be on us as a band, not just what we’re playing,” said Mr. Higley. Mr. Medeiros added, “We’re working on an EP. We’re moving away from standards. Kyle is working on more originals, doing the writing and the lyrics. Then he’ll bring them to us. He’s our own Paul Simon.”
The band has been working with fellow local band Electric Pie at their recording studio. “They hooked us up big-time, and we’re very grateful for them,” echoed the bandmates.
While the band has limited their shows to the Island so far, they’re definitely open to venturing off the rock in the future. “The first phase was just us getting comfortable playing together, but we want to see new venues and new people. We want our voice to be heard, and we want to spread it around,” said Mr. Chandler. “We’ll play anywhere, anytime. There’s no such thing as a bad gig.”
For a relatively new band, the Island has proved to be a great launch pad. “The Island has a great music scene; it’s very opportunistic,” said Mr. Baird. “The Vineyard really gives us an audience. I used to live in Boston, and it was spread thin. In bigger cities people become numb to live music. There’s a real draw for live music on the Island,” said Mr. Chandler. “It’s a tight-knit community, and we can really vibe off each other.”
While the band entertained all summer, their winter sets are especially welcome. “After working a hard day, people want to go out and have a beer and listen to music,” said Mr. Medeiros. “And the owners are all really great. They make money, we make money, we get more opportunities to play, and people leave happy.”
You can catch the Chandler Blues Band at The Ritz this Friday, Feb. 27, at 10 pm. Admission is $5. They are also currently booking dates for the summer, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on their Facebook page, facebook.com/TheChandlerBluesBand. You can listen to the band here: soundcloud.com/the-chandler-blues-band.