Lakeland’s amateur musicians find their muse in local eateries

photography by Jason Stephen

It was a Tuesday night in October.
The air was moody, and so was I.
I wanted to write, but I knew that if I went home, sleep would find me sooner than my pen would find itself to paper. So, I ventured into Tony’s Studio B, where I knew I’d find a quiet spot to set up shop for the night. And I did … for a few moments.
I wrote a few lines, but before I got too immersed, I was joined by a handful of other Lakelanders. We struck up a conversation and had a few laughs. Then, in a moment of spontaneity, a fellow with a guitar stepped onto the stage and started to play. His name was Hector Alcaide, and that Tuesday night was the first time he had gathered the gumption to play in public (with the exception of a graduation ceremony many moons ago). Since then, he has been a staple at Tony’s Studio B on Tuesday nights. Now, though, he’s no longer the lone wolf on the stage. He’s joined by other artists wishing to express an emotion, to entertain a crowd, to test out an idea, to have a moment with a microphone.
Alcaide had an inspired vision to give performing artists a community in which to test their crafts — a warm, safe space to share their talents. Poets, jazz musicians, drummers, pianists, comedians, singers, and performing artists of all kinds gather to give their best to an eager audience on Open Mic Night. “For me, playing music makes me feel alive, and I know that’s a mutual experience for many artists. So it excites me to be part of a movement that gives these fellow artists a venue to come perform where they can sing a song, read a poem, or even do a little dance and just have fun. If I get the chance to make something like this happen, I need to do it and see where it takes me,” Alcaide says.
Tony’s Studio B is just one of several downtown spots that have opened their doors to local musicians. Sure, there has always been live music in Lakeland (anybody remember Lillian’s?). Molly McHugh’s, Ybor Cigars and Spirits, and others host live, local music, and have for years. Until 2009, though, live music options were mostly limited to the latenight bar scene. It was the Red Door Wine Market that spearheaded a movement to fuse craft food and wine with a musical experience.
With Richard DeAngelis and his Red Door vision, live music became a staple in local dining spots as well; it’s not just for bars anymore. In fact, the Brian Sutherland Band (then the Brian Sutherland Trio) played their first gig at the Red Door Wine Market in 2009.
Frescos added live music to their dining experience several years ago as well. The musicians playing this scene — at Frescos, Tony’s Studio B, and beyond — aren’t just playing standards; they’ve found a partnership that allows them to share their own music or a new take on an old favorite. Frescos doesn’t limit live music to Friday and Saturday night. Now, on Sunday mornings, the bistro welcomes fresh, fun musicians who add flavor to the Sunday brunch experience. Others are on board, too: Jimmy Belle’s Seafood Market and Grille and Patio 850 mix Lakeland’s creative spirit into the menu, offering a full and robust experience. The recent opening of the Pink Piano in late 2014 brought live music of a different nature to town. The bar features beer, wine, tapas, and piano standards on, what else, but a pink Yamaha piano.
Lakeland’s creative spirit bubbles up around every corner and now on menus around town as well. Next time you’re looking for a dinner spot, try somewhere that includes music. You won’t be disappointed.