Family of 12 make a name in the Keys
The uninitiated are surprised to see these “kids” (okay, not really, but super young!) absolutely rock the stage in Key West. The Doerfels play to big crowds at Sloppy Joe’s, Sunset Pier and Schooner Wharf. A family of 12 — two parents and 10 children ranging in ages from 27 to10, and accompanying friends and family — play a mixture of bluegrass, alternative rock and even some pop. The Doerfels blend instruments heavy on bass, guitar, banjo and drums covering familiar songs with a unique style all their own. Young and unaffected by mainstream life, they play purely for the joy and not the achievement.
Cheryl, their mother, homeschooled the children in Buffalo, New York and used music education to keep nine boys and one girl occupied. At home, they learned how to play different instruments by ear. That’s right, none of them read music. Having taught herself the banjo, Cheryl ignited a love for bluegrass in the family that caused them to follow music festivals from New York to the Florida Keys. Tom Doerfel, father, talked with awe at the journey that has lead his family to the Keys and to the stage.
“We fell in love with the people here more than the palm trees,” Tom said. After a brief stop in the Middle Keys playing the local music spots, the kids started as regulars at the big “band bars” in Key West. Tom said he appreciates the alternative and supportive lifestyle the Keys affords the family, especially as child musicians.
“I never thought I would raise my kids in a bar, but we knew they had talent,” Tom said. How does he keeps them straight and responsible while being subjected to Duval street nightlife? “We threw them in the fire. But we don’t have a halo over our bus,” he said, smiling.
So why aren’t they famous? They were almost on “America’s Got Talent,” says Cheryl, but to her relief, they were cut three days before the first show. She realized in signing endless contracts for the show they would be losing a lot of their financial and creative rights and she did not want that for the kids. Also, they find it hard to find a national booking agent they trust living in such a secluded part of the country. As parents, Tom and Cheryl clearly want what is best for the kids, happiness and music.
Ben, 20, doesn’t hear the siren call of fame and the big city.
“I really just want to keep playing with my family,” he said.
While they have outside interests such as church, hockey, girlfriends and spouses, and slightly differing music tastes, they come together as a family to play. And play they do, like old souls. Their talent for music surpasses the youth on their faces. Watching a crowd full of unknowing tourists begin to tap their feet and clap unwittingly, The Doerfels prove they have what it takes to make music and entertain all ages. Check out their schedule at www.the Doerfels.com.
‘Dorf’ means small village in German and literally, they are a small village.
By Hays Blinckmann