The collaboration of Nick Norman, “Caffeine” Carl Wagoner, and Joey Marchiano isn’t new. They’ve been playing together for years. “We started becoming a collaborative, and we put out a record,” Norman said. “They’ve traveled with me. We opened for Lee Rice, The Wailers, Tab Benoit, and Yonder Mountain String Band. So, we’ve been doing it for a while.”
In this iteration of “The Nick Norman Band,” Tom Conger joins on bass and the collective takes their talent to a new locale: First Flight. The restaurant, bar and venue is opening its music season, with shows scheduled throughout the winter.
Norman has become one of the most recognizable faces — and voices — on the island over the years, ever since he made his way down from South Carolina.
“I came down to see Joal (Rush) at Hog’s Breath, and got up and played a few tunes with him, and we walked over to the Lazy Gecko and Irish Kevin’s, and I played there.” Norman was just visiting, but by the end of the night, he already had job offers. “So, I sold my pawn shop and income tax service and moved down.”
“For lack of a better word, it’s kind of a reunion show,” Norman said, “and we haven’t done a full band show in a really long time.” While Conger is new to the group, the other three band mates have a long history—which wasn’t always easy to navigate.
“When we were traveling, Joey and Carl had to Facetime with their families. Joey would be setting up drums and talking to his daughter.” Now, Norman is all about the hometown gigs, since he now has a 3-year-old daughter with his wife, Key West Theater Executive Director Kelly Norman. “I don’t have to travel, and I get to spend more time with my family.”
When asked what makes Key West different from other music towns, Wagoner laughs: “I’m a Conch, so I don’t know — all I do is down here.” Maybe that’s one reason that our Keys music scene is so rich: musicians are born and bred here, and they stay.
Conger, who moved to the Keys from up north, said, “There are a couple of other aspects. … In other places, you have to drive anywhere. Also, there is a really solid community of local guys, and there is enough work for everyone, so nobody’s cutting each others’ throat.”
“We have friends that come down from all over the country a few weeks a year, and they come to see us,” Conger said. “We are exposed to some really great musicians.”
“And then you go across the street and there are more,” said Wagoner.
Key West has certainly made its mark not just as a music town, but as a songwriter’s town. The band will be performing lots of originals at First Flight. Of the music styles in Key West, Norman said, “There’s a little bit of everything. … The songwriting thing has really blossomed because of the songwriters festival. I think one of the biggest struggles of being down here isn’t finding folks that want to hear it, but finding the time to sit down and write tunes.” While I’m sure they get the predictable Buffett and Cash and Bob Marley requests, it’s encouraging that there’s an audience here for artistry.
“Every now and then,” Conger said, “someone comes into a bar and asks to hear one of your songs.”
“We’ve been doing these songs around town for years, and people have heard them,” Wagoner said.
“I’ve seen a ‘Good Whiskey and Cheap Cocaine’ T-shirt,” Marchiano laughed. “Good Whiskey and Cheap Cocaine” is one of their best-known songs, along with the up-tempo tortured lover tune “Adeline.”
Norman sums up the gig: “Really, it’s just four local guys doing some original material for this show, and we don’t always get to do as much original material as we’d love to do.”
Music lovers can hear the Nick Norman Band at First Flight at 8 p.m. (doors at 6:30) on Sunday, Nov. 25. Check the First Flight calendar for upcoming events, including the much-anticipated “Landon’s Dysfunctional Family Christmas Reunion,” which promises to be a different type of reunion entirely.
The good news is the Nick Norman Band is on the island to stay. As their namesake said, “I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve been where you can hop on your bike and go to your gig.”