You never know who you might meet in Sarasota, a small town with amazing talent. Kelly Shaefer is one of those cool surprises that has lived here his whole life. He’s the originator and front man of the extreme metal band Atheist and played with heavy metal Neurotica. And with the evolution of this extreme or otherwise known as ‘death metal’ genre, arguably partially originated by Atheist, Kelly took it from Sarasota to around the world and back. He made it into the Metal Hall of Fame. Played the Ozzie Osborne fest. And literally played to millions of screaming fans in Europe as well as the big U.S. cities.
And now, as the originator of Kelly’s Live, located in the old Cabana Lounge on South Tamiami Trail, this rock star is forging new ground once again. The club features musicians and bands that play only original music, mostly metal and punk with some blues and jazz fusion, and even an electronic music night thrown in for good measure.
Kelly’s Live launched in 2016 when Kelly and his wife Kayla were bartending at the floundering Cabana. He approached the owners and said they’d work for free if they’d let him run the show and turn it into his own. It’s new. Different. And like Kelly, goes against the grain of a predominantly blues-based culture here.
“When people ask me why I live in Sarasota (rather than NY or LA where it’s more cultured), I tell them I love it here. It’s too bad it’s so dictatorial, and I was disappointed this town didn’t love me like I love it…but we have a ton of oddballs here, too. Artists and musicians…these are my people. And it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Kelly is bringing in everything from top, internationally known original bands to regional greats and others who are crafting original music without having a venue to showcase their talents. And he’s right up front about telling the newbies what it takes to make it.
“Don’t ask me what I think of your band because you won’t get the answer you do from your mommy or girlfriend,” Kelly says. “It’s tough love…but all of my mentors were like that.”
While Brian Johnson of AC DC and resident of Sarasota wasn’t exactly a mentor, he did turn Kelly on to a singing gig with Guns N Roses. “It was everyone but Axle,” Kelly said. “It was amazing.”
Kelly agreed that Kelly’s Live is like an incubator for original bands to be born, nurtured, and ideally, launched into the international world as he did with Atheist.
“If I find a band that blows me away I’ll go to bat for them and try to help them get a record deal,” Kelly said. “We have some amazing talent here…but the goal is not to be the greatest band in Sarasota…ya gotta go way beyond.”
While Kelly’s Live percolates in less than ideal conditions, with the old Cabana motel literally crumbling around it, Kelly stresses it’s a safe place with security guards and all. It’s actually modeled after CBGB’s in New York, a small little club with “one-stall bathrooms” where all the greats have played.
“I fight that old Cabana image all the time and I want people to know that this is an awesome and safe place to come to hear original music.” Yes, Kelly says, it’s a ‘dive bar,’ but embrace it. You don’t wanna dress up in your Sunday best kinda place.
Tough love and all, Kelly’s an awesome, friendly, generous guy, and you won’t be intimidated at all when chatting with him. But, he says honestly, “if you get your feelings hurt (by constructive criticism), you’re probably not cut out for this business.”
On Family and Teamwork
Kelly and Kayla just had a baby boy – Thor David Shaefer – in December.
“There’s no way with a name like Thor at he’ll be an underachiever,” Kelly laughed.
Kelly said it was amazing that three of the band member’s wives all had babies within a month of each other. Will this prevent Atheist from touring? It may slow them down, but they have plans for New Zealand, Australia and Japan for their 2018 30th Anniversary tour and possibly 2017.
Kelly and Kayla also have Lilly, their 11-year-old daughter with autism. “She’s an amazing, super hero of a little girl,” Kelly said. He frets over the fact that autism doesn’t get enough federal funding and that people just don’t understand autistic individuals. “Lilly won’t say hello to anyone, but there are some people that just don’t deserve a hello,” Kelly said. “But she’s so bright. She carries her computer around everywhere, and if she’s going to a doctor or dentist, she’ll research it before she goes.”
Once again, Kelly’s going against the grain, pushing the envelope when it comes to what may seem like an uphill battle fighting to be heard about the importance of understanding autistic people. And has made it yet another cause to be diligently involved in.
Kelly is also an artist, and says he’s as extreme with his acrylics as he is with his music. While he decided earlier on to do “mainstream popular” portraits of great musicians like Hendrix and Joplin, which sold immediately, he’s really an abstract minimalist he says. And he’s left handed.
“It’s tough being left-handed as an artist and musician…you smudge a lot. But as I get older I see myself doing a lot more art.”
Kelly’s Live currently features electronic music on Wednesday nights, Geri-X on Thursday nights and a variety of bands on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 9:30.
“We’re working on getting something goin’ on Sundays,” Kelly said. This extreme rock star also has a vision of graduating to a larger venue in the future. For now, Kelly’s is thriving with the help of its regulars, bands and friends who have all pitched in to paint it, get a new AC unit, build the stage and more. “We’re on a shoestring budget, but the teamwork is awesome…“I’m not done yet.”
Kelly’s Live is located at 2525 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Call 955-0195 or visit Facebook for more information.
Photos by Patti Pearson and courtesy of Kelly Shaefer