23rd Annual Sarasota Thunder By the Bay Rallies for Suncoast Charities for Children
They come to Sarasota by motorcycle, by car, by truck and about any kind of vehicle you can think of for the annual festival of motorcycles and music! Over the years, it has changed locations but it hasn’t changed its purpose, to raise money for the Suncoast Charities for Children. The charity’s benefactors are The Haven, Special Olympics for Sarasota County, Children First, The Loveland Center, The Florida Center and Venice Challenger Baseball League. Worthy causes all, they help kids, teens and adults with special needs! Thunder has raised well over a million dollars over the years with the help of volunteers and donations from individuals and bike clubs all over the state.
My job is to give you a rundown on the music scene at the festival on Saturday & Sunday! Let me just say that ALL the bands brought their A-game to the crowd. After many months of no live music, they were all so happy to be playing to an audience. The weather cooperated both days which added to everyone’s excitement. The audience was ready too, bringing chairs and waiting in-between sets for the next artist to hit the stage. Saturday’s music started at 1:30 p.m. and lasted thru till around 10:00 p.m.
Kicking things off, with her bare feet and world-class voice was Sarasota’s own Twinkle and her band Rock Soul Radio! Playing a mix of rock, soul & blues covers along with their original material that is well known by the SRQ locals, Twinkle and the band were high energy! Drummer Benny Puckett was twirling and throwing drumsticks around while Twinkle was jumping and catching air. Twinkle’s brother Tony LeClerc is the band’s bass player and his sister’s antagonist which makes for hilarious onstage antics. Lead guitarist Lenny Brooks is a master player. Twinkle is a local and you can catch the band around the Suncoast from Englewood to Tampa. Everything Twinkle is HERE.
Mixing things up for the afternoon music crowd at 3:30 p.m. was the popular country duo of Cory Hildreth and Duane Allison, a/k/a One Night Rodeo, hailing from Manatee County! Playing a mix of original songs like “Big Truck” and “Right Time for Me to Be Wrong” and contemporary covers of artists like Eric Church, Big & Rich, and country star Luke Bryan. They had the crowd up and dancing. A nice change in genre for the country music lovers, before the night’s hard rocking crowd took over.
Maiden Cane, an arena rock cover band was next in line. They perform those big rock 70’s, 80’s & 90’s anthems, made famous then and classic today. Maiden has been around for seven years in Southwest Florida. The setlist included Van Halen & Rush, with an interesting Journey/Metallica mashup of “Don’t Stop the Sandman”, originally done by the band “Rock Sugar”. The 6-man band includes Jim Kiefer on bass, Rick Duncan on drums and Billy Day workin’ keyboards. When you are playing arena rock, you need two great lead guitarists, they are Joey Gilbert & Pete Siracuse and lead singer Cliff Randi brings the big vocals and high energy to the stage. The crowd at Thunder was totally into it, they did a fine job getting things warmed up for the evening’s headliner.
By dusk, everyone who is a big rock fan had shown up to catch one of the pioneering bands in the southern rock genre, Molly Hatchet! Founded in Jacksonville, this band has been going for over 50 years and the current lineup is keeping Hatchet’s music alive and well. Being part of the original southern rock scene that started in the early 70’s, along with Skynyrd and others, Molly made its mark with tunes like “Dreams I’ll Never See” and the megahit hit “Flirtin’ with Disaster” which were both played for the Sarasota crowd! Opening with “Whiskey Man”, it set the mood for what was to come. A surprise to this writer was the killer instrumental of Clapton’s “Layla” with guitar solo. Both Bobby Ingram on lead guitar and John Galvin on keyboards, may not be original members but have been playing with Hatchet since the 80’s. Both Shawn Beamer on drums & Tim Lindsey on bass have been around for the past 20 years. Jimmy Elkins, lead singer is the newest addition to the band and has been carrying the power vocals well for the band! They played a 16-song set for a much appreciative rocker audience at the SRQ Fairgrounds. A great way to spend a Saturday night!
Arriving on Sunday afternoon, things were mellow at Thunder. Or so I thought until I walked back to the stage area and heard the beat of the drums. The Lost Boys had started their set. This band is a Sarasota/Bradenton concoction of musicians. Of course, most everyone is from somewhere else, lead singer Dane McCartney is from the Windy City of Chicago and played in a Judas Priest tribute band called “Judas Beast”. Their setlist was a surprise with tunes from the likes of early 2000’s artists like Matchbox 20 (Bent) and Gavin DeGraw (I Don’t Wanna Be). Hard rock was also on the bill with covers of Ozzy, AC/DC and Bad Company. McCartney changed headgear according to the mood of the songs which was interesting. The rest of the band kept it tight with Rico Antonelli and Mark Borgmeyer on guitars, Ray Foss on keys, bass by Chuck Reedy and Mike Salois pounding the drums. You can catch them on March 27th at Woody’s River Roo in Palmetto!
Closing out the weekend was the incredibly popular Greg Billings Band or GBB as it is known to the locals. Greg has been playing around the Suncoast area for as long as I can remember. I saw him at Astro Lounge in Bradenton and Foley’s on Main Street in Sarasota, back when the drinking age in Florida was 18! He formed the band Stranger in the 80’s which was one of the Florida’s biggest rock bands! Stranger still has a large fan base after all these years. If you don’t know them, check out YouTube.
Billings is that rare breed of lead singer that captures the audience from the beginning and keeps them engaged the whole show. He has a way of bringing the crowd right along with him with whatever he is singing or doing at the time. He decided to do an imitation of AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, who incidentally lives in Sarasota. Johnson had recorded the song with Billings “Old Friends Don’t Come Easy”. It was hilarious. He promised “Stranger” tunes and he delivered with a big sing-along to “Swamp Woman” and “Okeechobee Whiskey” complete with an alligator bass played by Tom King. Guitarist Kyle Ashley has some killer solos during the show.
Billings cares and respects his band and it shows. He sat down on the stage to listen to lead guitarist George Harris play a solo, which was amazing. Rob Stoney on keyboards also plays a mean harmonica. The newest member of the band is Chris Bishop keeping the beat on drums. Greg’s antics on stage haven’t slowed down. Standing on his head in a cooler, he emerges with a Florida Gator’s football helmet on his head. Unbelievable! He closed the show with “Wrong Side of the Tracks” for all the Sarasota/Bradenton kids he used to come and play for on the wrong side of the Skyway all those years ago!
Photos by Vicky Sullivan