OKEECHOBEE — While lead vocalist Gytis Garsys admits the Delta Troubadours like to joke around a lot and considers it to be a double edged sword in terms of being productive, the Gainesville-based band managed to put on a fantastic show at the 2017 Okeechobee Music Festival, held March 2-5.
The rock ‘n’ roll band gained attention by beating 3,600 bands nationally to win the overall Destination Okeechobee competition, held by the festival to give smaller bands a chance to shine onstage.
The Delta Troubadours won Round One of the Destination Okeechobee contest, which meant they didn’t even have to compete in a battle of the bands. They won by a landslide, which none of them were expecting.
“Perhaps the most impressive part of winning the Destination Okeechobee contest was that we were able to mobilize so many people on social media to vote for us each and every day,” remarked Garsys. “People would text us throughout the competition saying ‘Voted today! Hope y’all win!’ It means a lot to know that people want to help us make a name for ourselves in the music industry, knowing that we’ve got family, friends, and fans that are as dedicated to our music as we are.”
The four young men comprising the band — Gytis Garsys (lead vocals, guitar, keys), Jon Franklin (bass, vocals), Ian Heausler (lead guitar, vocals), and Max Rowe (drums) — all grew up in Tampa.
Franklin, Heausler and Rowe went to high school together while Garsys lived in the same general area. They had been familiar with each other through high school parties, baseball and mutual friends, but they didn’t really get to know each other until they all began playing in Gainesville Grit, a country cover band, while going to school in Gainesville.
“The band happened to have open slots for a guitarist/vocalist, a drummer, another guitarist, and a bassist, so it all sorta came together by fate,” Garsys related.
Although the band began performing under the name Gritt, they felt it was a little too common for them to really distinguish themselves as the legal owners. It came to their attention that another group already had a federal trademark on “Grit” and adding a T wasn’t enough to distinguish themselves in the eyes of the law. As they had been casually playing around with the idea of making a serious name change since 2014, they saw their opportunity to pull the trigger and change their name for good.
“We must’ve gone through at least 100-200 name ideas. Some were good, some were bad, and a solid 80 percent of them were complete jokes,” Garsys explained. “The Delta Troubadours came about while looking through an old book called The Captive Mind that had a chapter titled ‘Delta, The Troubadour.’ That didn’t quite seem perfect to us, but it was on the right track.”
They decided to mix up the word order and pluralize Troubadour and voila — a band name was born!
“We feel it suits us better in a variety of ways, whether it be our blues-influenced music (as in the Delta Blues), Delta being the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet (representing the number four) and there being four of us in the band (four troubadours, if you will), or any other variety of reasons,” Garsys said. “In many ways, it feels like the name chose us, as new meanings to it seem to arise every other day. Most importantly, our fans don’t seem very upset by it and it seems to be catching on.”
Their musical influences, while pretty wide ranging, tend to center on rock ‘n’ roll. They all grew up listening to a variety of music, and between the four of them, they cover everything from The Chemical Brothers to Aretha Franklin to Lil Wayne to Rush to Sublime to Mozart). Garsys consides Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival to be the safest answer in terms of influences for all of them.
“The fun thing about musicians who influence our band is that we’re not always going to agree on whether or not we like a certain artist, but we don’t all really have to. If a band influenced one of us, it contributes to the greater vision of what we do,” Garsys said. “The important thing is to try not to mix too much stuff. A lot of bands get caught up in trying to include a little bit of everything they’ve ever listened to in their music, and a lot of the times it ends up sounding either bad or super generic. Just because you dig on something and it influences you as a musician doesn’t mean you’ve gotta make it a part of your band’s sound.”
Garsys likens musical influences as an hourglass. “You’ve got all these particles of sand (influences) converging on the middle. That middle of the glass is like the point at which you figure out the foundation of your sound. The stuff that passes through the middle first is going to be the roots of your music, and over time you can add a little more sand to your sound to make it a little diverse. But adding too much sand at the beginning just kinda gets you stuck.”
When asked what music means to them, Garsys admitted that defining music’s role in their lives becomes pretty difficult considering it’s sort of an all-encompassing phenomenon. There are many things they love in life — family, their partners, friends, dogs, beer — but they consider music to be at the center of all of those things. Speaking with older bands and people who have been around the block in the industry, they have often gotten the sense that music isn’t so much a career path but a life that you choose. “Sometimes we think we’re a little crazy for pursuing this life, but at the end of the day, music is a part of us as much as our beating hearts,” Garsys laughed.
While Garsys initially found it difficult to put into exact words the energy that exists between the crowd and performer, he did settle on a great metaphor. “The best metaphor I’ve ever been able to give it is a game of catch. You throw something at the audience, they throw it back, you take risks and maybe move each other around a bit with your throws, but when those risks pay off it brings the entire experience to another level.” They ask themselves ‘How can we engage this audience?’ and ‘How can we facilitate this energy exchange to be beneficial for both parties?’ to create something that’s beautiful and nurtured well.
“At the end of the day, we give absolutely everything we have to our audience. If we’re not out of breath, sweating and about to pass out at the end of our set, we haven’t done our jobs properly. We owe it to every audience we have to put on the best damn rock ’n’ roll performance they could wish to see. Anything less, and we’re cheating both ourselves and the people who came to see us,” Garsys said.
Garsys considers performing at the Okeechobee Music Festival to be, hands down, the biggest moment of their career as musicians thus far. “Playing the same stage as bands like Kings of Leon, Usher and The Roots, and a bunch of other massive artists was mind blowing.” At the same time, playing on that main stage reaffirmed to the band that they’re good enough to hang out with the big acts. “We’re confident in our abilities and music, but there’s always a sense when you’re a smaller band that’s fortunate enough to land a spot at a big festival that you’re there because of luck or something else. After the performance, though, we absolutely knew that we deserved to play on that stage.”
Overall, the band felt getting to see all the incredible music was a real treat. They all had a different favorite act at the festival. “Sturgill Simpson, Flume, Gallant, and Jacob Collier really stuck out to us. Solange, Anderson .Paak, and The Revivalists really blew us away too.”
Garsys feels that the band, while certainly friends, have become almost more like brothers at this point. “A significant portion of our practices and time spent together as a band consists of goofing off, which I honestly believe contributes in really positive manner to our music. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is good because that allows us to enjoy the time spent together that doesn’t consist of rigorously working on music.”
They also have activities outside the band that keep them sane and centered. “Max loves fishing. Ian loves surfing. Jon tries to get out in nature as much as possible. I do my best to travel as much as I can. We all dig on all those things though and are able to share in those activities,” Garsys remarked.
Having released their first EP Gritt in 2016, they plan to follow it up with another EP slated for release in Spring 2017. Until then, look out for the band as they continue to play shows in Florida and expand into the Southeast region.