By Roger Hillis
Mick Jagger once famously says he’d “rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.” That was way back in 1975 when he was a ripe old 31. Fast forward to now, when the 80-year-old Jagger is still rocking with the best of them, and whose summer 2024 stadium tour with his Rolling Stones will likely include that song.
Many of the classic-rock stars of yesteryear find that traveling in private jets, staying in fancy hotels and raking in millions of dollars make up for bickering with their bandmates and having to play their signature songs every night. Unsigned bar bands on the nightclub circuit, however, tend to have much shorter shelf-lives.
Except for those who play at the beach during the summer months.
Is there something in the salt air that keeps them young? Year after year, folks who vacation in coastal Sussex County find familiar faces on stage providing the soundtrack of their summer lives. Some of these acts have been around for a decade … or two … or three. And there are a lot of them. Here’s a look at four musical stalwarts who are still here to entertain you and plan to rock ’til they drop.
Might as well Jump
Anyone who has spent a summer Thursday evening on the deck of the Rusty Rudder, overlooking the bay in Dewey Beach, is probably familiar with its house band, Love Seed Mama Jump.
The summer of 2024 will mark the band’s 33rd anniversary, and they’ll be back every Thursday with 4/6 of their original lineup intact, including energetic frontman Rick Arzt. They’ve released several albums of original music through the years, but their bread-and-butter is classic-rock covers with a smattering of alternative-rock covers. (Yes, they do “Satisfaction.”)
“Bands like us used to constantly hide how old we were,” Arzt says. Not LSMJ. In 2016 they celebrated their 25th anniversary with a special Saturday show at the Rudder and were overwhelmed by how many people traveled from far and wide to attend and recognize the milestone.
“At that point we just embraced it,” Arzt says. “We knew how hard we’d worked and what it took to get to that point.”
For musicians, playing the Rudder or its sister bar the Bottle & Cork during the summer is like going on tour without having to go on tour.
“What the beach provides is exposure to all age groups. On a typical summer evening, the people in the crowd range from 25 to 65,” Arzt says. “At a Saturday jam session at the Cork, you’ll see people from D.C., Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. You’re being seen by people from six or seven states all at one time.”
The buzz spreads far. The band was flown to Texas to perform at a fan’s 50th birthday party in 2023; now they’re organizing a trip to Puerto Rico to play a wedding. CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted about the group and its Rudder shows in both 2019 and 2020; a Florida jam band with a heavy YouTube presence called the Roy Jay Band even wrote a song about them called — what else? — “Love Seed Mama Jump.”
Most bar bands don’t have roadies; they load their own equipment into a venue early — then stay late to dismantle it, not getting home until the wee hours. Arzt says Love Seed’s secret weapon is its unofficial seventh member, sound engineer/road manager David Odell.
“Dave is a godsend. He’s literally the reason we can play as much as we do,” Arzt says. “He gets there early and sets everything up. If the show is over at midnight, we can walk right out the door and go home. When you’re a certain age or have children, you want to get home at a reasonable hour to avoid the burnout factor.”
That’s not to say that the lifestyle has been a cakewalk. “When you do anything for over 30 years, there are going to be highs, lows and lots of middles,” says Arzt. “But there’s never been a time when the band said, ‘Let’s pack it in.’ Even if it’s a rough winter or something, we always know summer’s coming. We still love doing it.”
Speaking of children: “We have parents who saw us back in the day, and now they’re bringing their 21-year-old kids with them,” he says. “The whole family goes out together. It’s cool and humbling and horrifying all at the same time. But I can’t tell you how much we appreciate that.
“It’s amazing, and we don’t take it for granted. People are still coming out. It’s truly a blessing.”
Bring the Noise
If Love Seed is the Rudder’s house band, Kristen & the Noise could be considered the equivalent for rival nightspot The Starboard.
The group has had a rotating cast of top-notch musicians through the years, but when they hit the stage all eyes are on charismatic singer Kristen Kwolek. Her soaring vocals are matched by her high-energy stage presence — she rarely stands still. It’s been her trademark for a long time.
“2024 will be the 22nd anniversary of Kristen & the Noise,” she says. “However, it’ll be my 28th anniversary between both Kristen & the Noise and Tin Pan Alley.”
The vocalist’s first Top-40 cover band, Tin Pan Alley was based just outside of Scranton, Pa., and was an immediate hit the first summer it played Delaware.
“Playing the beaches for the first time, while in Tin Pan Alley, was amazing,” Kwolek says. “We were new to the craziness and excitement of the beaches, and we had a blast. I’m still having a blast. The commute was pretty rough, four hours-plus not including traffic, but well worth it.”
After five years, Kwolek took a leave of absence from Tin Pan Alley to give birth to her daughter. (Her fill-in with the band was Laura Lea Taraskus, who is now a popular Dewey singer-guitarist in her own right.) Kwolek eventually decided to form Kristen & the Noise, and the crowds followed.
Now a northern Delawarean, she’s watched the population grow down south. “Offseason gigs at the beach are different from summer, but still super busy and incredibly fun,” she says. “I’m grateful to not have to wait a full year to play at the beach again once summer is over. We play the Starboard for Dewey Goes Pink, Halloween, New Year’s Eve (Dec. 30), opening weekend in March, Derby Weekend and various other events that pop up throughout the year.
“The Starboard is like home, and the staff are like family to us.”
The annual Halloween shows have become legendary.
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I absolutely love dressing up,” she says. “Over the years, we’ve worn a lot of fun costumes and had cool themes such as Mario Bros, Avengers, Scooby Doo, steampunk and this year’s theme, The Purge.
“My personal favorite costume was when we did Johnny Depp characters and I was Edward Scissorhands,” she says. “I made my Scissorhands costume myself, including the wig and makeup. It turned out well and was a really fun character to play.”
Something that has been consistent through the years for Kwolek is her workout regimen.
“I do have to stay in fairly decent shape to be able to move comfortably on stage,” she says. “My voice is my instrument, so I have to take care of it — and my body — as best I can. My health is certainly a top priority, so I do my best to maintain it. Like most people, I go through phases in which I’m not working out or eating as well as I should be; then eventually, I get back on track.”
A special part of this stage of her career is the fact that her daughter Zoe Tutlo is now an adult who has studied music in Los Angeles and has quite a voice herself — and loves to get up and jam with her mom.
“It’s so much fun to have my daughter on stage with me,” Kwolek says. “Sometimes she takes over and sometimes we sing together. I’m so proud of her. She’s incredibly smart, sweet, talented and funny — and time spent with her is always precious to me. She brings me so much joy, and I’m grateful for every moment.”
He’s Got The Look
Delaware’s preeminent R&B act, Mike Hines & the Look, has been around the block — and still has a loyal legion of fans who love to dance. The group will celebrate its 38th anniversary in 2024. Vocalist Hines, drummer Dave Simmons and keyboardist Dean Teat are all original members.
“We play disco, hip hop, R&B, pop,” Hines says. “We play some of the same songs we played back in the day, but we also play newer songs by people like Usher and the Black Eyed Peas.”
In 2022, the group was inducted into the Delaware Rock ’n’ Roll Society at its New Castle County awards ceremony. “It’s hard to believe we’ve been together for 38 years, and it’s funny how time flies,” Hines says.
One particular show brought home the band’s multi-generational appeal.
“We played a wedding for a couple 34 years ago, and now just recently we played their daughter’s wedding. The dad suggested us to her,” Hines says. “The mother had unfortunately passed away, which was very sad. We were touched that we could play a small part in two different milestones for this family.”
The band has always been based in Dover, with the beach being its home away from home. As a young man in the ’80s, Hines was a fixture behind sales counters at both the Dover Mall and the nearby Blue Hen Mall.
“I worked at Chess King stores in both locations,” Hines recalled. “I worked at six or seven stores through the years. There was no social media back then, so I befriended just about everyone who worked at the mall and got them to let me hang up flyers for my shows in their stores.”
Some of the throngs of fans who regularly attended Hines’ Dover shows at the Cadeaux’s nightclub trekked to Dewey for their Rusty Rudder debut, which began a long relationship there. When the band won a national talent contest sponsored by Atlantic Records, the label released a 12-inch single of their song “Gonna Make You Mine.” The group hit the beach to film the song’s video at the Baycenter in Ruddertowne.
“After a trillion years at the mall, the video came out and I quit to play music full-time,” Hines says. “The early- to mid-’90s was our heyday, and we were playing 200 gigs a year.”
In 1995, the group went on hiatus for several years (but never broke up) when Hines moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. He eventually ended up on television screens with bit rolls in both Eight Simple Rules and That’s So Raven.
He racked up some frequent flyer miles to play semi-regular shows in Delaware with the band. He moved back in 2010 and the group has stayed busy ever since, even though most of the members also have day jobs or outside musical projects.
During the 2020 pandemic, Hines filmed and released a timely documentary about it called Behind The Mask. He also crafted a sit-com script that he is pitching to production companies.
These days, seasonal outdoor festivals and annual concert series make up a big part of the band’s calendar. In 2023 they played the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand, the Bethany Beach Bandstand, Lewes Canalfront Park, and Ocean City’s Springfest and Sunfest events.
“The outdoor shows are right up our alley, and the age range goes from 22 to 92,” Hines says. “There are kids and grandparents. We play shorter sets, which is nice. We’re older; we’ve learned to work smarter, not harder.”
The band will start 2024 off with a two-month hiatus, but it shall return. “I’m having surgery in January,” Hines says. “I’m having a hip replacement,” which is probably not a surprise after so many years playing sports and jumping around on stage. But we’ll be back on stage in March.”
Playing the Blues in Slower Lower
Although they could be considered relatively new kids on the block compared to some of their veteran peers on the beach music scene, Lower Case Blues is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.
Guitarist Jake Banaszak and bassist-vocalist B.J. Muntz are best friends as well as bandmates, and their band could technically be considered a duo, since they currently rotate a handful of drummers for their incendiary live shows, which are heavy on improvisation.
The group was formed in New Castle County, where its young members performed a handful of “okay” shows. On one fateful weeknight, they drove to the beach to play a few songs at an open-mic night in Lewes — and the response from locals was overwhelming.
“For me, it was a whole different vibe than what we’d experienced in downtown Newark,” Banaszak says. “I decided to find a place at the beach we could rent for the summer. We moved in together on May 1, 2004, and ended up playing five days a week. We never moved back.”
Over the course of two decades, the beach music scene has had ebbs and flows. The population has grown, but many of the newcomers are retirees who don’t necessarily want to rock out after dark.
“There were a lot more places to play back then,” Banaszak says. “We’ve all had to endure the changes in downtown Rehoboth.”
Two of the former businesses the band misses playing are Sydney’s Blues & Jazz Restaurant and The Pond nightclub (originally called The Frogg Pond). “Sydney’s was such a hub for live music every night. You could walk in there on a Wednesday in January, and there might be a band from New Orleans playing,” Banaszak says.
Lower Case Blues still has a rabid fan base that prefers organic, original music to the standard Top-40 fare. “We’re not a cover band,” Banaszak says. “We’re unique in that way.”
Speaking of covers, Rehoboth-area nightspots rarely have one at the door. Perhaps as a results, and with the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, Banaszak has found that fans are being more generous with the tip jar.
“People will throw a $20 bill in there, or maybe even $100,” Banaszak says. “When they’re surprised there’s no cover charge at the door, we tell them they can think of the tip jar as the cover.”
Will LCB throw an anniversary bash this year? “We talked about it, but we’re finishing up work on a new album and we’re focused on that,” Banaszak says. “I’d rather have an album-release party.”