Local musicians work hard for your entertainment
Playing becomes full-time jobs for many area artists
It’s a labor of love.
Your night out for some food and drinks, followed by live entertainment, might be relaxing for you, but it can be exhausting for the wait staff, bartenders, and, yes, the musicians.
But, of course, the musicians would not have it any other way.
“It’s all worth it, because it’s my favorite thing to do,” The Bulldogs’ keyboardist Bob Zymslony said. “I’m not sure what I’d do without it. We’re going to keep playing as long as we’re physically able, and as long as we still sound good.”
Zymslony isn’t alone in that sentiment.
The Bulldogs, Hubie, Ashcraft, Tom Koenig, and Chris Worth keep themselves busy with music, many of whom have turned it into a full-time job.
“About two years ago, my wife told me I had too many irons in the fire,” Koenig said, noting he has 120 shows scheduled this year. “She told me to concentrate one, so I could at least get better at one of them.”
Lighting the Fire
Koenig keeps himself busy with shows throughout the area, but it was never really his goal to do so.
A guitar player the past 30 years, he says he only started playing live eight years ago after Sean Elsten saw he had posted a picture of his guitar next to a fire and some whiskey on Facebook.
“He asked me to come up and play at Crooked Lake,” Koenig said of his first fireside strumming with Elsten. “We finished up, and he asked if I wanted to come back the following week, and that continued all summer.”
Koenig said more and more people came around to hear them play, and at the end of the summer they visited Nauti Turtle in Angola, and convinced the owner to let them play once the musical act was finished: the first gig for what would become Loose Grip.
The duo then played at Beamer’s, which is also now closed, got a call back, and the two have been playing ever since, with Koenig also playing solo gigs.
“Wish I had started (playing live) 22 years earlier,” Koenig said.
Since their humble beginnings, the two have opened for the national act The Chainsmokers during a popup show at The Venue in Angola in 2017, recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and traveled to Cancun to play.
“All of this happened because two guys were playing around a fire,” Koenig said.
Worth the Price
Like Koenig, Worth wasn’t exactly looking to turn his musical talent into a career.
Worth says he came to Fort Wayne in 1999 to take care of his mother, and thought he had left his musical career on the West Coast.
“I was out singing at the old Piere’s one night, and I was offered a gig on the spot,” he said. “Things kind of blew up after that. I wasn’t even really trying to get back into it.”
But back into is what happened.
“Things are booming right now,” Worth said. “The last five weeks, I’ve been playing six gigs a week. It’s kind of like chocolate cake, you love it, but at a point you could use some broccoli.”
According to Worth, who often performs with Scotty Patton, Howard Sims, Ron Rumbaugh, and Kenton Snyder, the only break he’s gotten over the years is when the coronavirus pandemic first struck, sidelining him about seven weeks, which he described as “great.”
With the break over, Worth can be heard singing R&B, hip-hop, country, or Frank Sinatra at bars, wineries, corporate gigs, universities, and everywhere in-between. When it comes to venues, Worth says he really only cares about one thing: “I like the ones that pay me,” he laughs.
On Their Own Terms
For Zymslony and The Bulldogs, the music scene has become old hat.
Formed nearly 30 years ago as Spike and The Bulldogs, Zymslony says Spike opted to retire about nine years ago and moved to Utah, but the band marched on.
“We thought, ‘How are you going to replace Spike?’,” he said.
And they didn’t, they just continued to tour festivals, campgrounds, and other family events with their classic 1950s and 1960s music.
“We used to go looking, but now we don’t,” Zymslony said about booking shows. “We have what we can handle.”
Zymslony says the band, which includes Wayne Neukom, Bernie Stone, Kenny Taylor, and Maggie Hawkins, has 38 shows scheduled between Memorial Day and the end of September, and he uses the winter months to get upcoming seasons ready, while only playing seven or eight shows between November and May.
“We’re not a bar band,” he says about having limited shows during the winter months.
Instead of playing shows, Zymslony keeps himself busy drawing up contracts and getting everything in order with venues, as the band is an LLC, and isn’t just getting cash when they show up to play.
“It’s run like a business,” he said. “With the amount of shows we do and money we make, it’s gonna be hard to keep that under the rug from the IRS.”
Living the Dream
The Bulldogs’ longevity is made clear with the fact they have a connection with fellow local musician Hubie Ashcraft.
“I started playing guitar at 12,” Ashcraft said. “My dad was a guitarist who played with Spike and The Bulldogs and some others, including John Mellencamp’s band, since they were both from Seymour.”
Taking a cue from his father, Ashcraft began playing professionally at 15, and he hasn’t looked back.
“It was exciting, because I was in high school, and to do something I was so passionate about was a dream come true,” he said. “It’s a blessing to make music a career.”
The Hubie Ashcraft Band has toured as far away as New Jersey and performed in Nashville, Tennessee, a number of times, sharing the stage with the likes of national country music acts Luke Bryan, Trace Adkins, Randy Travis, and the legendary George Jones.
“We always learn something from those shows,” Ashcraft said.
On Aug. 24, Hubie Ashcraft Band, which includes Missy Burgess, Tim Thurston, Travis Gow, Seve Sullivan Doyle, and Logan Weber, will play at the Bash on the Bay in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, along with Brad Paisley, Jake Owen, and Paulina Jayne.
It’s those kinds of shows that has kept Ashcraft going over the years.
“It hasn’t died down,” he said about his passion. “It’s the same as it was when I was 15. I love playing music and getting up in front of a crowd. There’s nothing like it.”