The backstory for many bands in Fort Wayne often involves years of friendship and musical history.
That is certainly the case with the Debutants, a band with a relatively brief history but a friendship that dates back to their teen years at Homestead High School.
“Jon and I have played music together for a long time,” said Lynn Nicholson of his bandmate Jon Swain. “We went to school together, and we had a band here in Fort Wayne, Elephants in Mud, for awhile.
“Then we both split up and went to different places. Jon was in California and Colorado, and I lived in Oregon. We hadn’t played for a couple years, but we both moved back to Fort Wayne around the same time.”
“We had our first band when we were really young before going our separate ways,” Swain said. “We always wanted to be in a band together again, and that was great. But even better was reconnecting with a good friend.”
Nicholson was a drummer, but by the time they reunited he had picked up the mandolin. Both had a love of bluegrass, something they’d shared in their youth as well but hadn’t heavily featured on stage.
The Debutants was the platform for them to finally take that plunge.
Finding the right people
“It all came together in March 2019,” Nicholson said. “We knew we wanted to play together, and someone asked us to open for their show which provided a flame under our butts.”
The original plan was to feature Swain and Nicholson with a rotating slate of musicians playing along, but as the process unfolded, they found a group of performers that fit in perfectly. With Chandler Cashdollar, Michael Newsome, Sean Hoffman, and Lauren Tourkow, Swain and Nicholson knew they’d found their fellow players.
“We found the right people to play in the band,” Nicholson said. “We’re all on the same page and have been able to allocate time to play together.”
Except, of course, when they suddenly couldn’t play together.
A scheduled gig at the Brass Rail was canceled in the early days of the quarantine when gatherings were restricted in size.
For a short time they continued to get together for smaller performances until it was time for the band members to shelter in place and not get together anymore at all.
“In the early days of the quarantine, we were getting together to play livestreams,” Nicholson said. “We caught onto the Fort Wayne Quarantunes. One time I turned the camera off, and it said we’d had 1,500 views. If we play the Brass Rail, that’s maybe 300 people, so we were reaching more people. We did that until it was recommended you not even go to a friend’s house anymore.
“Now that things are loosening up a bit more, we hope to do a few things later in the summer.”
Both Nicholson and Swain saw some advantages to their forced sabbatical.
“It was a shock and a big change,” Swain said. “We had things planned, and suddenly there was a big stopper in everything for the summer. We were quick to do the Quarantunes which was a unique way to keep things going. But we also each got to spend a lot of time practicing so everyone’s really up in their game now. And we got time to spend with our families which has been great. I think it’s made us all more excited to return.”
“It gave us all time to work on our craft,” Nicholson agreed. “We had time to practice a little more, and it helped us get out of the box a bit more.
“It’s good to have to adapt and get outside of that box. I think we all fell a bit more in love with music during this time, and I think that really speaks to the power of music.”
Pursuing their passion
The move to an acoustic/folk/bluegrass direction has allowed the duo to really pursue a passion they’ve shared for a long time.
“I really got into bluegrass in high school,” Swain said. “Lynn and I were always messing around with bluegrass but then moved into more reggae. It took us 10 years for it to surface in our band.”
As restrictions are lessening, the Debutants have a few dates on the horizon including July 2 at the Harley Davidson Block Party, July 7 at the Junk Ditch Brewing Company Food Truck Rally, and — if Rock the Plaza resumes later in the summer — an August 1 date at the library plaza.
“We’ve been careful, but our calendar is slowly filling up again,” Nicholson said. “We have those dates in July and August, along with a few private parties that are on a smaller scale. Most bars and music venues won’t open until July or later.
“The name of the game now is adapting, and all of this has been a learning experience. But it’s good to know that we can livestream and by turning on a camera, you can put your music out there.”
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