|"Getting in gear with Florida’s rockabilly renegades."-By Lorne Chambers, Charleston Ciry Paper, July 1st, 2004|
Located just south of Tampa, Fla., along the beautiful Gulf Coast, two cities are virtually smashed together into an area full of old codgers and every bad Florida stereotype that Jerry Seinfeld could imagine. And it’s here, in an un-air conditioned loft of a motorcycle shop in the unforgiving Florida heat, that rockabilly band The Downshifters are plotting their next move.
Who would have thought that this environment could give birth to a hell-raisin’ four-piece rockabilly band? But that’s just what the The Downshifters are, in spite of their surroundings and their hometown’s lack of a music scene.
The Bradenton/Sarasota region is a wonderful place to visit, a wonderful place to retire, but a barren desert of a music scene — especially if your appetite for rock just can’t be satiated by Jimmy Buffett covers backed by a drum machine. In fact, the music-unfriendly City of Sarasota recently passed an ordinance that fines clubs $600 if music can be heard after 10 p.m. (don’t get any ideas, Joe Riley).
While The Downshifters may not be welcome by most of the clubs in their hometown, the rest of the Southeast seems to be rather fond of the raucous renegades. Especially here in Charleston, where a real rockabilly movement struggles to emerge, thanks to the help of local rockabilly champions The Defilers. The Downshifters return to Charleston and will help shift that movement into overdrive this Saturday when they team up with The Defilers at Johnny Ola’s Anchor Café, a still fledgling music venue that has given its full support to this “outsider” genre of music.
While this isn’t the first time The Downshifters have played the Lowcountry (they were here last year as part of the Heritage Motorcycle Rally), this time Charleston is just a stop along the way to the Southeastern Mecca of rockabilly festivals — The Heavy Rebel Weekender held July 2-4 in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C.
After playing here on Saturday, The Downshifters will play the last night of the festival, which also includes appearances by the Crank County Daredevils, The Straight 8s, and Los Griswolds, all of whom have played Johnny Ola’s in recent months. While The Downshifters play a pretty high-energy, blazing style of country-rock, they will also settle back and rip some traditional rock ‘n’ roll if need be. Just don’t ask them to play anything from fellow Floridians Lynyrd Skynyrd (yes, Skynyrd were from Florida, not Alabama). “We don’t know any Skynyrd and if we did we wouldn’t play it anyway,” says upright bass player Cory Karish.
“It’s pretty much straight ahead full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll,” says Karish, who at 27 is the youngest of the group. “It sounds like fairly traditional rockabilly, but then there’s some stuff that could be a Motörhead song. As much as I love rockabilly, a lot of it does sound the same, so most of what we do is just rock ‘n’ roll.”
When not playing music, Karish works along with The Downshifter’s frontman Paxton (no last name) at his motorcycle shop P-man's Classic Cycle Paint, located in downtown Bradenton. It’s in the loft of Paxton’s shop that the band practices. But it’s on the stage that The Downshifters are at home. “It’s highly entertaining,” says Karish about a Downshifters live show. “We’re not going to just stand there and play the music.” The Downshifters even have band member Kevin Kuras listed as playing “drums and screaming noises” on the band’s website www.thedownshifters.com. So when you come out to Johnny Ola’s this Saturday, expect something a little out of the ordinary, even by Johnny Ola standards. But no matter how wild things get, just remember that for most of the time these boys are penned up trying to make a living in a town where most people are just trying not to die.