By DILLON MASTROMARINO
USFSP Student Reporter
GULFPORT – What do a retired IT worker, a chef-turned-radio host and a full-time musician have in common?
A guitar in hand and a time slot every Monday night at Caddy’s open mic.
The waterfront restaurant at 3128 Beach Blvd. S brimmed with eager performers from around the Tampa Bay area on Nov. 18.
Tables and chairs were rearranged to accommodate the makeshift stage. Dozens of wires snaked along the floor from sound boards to electric amplifiers. People chatted and drank, their cased guitars lying beside them as they waited to be invited on stage.
One player, Paul Brechue, said he wasn’t sure about performing that evening. However, he said he always kept a guitar in his car just in case.
“I tried being a full-time freelance musician but mentally I needed the stability of a 9-to-5 job,” said Brechue. “I managed to rack up 17 years in IT at a major cellular company and by saving my pennies I was able to retire early. But I always played part-time as well.”
After the Beatles hit the airwaves when Brechue was around 11, he was eager to start playing. From a young age, Brechue said, he had always wanted to learn how to play music and was greatly influenced by the music he heard at church and (thanks to renditions by Wendy Carlos) the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
When he was in high school, a teacher exposed Brechue to Dixieland jazz, which was a gateway for his appreciation of music theory and the Great American Songbook. He said he’s been playing professionally ever since.
“I go to open mics now mostly because I haven’t been ambitious enough to book paid work,” Brechue said later via email.
“I was aware of a couple other open mics on Monday. I opted for the one in Gulfport because it wasn’t too far a drive, and it turned out to be a great choice since several of the players were old friends I hadn’t seen in a while.”
One of those old friends was Mike Thomas, the host of Monday night’s open mics.
“I was asked to host an open mic about a year ago and wasn’t thrilled by the idea at first,” said Thomas. “But once it started to take off it reignited my excitement with being a part of an amazing, creative music community. And that’s what the Tampa Bay area is.”
As long as he can remember, Thomas said, he has loved music. When he was 12, he said, he hijacked his older brother’s chord book. He started playing professionally seven years later.
Once Thomas committed to hosting an open mic, he began attending as many open mics as he could find. Through constant networking, Thomas met several players and songwriters whom he considers the bedrock of the local music scene.
He said he found common ground with many local artists and as he supported them in their craft, they supported him.
“All I do is play now,” said Thomas. “Open mic is a bonus. I play the gigs as they come and love every minute of it.”
Support is a major factor in the local music scene. One local musician, Lynn DiVenuti, attends every Monday open mic in support of Thomas.
“[I] have performed at just about every live music venue in Gulfport by now,” said DiVenuti. “Open mic keeps me practicing everything I learned throughout the years. If I didn’t play open mics the instruments would get dusty or I’d need to join a band or start one.
“Music is in my blood; ain’t no denying it.”
At the age of 4, DiVenuti built her own drum set using a Lincoln Log box, lids, spaghetti pots and various kitchen utensils.
“Kinda surprised my parents let me live this long,” said DiVenuti. “I was an active child.”
When she was 15, DiVenuti said, she received her first guitar as a bribe from her parents to stop running away. The first song she learned was the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road.”
Her first gig was with a bluegrass band at age 19. She’s been performing for 45 years.
DiVenuti has held many jobs during her life. She’s worked in marketing, advertising and music management, and he created and sponsored events from music festivals to chili cookoffs.
DiVenuti said she was a chef for over 20 years. She owned and operated several bistros, was the director of food services at USF St. Petersburg and was the night manager of the St. Petersburg Times’ company cafeteria.
DiVenuti lives in Gulfport and is a host for Pro Sisters Radio, a platform created for female musicians to promote their music.
“I always loved Gulfport,” said DiVenuti. “Gulfport is my home now since 2007. It is perfect for me. We all help each other when needed and the sense of community is strong. Plus the music rocks!”