To most locals – and more than a few regular visitors – the two men who make up the band called The Oysters need no introduction. Joe Monroe and Bryce Barnes have been part of the music scene on this island for so long it almost seems as if they’ve always been here, and those of us who were around in the early 2000’s have fond – if slightly hazy – memories of when their original band – The Oysters Fantastic Band – ruled the beach. During their reign, which occurred during the halcyon years before Hurricane Charley – when Casey’s Alley still rocked and The Reef still roared – it almost seems as though the island was a happier, more innocent place. But what really strikes someone listening to Joe and Bryce perform is the pure, deep, talent they possess. Even when they are playing cover songs, there is a sense that they belong somewhere far from here, on a big stage with lots of lights and a stadium full of screaming fans. Because through all the years, what first drew people to their shows still remains – the energy and love they have for each other and their audience.
Bryce and Joe came to our emerald shores on entirely different roads. Both grew up loving and playing music – Bryce told us his first guitar was a plastic one from JC Penney that wasn’t even playable – ‘I wanted to be like Keith Partridge from the Partridge Family’, he said – but the two did not meet until they’d both moved to Fort Myers Beach, some 20+ years ago.
“I came from rural Vermont – where I had a guitar in my hand from the age of 2 and taught myself how to play. I came to the beach with my band Engine Joe (a band that also included A200 powerhouse Bob Tabarrini) – we had 27 original songs and we were supposed to be on Fort Myers Beach for one month before heading to California,” Joe said. “That was 21 years ago.”
Bryce – who was born in the city of Toledo, Ohio and caught the music bug from his neighbor, who was the nephew of famous DJ Alan Freed (hint, he coined the term ‘rock and roll’) came here to be in the band Blackfoot – who would go on to national renown.
“When Rickey (Medlocke) left to join Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Stet (Howland) left for W.A.S.P., John Housley and I got together with T-Bone and started the Oyster Fantastic Band,” Bryce said. “T-Bone played with us for awhile, then Frank Thomson, and when Frankie left, Joe left Engine Joe to fill Frank’s spot.”
The Oysters were something no one on the beach had ever seen before – how can three guys with acoustic guitars and a set of conga drums rock? But rock they did, and everyone loved it.
“People would plan their vacations around when we were playing,” said Bryce. “We went to Key West, and our fans followed us there. There was a lot of alcohol involved, and a lot of fun – it was a crazy, crazy time.”
But it was more than just booze. Call them a milder, gentler version of who they used to be, but Bryce and Joe still have that special something that draws people to watch them perform, and Bryce still gets calls from fans who want to make sure they’re playing when they visit. Oh, and did we mention they have heaps of talent?
“One thing that always got to me was the fact that we played covers,” Bryce said. “I mean, I like playing other peoples’ songs and making them our own, but when you’re opening for a national act and you’re singing a Joan Jett song it just hurts because you know the audience isn’t seeing the real you.”
Though both Bryce and Joe have been in other bands – including national acts – where they wrote original tunes, they are especially proud of a new trio they’ve put together with drummer Scott Chesser – a band called The Gist – that features all new songs written by them that truly showcase the depth of musical knowledge and creativity they possess. We won’t give it away, but look for a performance that will be like nothing anyone’s seen before – much like The Oysters were all those years ago. Hint – for a sneak peek, go to reverbnation.com/thegist8. They have also released a CD, which is available on their new website, thegistband.com. To check out The Oysters, visit theoysterband.com.
These days, you can catch Bryce and Joe at their regular gigs – Fridays from 5-9pm and the Boat House in Cape Coral and Saturdays from 6-10pm at the Lighthouse Tiki Bar right here on FMB.
“It’s amazing really – we are both the lead singers of our band – something that usually never works – but we’ve been together for so long it clicks,” Joe said. “We also play one night a week at The Boathouse in Cape Coral. Between that, both of our daytime businesses, and rehearsing two or three nights a week, we’re pretty busy.”
The Oysters’ lineup consists mostly of classic rock, with a little country thrown in. This they spice up with their signature lively and hilarious banter, which guarantees that the audience will have a good time. These are two guys who are happy with their life, and it shows.
“You know, we’ve both traveled all over the country and there’s just no place like Fort Myers Beach,” said Bryce when we asked him to reflect back on the years. “The experience here has been a great one – after all, it has supported both of our careers for over 20 years.”
The bottom line, Bryce and Joe told us, is that it’s always been about the music.
“It’s the one thing that’s been the only constant in our worlds,” Bryce said. “People change, venues change, everything changes. But the music – it’s always there.”
Keri Hendry Weeg