Since the birth of rock music in the 1960s, tens of thousands of bands have come and gone, with every one reaching for the stars and hanging on promises of what could be, if they only had the perfect – and extremely hard to find – mix of talent, personality and showmanship.
The rock ‘n’ roll superhighway is littered with dashed hopes and over-indulgence of one form or another, and to succeed in this crazy business, a musician or performer needs to decide whether to focus on what is important to them and the group early on, or to find another hobby.
The formative years of anyone’s music experience are the most important. Some have inherent talent, are very extroverted, and provide their families with awesome video footage from the age of 3 or 4. There are also those who mature later, perhaps in high school, but still possess a keen sense of music all the while. The “local rock band” concept has been around for decades, and for one Jersey Shore group, it is really paying off, completely due to the talent and hard work of its members and their very supportive families.
Ardvark Smile. Wait, did I type that correctly….umm, well, yes, Ardvark Smile. I know, a somewhat unusual name (Spell Check is giving me a very hard time at the moment), but has any one of you tried to name a rock band lately? Nothing anomalous about the band, however, and if I may be so forward, I highly recommend that you take a couple of hours one night to experience this amazing group of fine young musicians. Don’t take my word for it – take the word of the Stone Pony judges, when they selected Ardvark Smile as their Rock to the Top competition winner for 2013. Nearly 100 bands entered the contest, but only one reigned supreme, and deservedly so.
As a result of their accomplishment, the Stone Pony gave the group a night as the headline act at the venerable Asbury Park venue, which they promptly sold out to a crowd of over 700 fans; pretty darn cool in any bands resume.
With the assistance and supervision of local instructors at Rock’n Music Academy in Middletown, School of Rock in Red Bank and the Rockit program at the Count Basie Theatre, the five current members of Ardvark Smile, all from the Rumson/Red Bank/Middletown area, have established what has become an amazing ensemble.
Forming her first impromptu group in the 4th grade (really), Taylor Tote has evolved into an extraordinary performer with great vocal range and wonderful dynamics; sultry and emotion-provoking tones during a bluesy number like their rendition of “Hurts So Bad,” and powerful and impassioned moments during Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and “The Best Part,” one of the bands original compositions.
Lead guitarist Kyle Ward, son of TRT’s own Lynne Ward, is the consummate front man, a bundle of energy combined with fantastic talent (Berklee-bound in the fall of ’14), and a great complement to Tote. As I watched their interaction on stage, two famous names quickly came to mind, and I wondered to myself if this was how Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo started many years ago.
Dillon Butler is quite the accomplished bassist, somewhat mild mannered on stage while holding down the low end, but able to really “bring it” when a particular number calls for it.
Butler’s partner in crime, stage left, is James Ruggiero, a superb rhythm guitarist, and the two make up a very formidable rhythm section.
The very talented Glen Wise on keyboards shares stage right with Ward, which provides some interesting action; one cannot help but wonder if there has ever been a collision between the two, with one seated and immobile, and the other somewhat acrobatic in heated moments!
And last, but unquestionably not least, is the youngest member of the band, drummer Anthony Flora. With steady hands, cat-like reflexes and a level of technique far beyond his 8 years of experience, high school sophomore Flora is not a diamond in the rough, he is the real deal, and very capably holds the groove for the entire band.
Collectively, the level of talent here is quite remarkable, given that everyone in the group is under the age of 20. In addition to their steady gigs, the band also regularly donates their time and talents to several local charities and nonprofit organizations such as the Light of Day Foundation, Shore Cure, Hurricane Sandy relief efforts and The Sandy Ground project.
With summer approaching, the coming months will be a busy time for Ardvark Smile, and a perfect time to get out and show your support for the band. A few upcoming dates are May 9 at The Columns in Avon, May 10 at Sea Girt Lanes, May 18 at the Brighton Bar, and June 14 at Fair Haven Day at Fair Haven Fields.
Be sure to visit their Facebook page and click the Like button, and check back frequently for show announcements and updates. The sky seems to be the limit for this very promising group; get to one of their shows soon, and years from now you can say “I knew them before they were famous!”
Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for rock/blues cover band VyntEdge.