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Festival to offer first Trop Rock Fest

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Anyone heading to Orkney Springs Saturday night likely will experience a number of firsts, not the least of which will be the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival's first Trop Rock Fest, featuring a collection of musicians performing in the Shenandoah Valley for the first time.

Jim Morris and the Big Bamboo Band will perform with Coral Reefer Doyle Grisham; prolific singer/songwriter John Frinzi; and husband and wife duo Tom and Michelle Becker performing under the title Latitude. All say they're looking forward to being a part of history.

Trop Rock is what Tom Becker and his wife call "music with a tan."

It's "Laid back lyrics depicting a laid-back lifestyle," he said in a phone interview from Pawleys Island, S.C.

"We have four CDs of our original music, which we dub Trop Rock, for Tropical Rock," Becker said. They also play covers of bands who play music reminiscent of the beach.

Latitude's music reminds of tunes by famed singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett, Becker said, but those who play Trop Rock try not to call it "Jimmy Buffet music." Somewhere along the way someone termed the convention Trop Rock, Becker said, and the name stuck.

Doyle Grisham, who has toured with Buffett's band The Coral Reefers for more than 14 years, would know better than just about anyone the draw of Buffett's style.

Speaking by phone from his home near Nashville, Grisham said what he plays depends on the situation and the type of crowd he has. Also a country musician, he was one of five finalists for Instrumentalist of the Year during the Country Music Association awards in 1986. He's worked with Randy Travis, Roy Rogers, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Clint Eastwood, only a few of his many connections.

After years of making music, he said his style has remained the same.

"I haven't changed it a lot. I just have to flavor it differently."

This Friday he and longtime friend John Frinzi will perform the Trop Rock music they know so well.

"I love it, 'cause we've played several shows over the years together," Grisham said. "He's one of my favorite singers to play with."

"I enjoy playing the tours with Jimmy Buffet and, what you'd say, playing the Parrot Head shows with John Frinzi."

In a phone interview from his home near Tampa, Fla., Frinzi said Buffet and Grisham and others in the genre are his "musical heroes."

"We have played in Key West," he said. Indeed, he and Grisham have been "playing Key West for close to 10 years."

"I'm excited to get together with Doyle and play. It should be fun, great fun," Frinzi said.

For Jim Morris and the Big Bamboo Band, SVMF will be "a new experience for us," he said by phone from Florida.

He taught himself to play guitar at 15 by listening to Hank Williams, then pursued a corporate career for 15 years.

"When I started this thing, I was a corporate drop out," he said. He started performing kind of late in life, he said, but his goal wasn't to become famous. "My goal was just to make a living out of playing my own music."

"But it happened fairly quickly, so I guess that was kind of my measure of yeah this was working," he said.

After publishing his first album "Laid Back and Key Wasted" in 1996, released through Fish Head Music, he produced "Bocanuts" in 1997. Over the next 15 years he built up a more than 20-album empire, forming the Big Bamboo Band to capture the full sound of his CDs in live performances, according to his website jim-morrismusic.com.

"At first it was kind of easy, because I had a catalog of songs," Morris said. This made traveling on tours easy, but he later had to fit in more time at the studio when he ran out of music for CDs.

As he gets older, he said his music has become more introspective.

"You start writing more about how things affect you. In the beginning it didn't seem so serious."

Still, he said, "It's happy music."

"I think my style is a little more of a story-telling style," he said. "Tell a short story. Pretty much, it's mostly written from personal experience."

The Beckers both were playing Trop Rock before they met, Tom Becker said.

"My wife and I both spent 10 years in Nashville," he said. After meeting, "We set out not to make music. ... If the music worked together that was fine, but it wasn't the end all.

Then they answered a call to play in Myrtle Beach, he said, "And it was a real successful summer." Then they played at Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, changing their name for the occasion to Altitude, which caused confusion later, Becker said.

"People would walk up to us and say, 'Aren't you guys Altitude?'" It's good to be versatile in music, he said. "To be good, you gotta find multiple niches."

The plan has worked for them. For the last four years running, at the Trop Rock Music Awards, Latitude won Duo of the Year and Mrs. Becker won Female Vocalist of the Year. They also won the Golden Shotglass Award, voted by fans as the No. 1 Trop Rock Act in 2004.

"I'm really looking forward to the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival," Becker said.

Frinzi, too, can't wait to see Virginia.

"That's one of the few things I miss," said the New Jersey native. "I miss the rolling green and the hills and the fall."

The Shenandoah Valley Music Festival's first Trop Rock Fest, featuring Jim Morris and the Big Bamboo Band with Coral Reefer Doyle Grisham and John Frinzi and Latitude, will take place Saturday at 5 p.m. Reserved pavilion seats are $32. Adult lawn seats are $27, and lawn seats for children under 18 are $10. For more information, visit www.musicfest.org.

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