A 23 year veteran in the publishing business, Bob Downes is now focusing his time on a microphone and the stage.
Downes, the former editor and co-publisher of Northern Express, sings and plays guitar in his own band, Acoustic Dynamite.
Together with Jim Moore, Charlie Lakritz, and Mark Cantrell, the energetic foursome plays a combo of quirky, revamped cover songs and offbeat originals.
Still the wordsmith – lyrics are easy for him to memorize – Downes says every member of Acoustic Dynamite is pivotal to the group’s musical chemistry.
“Jim can play the skin off a grape, and has a style unlike any guitarist I’ve ever known,” he said. “He’s got the speed and precision of a bluegrass flat-picker adapted to any kind of music.”
Lakritz (bass/harmonica) and Cantrell (congas) round out the group’s sound.
“Charlie has been ‘learning on the job’ with the bass, and has made great strides; we’re proud of him,” Downes said. “We don’t get to have Mark on stage as much as we’d like, but he’s a fireball.”
The band’s energy results in plenty of dancing. They approach their gigs with an appealing combo of professionalism and a devil-may-care attitude.
“We’ve had the freedom to experiment with new music every week,” Downes said. “We’ve taken lots of chances and have thrown lots of curve balls, like doing tribute shows to The Beatles with only a single rehearsal.”
Classic rock is a mainstay of Acoustic Dynamite’s setlists, and they often play themed “sets” of songs by genre (reggae, Americana, blues) or by artist (Bob Dylan, Motown, the Rolling Stones).
One week you might hear songs by MC5 and The Who; the next, Acoustic Dynamite will take on Hank Williams and Frank Sinatra.
Changing up their shows each week keeps the band challenged, and keeps the audiences coming back for more surprises, including Acoustic Dynamite’s own originals, which Downes said are their “biggest hits.”
“Jim’s song, ‘Noche del Mar,’ is a Spanishlanguage number that always gets people up dancing and is by far our most popular song,” he said.
A close second is “The Streets of Traverse City” … for obvious reasons.
Downes – ever the writer – has penned almost 100 songs so far.
“Given how well they go over, we should probably play more of our own stuff,” he said.
But going completely original isn’t always as easy as it appears, said Downes.
“Being a songwriter has been something of an identity crisis for me, because we could easily do all originals and try for the festival circuit,” he said. “But Jim and I both like playing happy hour and patio gigs the most, so we stick with a mix of covers and a few of our own songs.”
Unless you bootleg their shows, don’t expect to be able to snag an Acoustic Dynamite CD anytime soon.
Downes and company prefer to remain old school, dropping the occasional video on YouTube, but mainly relying on live performances to build their fan base.
“Since virtually no one purchases CDs anymore, I tend to think recording is a waste of time,” Downes said. “It’s all about playing live for me.”
Fortunately, finding Acoustic Dynamite live is easy. They’ve been regulars at the Friday happy hour show at InsideOut Gallery, where they’ve been a big hit.
“What we try to do is have a weekly party for our many loyal friends,” Downes said.
Acoustic Dynamite’s last live show at InsideOut is coming up soon … and will feature some undead friends: zombies.
The bar scene in a local zombie film will be shot at InsideOut the night Acoustic Dynamite wraps up eight months of shows, Downes said.
“It should be a very big deal,” he said.
And if the zombies don’t get ‘em, you’ll be able to see the band throughout the summer and beyond, performing at The Filling Station in TC in July and August, as well as returning to InsideOut to perform on the venue’s new patio.
Downes says that he and his bandmates aren’t aiming for any level of fame. Rather, it’s just about enjoying the process.
“I wouldn’t dream of trying to do it for a living,” Downes said. “I’m serious about it, but I don’t take it too seriously – it’s an escape.”
“For me, music is all about having fun.”
Acoustic Dynamite will be closing out the happy hour season at InsideOut Gallery on Fri., May 23 from 5-7pm. Videos of the band can be viewed at Downes’ YouTube Channel, www.youtube.com/user/bobdownes52.