Several local musical acts are slated to perform at the city of Tallahassee’s July Fourth celebration at Tom Brown Park Wednesday. One of those bands is made up of former and current homeless shelter residents, and they look forward to playing for what they expect to be their biggest crowd yet.
‘Gimme Shelter’ by the Rolling Stones is the signature tune for the Tallahassee music group called The Shelter Band. They get their name from the building where many of the musicians have lived or still live today: the city homeless shelter on West Tennessee Street. Gerald Brigham sings with the group. He arrived in Tallahassee on a Greyhound bus 12 years ago and says, nowadays, he does outreach work at the shelter. One day, about four months ago, he noticed some of the residents carrying in instruments.
“And they start practicing, and they played a song that I knew, a Temptations song that I grew up listening to, and the guy who was trying to sing it wasn’t, per se, a vocalist," he says. "And I, just by chance, ask them, ‘Hey, man, ya’ll mind if I have a try at that?’”
The Shelter Band has been practicing once a week for more than a year. Two Florida State University grad students direct it, often teaching the musicians their parts without using sheet music because many of them don’t have formal training. The band’s bass player, who goes by the name Johnny Pierce, says although they’ve performed at Tallahassee’s Railroad Square and other, more intimate venues, July Fourth at Tom Brown Park will be by far the biggest crowd to see their act. Pierce says, he’s nervous, but he’s not going to deal with that emotion the same way he used to, by using alcohol.
“That’s what this shelter band has also taught me is that I can live without that, without being mind-altered to enjoy myself on stage," he says.
Pierce says coming to practice with the band has also given him a much-needed sense of consistency after being homeless on and off since 1997.
“Even though I’ve tried to quit this band four times in the last year and a half, I seem to keep on doing it…well, they need me," he says.
Pierce, Brigham, a drummer who shares the name Gene Simmons with another, better known rocker, and the rest of The Shelter Band will perform at Tallahassee’s Celebrate America festival on Wednesday. They’ll play a half-hour set starting at 5:15 p.m. And fans of James Brown should look out for their cover of “I Feel Good,” which, they say, will have back-up dancers and will be sung by a talented vocalist who goes by the name New York.