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Published: 2003/05/28
by Joshua Dunsky

Nomadic by Design: A Musical Adventure in the Islands

As the sun rose on a typically frigid New Jersey March morning, nomadic design was packing up the van in preparation for a journey to a warmer climate. Rubbing away the remnants of what little sleep we had in our eyes and hoisting many pounds of gear would become a familiar sight as we spent the next seven days bathing in warmth and music on the U.S. Virgin Islands. Not being in possession of a sea-worthy van, the airport would become the first stop of the tour. Having arrived with four guitars, a mandolin and a suspicious looking battery-powered amplifier among our baggage, we anticipated there might be hassles in this time of heightened security. Getting on the plane without a hitch was indeed a sign of the good times ahead.

nomadic design is currently a three-piece band composed of Steve Sherak (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Justin Malo (bass guitar, vocals) and Eric Novad (drums/percussion). nomadic has evolved over the past few years into their current incarnation, which is really proving to be their most polished sound so far. They are first and foremost a rock band with an undeniable edge of intensity but they are also so much more than that. Although they consist primarily of bass, guitar and drums, nomadic is not your typical power trio. The sheer amount of sound dynamics and the diversity of tones Steve, Justin and Eric create make you think there are more than just three instruments being played. This is a band that is always challenging itself and pushing to explore new sounds and styles. The eclecticism of their sound is evident on a recording of a recent acoustic rehearsal that the band gives away, along with countless other live recordings, to fans. While listening to the CD, without the live visual reinforcement of the band, it’s impossible to believe it is simply an acoustic guitar, bass and drums. (Next time you catch the band out, make sure to ask about the disc!) You really never know what type of show you are going to get from these guys in a live setting with set lists that often have bluegrass tunes segueing into funk, morphing through odd-timed psychedelic improvisations. Having spent half their time over the last nine months touring and the other half in their NJ studio working on their third self-produced record, the band is on a creative tear that will continue as long as there is music to be made.

You might be wondering, "how does a band from NJ succeed in venturing out to the US Virgin Islands?" The answer is: by the hard work of a small group of individuals dedicated to bringing new music to family and friends living in St. Croix. Over the course of the last year the elusive Mr. Jonsun, a longtime friend of the band’s, and his brother decided to form a production company in the islands to help support, develop and diversify the local music scene. Thus Calabash Brothers Production was created and nomadic design signed on as one of their first imports. Having always believed that the best way to spread the vibe was to supply fans with good sounding music, a very large box of CD’s was promptly sent down to the islands for the Calabash Brothers street team to hand out to any who would listen As the anticipation grew it became apparent this voyage, which started out as an enthusiastic dream, was becoming a reality.

We arrived in St. Thomas a few hours later on Wednesday afternoon and immediately set out on foot in search of a taxi to take us to the ferry that would take us to the island of St. John. A few miles and a short ride through the tropical blue waters later, we were greeted by the bare feet and smile of our friendly island host who helped make adjusting to the slower island time rather easy for a bunch of east coasters with his simple admonition to "pump the brakes". The six of us and several hundred pounds of equipment crammed into a smaller than needed SUV and headed towards our friend’s house in the mountains. Along the way we took a detour to a secluded beach to make a housecall on another friend’s new boat. He was delighted to let us relax on deck as we reveled at the beauty of "his frontyard". After a splendid home cooked meal we decided to venture out to Island Blues, a local bar and eatery that was hosting an open mike night. Upon request by the bar owner, Justin and Steve helped close out the open mike night playing with some of the local musicians. The rum and the music were just beginning to flow.

Having spent the next morning trying to cover up our pale winter skin while snorkeling, we were well relaxed and ready for the first official gig of the tour once the sun went down on Thursday. The Beach Bar lived up to its name, being a beachfront bar that looks out over the tropical waters. Playing through a small sound system without the aid of monitors did not prevent nomadic from creating some intense jams amidst their structured original song material and the occasional tasty covers. Nomadic’s young drummer extraordinaire, Eric "rice" Novod was unable to make the early flight, so the band’s longtime sound man, James Formica, filled in playing percussion for the entire set. He also contributed guitar to "Miles" while a local St. Johnian kept the beat on the djembe. It was a great show for me personally since Steve played most of the show on acoustic guitar, which is a rare treat indeed. After the show we returned to the mountainside where Steve and Justin continued to play for those of us still standing all the while working out the bugs in the equipment that was newly built and acquired specifically for this trip. The cool tropical night winds, high up in the mountains, made quite the environment for us all to drift off to some amazing improvisational grooves.

The next morning, after enduring two stomach rearranging ferry rides, the caravan met up with Eric and the rest of our traveling companions on the island of St. Croix. Gone is the hustle and bustle of the tourist infested St. Thomas and gone is the quiet serenity of St. John, this is the land of pirates, where the locals are always ready to greet you with a smile and a taste of rum. St. Croix is unlike any place else I have ever been, an Island refuge for those looking to live life at a slightly altered pace. We managed to get ourselves intact to the Club 54 in Christiansted with all of the gear and began to set up for what was to be a wild night of music and merriment. Once Eric walked in the door of the Club, the band was complete and the people of St. Croix had no idea what there were about to experience.

Club 54 is the premier music club on the island, so it was nice to hear the band play through a decent PA. They took the stage around 11 PM and ripped through an intense 2 hour and 45 minute first set. Highlights included the bluegrass influenced "Certain", interrupted with a reggae flavored version of the Beatles "Day Tripper" which got the crowd going, as well as "treesong", a nomadic original that tells the story about late night rehearsals at the bands chicken coup turned studio, on a farm down in Howell, NJ. They also ripped into a funky version of "That’s it for the other one" which made me wonder if the wooden structure of the stage was going to hold. It was amazing to look around and to see that our caravan had now grown to 13 people, all with Jersey fresh roots, dancing away the tropical night.

After a brief set break, the band took the stage again, and prepared for another marathon set which lasted late into the night. The reggae-rock version of "Fire on the Mountain", with Steve getting the crowd worked up by playfully changing the words to "Fire at 54" was a delight for the club owner. The reaction of the crowd to "Chanteuse", an odd-timed, instrumental original was intense. For the entire second set the band seemed to play without pause, delighting the audience with the energy building "Like Gravity" and a rocked out version of "Papa Was Rolling Stone". The show came to an end a little past 4 in the morning and everyone knew this was the start of a great run of shows.

We spent the night at another friends house, where we were to make our home base for the remainder of the trip. A special thanks to Michael and Ashley for taking everyone into your home and letting us enjoy your world for a few days. Who could ask for more then a home on top of a mountain overlooking tropical blue waters?

The next morning was the St. Patty’s day parade and, using a battery-operated amplifier that we had lugged all over the Caribbean, the band participated in the St. Patrick’s day parade on the cobblestone streets of Christiansted. While hundreds of smiling faces grooved with the band, I got a chill. This moment of music, exploration and freedom was the embodiment of what this tour was all about. Let me tell you, when St. Croix throws a parade it is unlike anything else in the world. All of the local businesses and bars compete to see who can create the most noise and get people to consume the most alcohol. And this is all before noon! Love was in the air as strangers literally stopped strangers just to shake their hands. The entire day was all about decadence, but island style. The amazing thing about being in the islands is that you can always take solace in being where you are. It’s hard to not smile when you are in paradise.

Sunday afternoon it was off the north side of the island to The Beach Bar in Cane Bay, a charming open air bar & restaurant, which did not disappoint with its beach front location. The first set kicked off around 5 pm, and the band got warmed up as the sun began to set. The crowd really began to build as the band got going and the energy grew between Steve, Justin and Eric. Tonight was our good friend Ashley’s birthday, so the band snuck in references to her throughout the night. Tables got moved and a dance floor was cleared as people kicked off their sandals and got down to "watercolor of brasil" a brand new funky-Latin instrumental original. The first set also included the always crowd pleasing "Second That Emotion", that had flavors of the JGB rendition of this Motown classic. The first set was a quick 90 minutes, and the crowd was all primed up for a full evening of music.

The sun had set before the second set, and people were starting to feel the rum. They opened with the high-energy original "dazzling monkey", in which the line "it’s a close enough walk to the beach" was rather appropriate. James Formica once again joined the band on acoustic guitar for "a shadow of sun", a song that you can’t help but smile when you here its melody. The band then ripped into a smoking "Franklin’s Tower" in which they changed the chorus a bit, to poke fun at an unfortunate Mexican food incident that took place earlier in the day. The surprise of the set, came when 18 year old guitar prodigy James Strift, sat in and ripped apart Blues Traveler’s "I’m Alone", which was requested by an old friend of Bobby Sheehan, who was living on St. Croix. When Steve put down his Strat, and picked up his mandolin, the crowd went crazy, dancing arm and arm to the funky bluegrass influenced "Rye’s High" a recent nomadic original. Perhaps the most intense moment of the set was the driving original "hold on" which was interrupted by a partial rendition of "Elizabeth Reed" to close out the set. It was now 9pm, which is when the show was originally scheduled to end. However, the band was not quite ready to stop playing, and the crowd definitely wanted more. The owner of the bar was having such a good time; she said they could go on for as much time as they want. So after a quick break to munch on some food, the band took the stage for another set.

The band let it all hang out right from beginning of the set, finishing "Elizabeth Reed" to the crowd’s delight. The third set was full of extended improvisational jams, and psychedelic-dance grooves, that really seemed to get people off. The musical odyssey that these guys take an audience on during a single show never ceases to amaze me. The band and audience were communicating, and magic was being created. All of us that were there seemed aware of the vibe around us that night. The band really seemed to be having tremendous fun, and how could they not, doing what they love, in front of a great crowd outside, under the tropical stars. The show finally ended around 10:45, almost two hours after it was originally scheduled to. After packing everything up, and stowing all the gear away for the night, we headed up the a party in the rain forest, were we found ourselves on top of a giant tree house, that someone had built from hand, with a campfire raging below us… a perfect ending to a truly magical night.

Monday was St. Patrick’s Day, and there was no way better to celebrate than to return to Club 54. Nobody was sure what to expect on Monday since everyone on the island had been partying pretty hard since Friday. Only the hardcore crew could be counted on. Fortunately the island of pirates is full of people who are up to the task. The band surprised even me, opening the show with Eric’s debut on the mandolin, with a bluegrass rendition of "Fire On The Mountain". Once again James Fomica sat in on acoustic guitar for "a shadow of sun" and James Strift joined the band for a wicked solo in "All Blues". The highlight of the show was when Richard, former percussionist for Maxi Priest turned street poet, spontaneously grabbed the djembe and rocked out during the reggae influenced original "ixtal" At first no one knew what to think when he jumped up there, but we were all impressed with his ability. The show came to an end with "Miles" from which the line "late night drinking wine and whiskey, staying up and howling at the moon" became our anthem for the week. As the band said its thanks to all those who made a week long tour of paradise possible, we all realized how lucky we were to be part of such a wondrous week.

In summary:

7 days

3 Islands

4 ferries

46 songs

26 hours of music

23 hours spent figuring out how to work brand new equipment

39 hours spent carrying equipment

62 hours spent figuring out how to avoid getting all of the equipment stolen

16 hours spent sleeping

2 hours spent relaxing

I can't wait to go back! I hope you all come with us.

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