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Jacksonville band heads to Gitmo for 4th of July weekend celebration

(Jacksonville, Fla.)—August Drive, a band based in Jacksonville, Fla., will head to US Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) to entertain troops for a weekend holiday celebration on July 3 and 4. The group is a hybrid formed by members of two popular bands, Something Distant and Dial-9. Lead vocalist Jeff Congo told The US Report, “We really want to go down there and give these troops a little piece of home, and let them unwind and sing and scream along to songs they know and love.” [Story continues after photo.]

[Left to Right] Jason Ramsey- bass,Jeff Congo- lead vocals and guitar, Evan Cameron- lead guitar,Chris Condon- drums. (Photo courtesy of Chris Condon)Congo said Dial-9 drummer Chris Condon “got the call from the guys at Gitmo a couple months ago.” Congo said the invitation was the “perfect opportunity for us to get our bands together.” Members of both groups talked and set up practice sessions. “There was just instant chemistry between us all,” Congo said. They started writing songs immediately, and came up with the new name, August Drive.

“August Drive is that picture perfect summer day,” Congo said, “ when you get in your car, roll down the windows, crank up your radio and sing along to your favorite songs without a care in the world. You’re free. And that’s what I felt when we started playing with these guys—a new beginning and a new sense of creative freedom.”

All August Drive members are based in Jacksonville—‘Jax’ to locals. Jason Ramsey plays bass, Congo does lead vocals and guitar, Evan Cameron plays lead guitar and Chris Condon does drums.

The band is coming up with new songs in hopes of getting something on iTunes by late fall. But to maximize pleasure for the troops, August Drive will focus primarily on cover songs. “We are a pop rock band,” Congo said. The troops don’t have options to go see their favorite bands when they want to. “We want to bring that to them.”

For people in search of live music, Jacksonville’s energized music scene is one of the most overlooked. “I think of Jacksonville as a mini-Nashville sometimes,” said Congo. “I think people would raise an eyebrow to my saying that, but most of these better known bands playing cover music in local bars are bands that have CDs out and a fair amount of success in the music industry.”

Perhaps the best known mass market brand currently playing is Lynyrd Skynyrd. But there are many others. “What’s really funny,” Congo pointed out, “is that sometimes people have no idea who is playing for them in some of our local bars. We’ve shared the stage with so many well known musicians.” He cites Boys Like Girls, Yellow Card and The Afters.

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus is another band from the area whose success is now legendary—a certified gold album, major record label and thousands of fans so eager to see them college groups often hold fundraisers just to get them to come play. RJA is releasing The Hell or High Water EP in June as an independent label, having parted ways with Virgin Records.

Congo continued, “Tony Scozzaro is one of the lead guitar players for Something Distant. He’s a graduate of the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles and he’s frequently featured in Guitar Magazine. He also holds a place in the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.”

There are other notables. Congo said, “Eric Charlton and Jon Reshard played with us on New Year's Eve at Fionn MacCools. They just had a major song on iTunes a few months ago, a remix of Rosco Dash’s ‘All the Way Turnt’ Up.”

Congo recalled an experience typical of Reshard, known for not seeking the limelight despite being in demand nationally for his remarkable skills on bass guitar.  Congo said he was texting with Reshard one day, and he learned Reshard was sitting in the studio with a very famous musician known for his penchant for privacy.

Congo adds. “I personally am wishing our friends Shawn Fisher and the Jukebox Gypsies all the best. They just signed to a major label and seem to be making some noise.”

There are numerous other groups and solo acts based in Jacksonville. The free market live music scene is often underreported and sometimes undetected by groups promoting the city’s tourism.

Other area bands who have played for the military in Gitmo include Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Puddle of Mud and Everclear. Congo said August Drive will travel to the Naval Station with a cover band from Orlando, Blonde Ambition.

Congo said August Drive’s performance is a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the troops for protecting us and our freedom. He said, ”Our goal is to go down there and leave every possible emotion and bead of sweat on that stage, and put on a show for these guys that they will really enjoy and remember.” –by Kay B. Day

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