Fort Pierce's Gravel Kings Play Banjos in a Metal World

By C. Townsend Rizzo

You'd never know the Boozgeois was nearly eighty miles away from the nearest music hot spots in Palm Beach County and a hundred miles away from those in Broward, but tucked away on the Treasure Coast, a music scene is brewing. Legend has it that there's always been a local music scene around these parts, but like ol' Nessie or Justin Bieber's testicles, the evidence has been elusive until Gravel Kings paired up with Hats for Rain on the first day of 2013 to make their folk/new grass debut.

Running into the lead vocalist and guitar player, Zachary Jones, outside of the venue, I couldn't help but inquire about their level of excitement. A Pabst tall boy in tow, he anxiously replied, "I'm sweating."

The evening began with a performance by Hats for Rain, a solo folk venture by Chris Busby, also of Fort Pierce. Flannel sleeves rolled up, Hats for Rain filled the room with mandolin breakdowns and carefully articulated finger picking in the singer/songwriter tradition. Toes were tapping, and the folks who weren't shaking a leg were pounding their fists on the bar in an effort to add percussive echoes. 

Gravel Kings took over promptly after Busby finished his last song. Just the sound of the banjo tinkering into tune brought the entire bar to their feet. Sure and steady vocals, surprising mastery of the banjo and dobro, mixed with the tambourine latched to the kick drum in the back: If Jones was sweating before, he and the rest of the band seemed cooler than two Fonzies behind their instruments. 

The sound that followed was a culmination of their influences, but also included sounds they didn't list, when we spoke with them, as inspirations for their music -- The Avett Brothers, The Wood Brothers, maybe even some Justin Townes Earl. What we uncovered in our conversation with Jones is the Gravel Kings.  

New Times: Who are you?

Zachary Jones: Zachary Jones (Gutiar/Vocals), Johnnie Schumacher (Drums), Joey Johnson (Banjo, Dobro, etc.), Gravel Kings.

Where are we?

The Boozgeois, in beautiful Fort Pierce, Florida. The oldest dive bar in town -- it's been around since the 1950s. It dove. It's been diving. 

What are we doing here?

This is our first show as Gravel Kings. We are comfortable here. We see shows here, we hang out here. This is where we choose to start. 

How long have you been Gravel Kings?

About three months. We've known each other for about ten years. We've played in bands separately before, but this is the first time the three of us have played together. 

What bands were you originally in before this one?

Barriers Now Bridges, Shocks for Andrea, At Shiloh, Rainy Day Dallas.

Describe your sound.

Without naming other bands, we're like a funky-bluegrass-folk thing. Indie style hooks. 

So, if you did name names, who would you list as some influences?

Trampled By Turtles, Johnny Cash... You know, not everyone would love the way this sounds, but those Lumineers aren't so bad either. Spirit Family Reunion. 

The Lumineers? Really?

Traditional Bluegrass doesn't use a drum kit. They're using drums and it sounds good to us. We probably take from them a little bit too.

So, you're from Fort Pierce. What's the music scene typically like in this area?

It does exist in a small way. It could be better, though there's not a whole huge pull for culture here like there is in Miami or even Fort Lauderdale. Population-wise, it's a smaller town. At one point, it seemed like everyone here played metal. 

Comparatively, do you guys think Fort Pierce stands a chance scene-wise?

It seems to be on the upswing. People are opening up to a lot of different types of music these days. The musicians around here are growing up and their tastes are changing and along with that is a different music culture. More refined. 

Are there any bands you see yourselves pairing up with, sharing a stage with?

We'd love to meet more musicians making music in the same general genre as we adhere to. It's important that we find those people and support those people. 

Why should anyone care about Gravel Kings?

You know, we aren't trying to change the world. We hope people care, but this music is a big part of our lives, what we've always listened to. Mostly, this is the most rewarding musical experience all of us have had and it makes for good music. Instead of all of us playing in separate bands and supporting each other from different sides, now it's like we are on the same team supporting each other from the same side. 

If acoustic folk hall bluegrass is your thing, Gravel Kings can do that for you. They have a string of shows listed for January including The Blue Door, 38 SE Osceola Street, Stuart, on January 16, and they make their way to Respectable Street, 518 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, on January 24. 

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
New Times Staff