Tuesday, April 13, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 6

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on April 6th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 6

Songwriters at Play founder Steve Key and other local musicians put on an outdoor house show in Orcutt


What do singer-songwriter Steve Key, guitarist Dorian Michael, percussionist Paul Griffith, and fiddler John Nowel all have in common? (Aside from calling the Central Coast their home, that is.) 

Fab four
Local musicians Steve Key, Dorian Michael, Paul Griffith, and John Nowel are putting on a backyard concert at a private residence in Orcutt on Sunday, April 11, at 2 p.m. Attendees who RSVP by calling (805) 937-8402 or emailing jwcardinal@msn.com will receive the address. Visit stevekey.com for additional info.

These four prolific musicians are set to share the stage—or backyard—at an upcoming outdoor house concert at a residence in Orcutt. The show’s hosts are Jeff and Rhonda Cardinal, a couple well known in the local music community for often hosting house shows with the Basin Street Regulars and the Pismo Beach Jazz Jubilee. 

Birds of a different feather are flocking to the April 11 concert however, as guests are promised an afternoon of blues, country, and folk. Key, probably best known for his work with Songwriters at Play, organized the show, assembling a group of his peers to join him.

For the past decade, Key and his wife, Bonnie, have co-produced and organized hundreds of live concerts within their Songwriters at Play series, showcasing local bands and solo artists at dozens of venues along the Central Coast. The couple lives in Shell Beach but are no strangers to heading south to put on live shows in Santa Maria, Solvang, and Santa Barbara, Key said—at least before 2020.

Singer-songwriter Steve Key (pictured), also well known as the founder of Songwriters at Play, will join three other local musicians for a house concert in Orcutt on Sunday, April 11.

“The shutdown derailed all that,” said Key, who was also involved with a former monthly song contest prior to last March, in collaboration with the West Coast Songwriters. 

Recalling conversations he had with other musicians during the first week of shelter-in-place orders, Key said the best word to describe the mood was “surreal.”

“We thought it was a temporary shutdown, perhaps a few weeks,” Key said. “I was affected both as a producer of events and a performer hoping to promote my most recent album.”

The album Key referred to is How I Learned to Drink, which he premiered at the end of 2019. Joining Key on the 10-track opus was one of his longtime collaborators and co-headliners of the upcoming house concert, aforementioned guitarist Michael, who specializes in acoustic fingerstyle guitar. 

Steve Key described local fingerstyle guitarist Dorian Michael (pictured) as a perfectionist. Michael is a longtime collaborator of Key’s and will join him and other local artists in an upcoming group show.

“Dorian is such a perfectionist, spent hours re-recording his guitar tracks until he was happy with it,” Key said, recalling the album’s production.  

Instead of layering each track, the album was recorded as a live performance with Key and his backup band playing together, which made Michael an outlier of the group with his meticulous re-recording work.

Michael was also the person who suggested that Key bring on board Griffith—probably best known for touring with Sheryl Crow among other Americana artists—to play drums during both the album and for its live release show in November 2019. 

With Key on vocals, Michael on guitar, and Griffith on drums for this weekend’s Orcutt show, the fourth and final piece of the puzzle is Nowel, known locally for his solo work as well as for his Americana band, Stereo Chickens.

“John has joined me many times in the past few years, usually when I’m playing a venue in Morro Bay, where he lives,” said Key, making Nowel’s upcoming trip to Orcutt and a recent show at Sculpterra Winery in Paso Robles exceptions to the rule.

The quartet Steve Key (pictured, right) assembled for an upcoming house concert in Orcutt includes fiddler John Nowel (left), who he’s also performed with at Sculpterra Winery in Paso Robles.

Attendees of the Orcutt concert are welcome to bring their own chairs and snacks, although there will be plenty of chairs available on-site along with complimentary wine and beer (donations are encouraged, though). Concert guests are required to RSVP beforehand (in order to receive the house address and other details) and are asked to mask up when roaming away from their seats. 

“There is something special about the energy at a house concert,” Key said. “The best situations for me are when people are there to listen. I can have a conversation with them, I can share stories with them, I can joke around with them.” 

This particular house concert will also be livestreamed online for the community to view virtually, thanks to videographer Simon Mercado of Noble Productions.

With that special house-concert energy, Key hopes members of the audience at the backyard show will feel comfortable enough to start dancing along with the music, or get “at least some toes tapping,” he said.

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood is already tapping his toes. Send comments to cwiseblood@santamariasun.com.

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