Playing incessantly, sometimes five sets a night throughout the Tampa Bay area, showed Rick Barrio Dill that he could make it playing professionally. The sweat. The heat of the gig. Feeling like his fingers were about to fall off while slapping the strings on his Fender bass.
For the past three years he has played about 260 shows a year with Vintage Trouble, one of the best-known unsigned bands in the country.
The guys have opened for some of the most prolific names in music, including the Who and the Rolling Stones. They performed on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno during Leno's final week. They have headlined music festivals including the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California, and they will play Saturday night at the Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival in Coachman Park.
"It's not (just) show up for some performance," said Dill, who moved to Los Angeles in 2003. "When we play, there's a ton of involvement with the crowd. May the Clearwater blues fest be another one. May we be so lucky to connect like that."
Now in its eighth year, the free, two-day music festival offers different styles of blues, including that of Robert Cray, Ana Popovic, and Savoy Brown featuring Kim Simmonds.
As the name of the festival implies, there also is food — seafood, Cajun cuisine, Cuban — from some of the area's most popular restaurants.
Rumba Island Bar & Grill will offer shrimp bisque, smoked fish spread, panko-crusted fish sandwiches and other tastes. Gypsy Fish will have homemade macaroni and cheese with blue crab and lobster, crab cake sliders and shrimp-'n'-grits. Hammerheads Seafood and Grill will serve Cajun favorites like jambalaya, crawfish and andouille sausage. Pipo's Café will mix Cuban flavor with its seafood offerings, including roast pork and Cuban sandwiches.
This is the first year a craft beer garden will be part of the event. It will feature libations from Cigar City Brewing, Dunedin Brewery and other Florida breweries.
The weekend will kick off Friday night with the third annual Blues Walk along Cleveland Street downtown. Live blues will be played from 6:30 to 10 p.m., restaurants will offer Sea-Blues-themed dinner and drink specials, and stores will be open.
Dill still has roots here — his mother lives in Bloomingdale and his father in St. Petersburg — but he wouldn't call playing Coachman Park on Saturday a homecoming.
"All I know is I'm working, and I'm trying to get better," Dill said.
Vintage Trouble, made up of former studio musicians, formed a few years ago. They spent weeks jamming, putting together a rhythm and blues, retro-soul-rock sound on an album titled The Bomb Shelter Sessions. A new album should be released this spring, Dill said.
Expect a lot of energy from the group.
"We turn it all in," Dill said. "We are going to give it our all."
Jared Leone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @jared_leone on Twitter.