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Real estate band becoming hot property in local rock landscape

Members of Southern Train, a band formed mostly by real estate agents when they were idle during the real estate plunge, practice last month in an empty office building in Tampa. 
Members of Southern Train, a band formed mostly by real estate agents when they were idle during the real estate plunge, practice last month in an empty office building in Tampa. 
Published Aug. 14, 2014

TAMPA — They could've been called Band of Brokers, these commercial real estate executives who dusted off the guitars of their teen years and started jamming. It was after the real estate collapse, so they had plenty of time on their hands.

"There wasn't a lot to do back in '08 and '09 but drink beer and play music,'' said Bill Reeves, 45, one of the founders of the band Southern Train.

But what started off as just something to do has turned into a regional success. They've performed at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Skipper's Smokehouse and the Bourbon & Brews Festival, and they were one of the groups opening for Los Lonely Boys at the Tampa Margarita Festival in May.

These real estate rockers, who crank out a range from Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love to Willie Nelson's Whiskey River, are set to play at the grand opening of Water Works Park in Tampa on Saturday.

They practice in a mostly empty east Tampa office building — property one of them manages — where they pierce the night with three electric guitars, keyboard, drums and three main singers, including the powerful voice of the band's only woman, Jamie Inman, 30.

They saw her perform during an "open mic'' night at MacDinton's and recruited her.

"So we invited a single female to a vacant office park in the middle of nowhere to hang out with five guys,'' said Matt Watson, 34, fellow singer and guitarist. "She was about a half-hour late. We were all (saying) to each other, 'I wouldn't show up.' ''

Inman is one of three performers not in real estate invited in to boost the band's brand. She sang as a youngster and majored in music in college, but says she got sidetracked from her passion for performing by working as a commercial photographer for the past seven years.

She was looking for a band when Southern Train found her. Almost immediately, she said, they performed at Skipper's Smokehouse and soon appeared at the Bourbon & Brews Festival in front of 5,000 people.

"So I kind of got spoiled right away,'' she says.

Before she, guitarist Michael Costa and keyboardist Armand Nuss joined the band, it was mainly a jamming group. It started when lead guitarist Reeves and drummer Gene Selg, colleagues at Cushman & Wakefield, joined other real estate musicians for weekly jams in Tampa that had been going on for a few years. That's where bass guitarist Kyle Burd, vice president and managing director of Parkway Realty, and Watson, his competitor at Cardinal Point Management, joined them. Other real estate bands also formed out of those big jam sessions, Burd says, mentioning the blues group "No Money Down Band'' and the classic rock "Bushniks.''

"All we wanted to do was play for friends and charity events in the very beginning,'' Burd said. "But it kind of grew.''

They were still messing around, in effect, when Reeves happened to talk to a friend who was organizing the Tampa River Lights Festival in December 2012.

"They needed a band, and I said, 'I've got a band,' not even thinking that they're going to want us to play in front of 4,000 people,'' Reeves said.

"Not only play, she wanted us to close,'' Watson said. "It was like, 'It's your show.' ''

They went to work, increasing practice from once a week to three or four times a week. A few weeks before the performance, they brought aboard Costa, 31, a rhythm guitarist and singer whose day job is in marketing for Invest Financial. Armand Nuss, 56, who has spent his career as professional musician, joined the group this year.

They all felt the butterflies as they took their positions onstage.

"I walked out there shaking; I had to sing the first song,'' Watson said, the only member who had never been in a band. But the multiple practice sessions each week paid off, and the fear dissolved when the first chord was struck. The response they got boosted their confidence. Reeves said they left the stage thinking, "Maybe this is something we can do.''

For Costa, who grew up in a musical family and played in a band in high school and college, it's a thrill performing again. Burd said in some ways it's too good to be true.

But the band members aren't ready to give up their day jobs, and they aren't quite ready to rock around the clock.

"I've got to get the kids off to school and get to work on time,'' Reeves said. "We don't take any late-night gigs.''

Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

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