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Mike Gilbert

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Rocking the Crowds

Local musicians delight crowds with soulful tunes

Article by Erica Hernandez

Photography by Mike Gilbert - Shannon Valentine

Originally published in Cypress Lifestyle

MIKE GILBERT

Music’s been a part of Mike Gilbert’s life since childhood when he would fall listening to the radio. As a teenager he was a self-proclaimed ‘band nerd’ who played the euphonium, an instrument he calls a “baby tuba.” A music scholarship paid for some of his college, and a job working at the campus radio station filled his days with tunes from every musical genre. “I’ve been in and around music for longer than I can remember,” Mike says. He’s since quit the baby tuba, but keeps up his guitar performances as a one-man band playing all at local beer gardens and wherever small crowds gather. “I like to tell people I played the food circuit, taco trucks, barbecue joints, whoever would have me,” he says. With his signature hat, blue jeans and thick salt-and-pepper beard, Mike jokes with the crowd and strums away familiar songs on his acoustic guitar. He prides himself on engaging the audience with sing-along tunes, from Garth Brooks “Friends in Low Places” to the Backstreet Boys. His goal is to create the feeling of an easy-going backyard performance where everyone feels connected. “We may have different tastes in food, different tastes in clothes and different hobbies,” Mike says. “But the one common denominator that we have is music.” When he’s not strumming along with his fans, Mike and his wife are operating the local Gymboree Music and Play center on House & Hahl Road. The 1,500-square-foot center offers a place for young kids to pick up an instrument or tumble around a colorful play area. And when he’s not helping run the center, he is making his living working oil pipelines. In spite of his recently slowed performance schedule, his next musical endeavor is planning the second annual Cypress Music Festival. The October show last year featured five bands and two acoustic artists performing in Bridgeland. Nearly 3,000 people attended. Mike hopes this year to make the show even bigger with more bands, more vendors and more connections. “You’re able to bond over that freedom and enjoyment and excitement that music brings everybody,” he says. “[Music is] the glue that’s pulling everybody together in that moment.” Facebook.com/mikegilbertmusic | IG @mike.gilbert SOULSHINE

SOULSHINE BAND KEEPS CROWDS MOVING AND SINGING 

When Soulshine takes the stage they’re always sure to bring extra company. It’s pretty common for the band to invite up dancing audience members or hand the microphone to young kids who want to sing a tune. It’s all a part of putting on a show that lets the crowd escape and bond through a shared musical experience. 

“We can look like we’re up there being silly,” says Al Hayes, the band’s founder, guitarist and manager. “At the same time we’re always aware of what’s happening around us, and we always make sure we incorporate an atmosphere of fun.”

During normal seasons, the band is often spotted at local taverns or charity events in the Cypress and Houston areas. Their easy-going tunes are catchy covers of hit southern rock, country, blues and any soulful song that can get a crowd moving and singing. With more than 100 years of musical experience between its four musicians, the band shuffles smoothly through songs that span every decade and musical genre. From Barry White to Metallica, their musical tributes are soulful, rich and intriguing. And they do it all without group practice or rehearsals. 

“There’s an element of danger in every show,” says Andrew Hamel, Soulshine’s bass player. The men practice on their own time and come together on stage adapting their setlist as they go based on the changing spirit of the night crowds. As they perform, the men communicate without words, often just looking to each other and inherently knowing what tune to play next. It’s a testament to the group’s close-knit bond and love of music, they say.   

“We love each other and we know none of us are there to satisfy youthful ego,” Al says. “We’re there because we enjoy what we do, and the crowds enjoy what we do.”

The band draws its name from the 1970s southern rock song Soulshine performed by the Allman Brothers. The tune tells the mournful story of a father giving advice to his son on how to deal with life’s ups and downs. Experiencing ‘soulshine’ is like a life force that’s better than rain or moonshine. So goes the song, and so goes Soulshine the band. 

“We could be doing shots of tequila every night, or we could be doing a charity event for kids and all of that is valid,” Al says. “All of that is good.”

The group is eager to play at future events after canceling multiple appearances due to COVID-19 closures. During a typical season, the band performs several times a month at bars, private events and charities. They’ve been regular performers for large-scale philanthropic events supporting veterans, breast cancer research and children’s immunizations. 

“There is no greater reward than giving back,” Al says. “We feel that it would be disingenuous of our message of love and fun if we didn't take the opportunity to raise awareness about those who are less fortunate or need community help.”

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