We were the band to end all bands that summer—our sound spiraled with Technicolor electric melody, vocals skyrocketing in harmonies to envy a boys’ choir. Dance-friendly but soulful, with licks prime for the redub set, the house remix crowd. All of it. We’d have been on all the charts that year, dominated every club in the tri-state area, the “must-book band” of the season. But the one catch, the one thing that held us back, that made people think we were some geriatric lounge lizard cover band, that kept booking agents from even giving us a listen, was our name: Summerhaven.
Don’t think we didn’t argue about it. Summerhaven. “Like Ritchie Havens, but with, you know, Summer,” said Billy, our undisputed ringleader and lead guitarist and vocalist. He ran the show, mostly, knew everything about songwriting—really, he was incredible. But anyone who knows anything about bands knows it’s always the little things that force a wedge, making good bands go bad fast. And for us, that wedge was Summerhaven.
“Sounds like a douche gone wrong,” drummer Ace used to say. I always got a retirement home vibe—where folks in the winters of their lives could—between bingo and strained peas—relive their heydays of sunny glory. For Billy, though, Summerhaven was all that was light and free in the world. And the wedge with our Summerhaven might have stayed just that: a wedge, something we could weather as a band. But one day, Billy accused Ace during rehearsal of dragging the drumbeat. “We sound like were plodding through mud,” he said. I glanced from Ace to Markie to Shannon. None of us could hear it. That song was drag-free. Ace was tight, always was. But Billie was convinced. And then he claimed Shannon kept coming in too early with her sax and that the tambourine—even though it was nowhere near a mic—was “too loud” for the song. “A ring of unmiked metal discs, amid four amps, two PAs and a subwoofer,” Shannon said, “and it’s the godforsaken tambourine that’s too loud?”
Truth was, Billy was ticked we couldn’t book any gigs. Daily he’d call around, following up on the band kits he sent out to the area bars to ask about summer bookings. “Just listen to us,” he said. “Listen to our sound.” And how smug were we when, three photoshoots and some fiery, Motorhead-inspired font bearing our band name later, we got exactly one gig that summer: the Family Fun Fest in Centerville. Yet Billy wouldn’t budge on the name. “Summerhaven,” he said, one day after he took a call in the middle of band practice. “It’s a great name. The best. He don’t know what he’s talking about.” No one could look at him. No one would.
The demise of Summerhaven ends with the lame excuse of all the other failed bands on their way to greatness: creative differences. But we all know that the reason is our disagreement on that name. And we all moved on and I work insurance these days and Ace runs a restaurant and Shannon’s harmonies have nabbed her more than a few karaoke competitions, when she’s not managing the local day care. But sometimes I play our old demo CDs and I know we had that sound down cold. And deep down I wonder if maybe Billy, now a father of three, managing a Foot Locker, had something there with our band name, maybe he could feel and know something back then that the rest of us couldn’t, or wouldn’t, just yet.