In the fall of 2003, Jake Banaszak, guitarist for the newly-formed northern Delaware-based Lower Case Blues, planned to head to Lewes for an open mic night at The Lighthouse.
As he was about to leave, his band-mates, Paul Weik and B.J. Muntz, pulled into his driveway to see if he wanted to jam with them. Instead, they joined him on the drive south.
They played a few songs at the open mic, hosted by fellow musician Jimmy Bones, who was impressed.
"He made a big deal over us," Banaszak said. "He was like, 'I can get you some gigs down here.' and he came through. He helped us out big-time."
When the calendar turned to May, the trio decided to give the beach a try for the summer.
They moved to a three-bedroom double-wide trailer in Rehoboth Beach, which they dubbed, "the tour bus that never moved." They thought they'd play out the summer at the beach and head back north and see what happened next.
But the band never left.
In fact, Muntz, the band's bassist and vocalist, still lives in the trailer.
"Honestly, we didn't have anyone booking us up north and we met some fantastic people down here," said Weik, the band's drummer. "They believed in us and said 'move down to the beach, we'll make it happen.' We trusted them and it worked."
The first summer
The summer of 2004 was a busy one for Lower Case Blues. They hopped from venue to venue, with stops including Sydney's, the Frog Pond, the Summer House and the Rusty Rudder.
The trio realized southern Delaware was accepting of the band and what they wanted to do.
For Weik, he liked the idea of a more accepting crowd. If the band wanted to go into a 5-minute musical improvisational tangent, the audience would embrace it, he said.
"If you go into a bar in some other places, you can feel like, even before you play a note, there's a certain expectation of what you should be doing that night," he said. "There always is, of course. But I think around here you don't have to play to them as much. They're here to listen."
By the end of the summer, they knew they were staying for the long haul.
"We had enough people down here that seemed to be into it," Weik said. "I thought, 'Let's just stay here. We don't have to go back.' "
Staying in the area
From Milton to Berlin, Lower Case Blues has continued to make its presence known at Delmarva beach area venues.
Playing in the resort area has its share of perks. In the summertime, they've been known to play eight gigs a week. They could be at one place from 4-7 p.m. and then by 10 p.m. they would jam elsewhere until closing time.
Throughout their decade at the beach, they've shared the stage with music legends such as Buddy Guy, Los Lonely Boys, Robert Randolph, Bernie Worrell and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
"We got a lot of cool opening gigs down at the Bottle and Cork," Banaszak said. "Buddy Guy, doing that show was a pinnacle point in my life."
Banaszak, Weik and Muntz like the idea that Lower Case Blues has become a part of people's vacations. With a rotating cast of different vacationers week after week, they never know who will be in the crowd.
"It's helped us branch out because of the people who come from other areas," Muntz said. "They're able to create little buzzes and little followings in different areas."
When the tourists leave for the winter, that's when the locals shine, as far as providing support, Banaszak said, pointing out a weekly performance at Delaware Distilling Company on Thursday nights that bring out a faithful crowd. The band members all live in the Rehoboth Beach area.
For the musicians, some years are better than others, when it comes to making a living. They've learned how to cook with less desirable cuts of meat and have approached bars with a pile of quarters, asking how much beer that could get them. This winter, though, has been good to them, Weik said.
Memphis and beyond
The band recently returned from a trip to Memphis, where it competed in The Blues Foundation's 31st International Blues Challenge and placed in the semi-finals.
It was the second time the band played there, and the first time they placed.
After the third night of the challenge, a sound operator invited Lower Case Blues to host a jam session at a local bar. The band played, and its group of about 20 supporters made it known that Delaware was in the building.
"It was like Frog Pond South," Muntz said.
But on a musical level, the trip to Memphis was a learning experience.
"We play every day, so to speak, so it's hard to calculate how much we've matured and how far we've gotten and how much better we've gotten on our instruments," he said. "Comparing it to the last time, for me, was nice indication of 'Man, we've really come a long way since the first time we went.'"
As for what's next, the band will take every opportunity it can to branch out that makes sense for them, Banaszak said. The band's last studio album came out in 2010, and while another is in the works, there's no timetable for it's release.
"It will be out when it happens. I'm not trying to rush it," Banaszak said. "You end up with a mediocre product if you're trying to force it, so it has to happen kind of naturally. We do got to get on it."
But for the time being, they'll continue to strive to get better at their respective crafts and stay eager for their 12th summer at the beach and what it will entail.
The main goal for the musicians of Lower Case Blues was originally to make a living playing music. Now, they want to simply keep the momentum going.
"I'm ready to work this summer," Banaszak said. "We've got some good opportunities coming up."
Lower Case Blues reflects on a decade at the beach