“I’m one of those rare cases. I came to Key West with a job, a place to stay and friends,” Michael Festa said before going on stage at Willie T’s. “I came down originally to be a chef.” At the time, he was working as the general manager for the Finnegan’s Wake in Pittsburgh (where he was born and raised), playing music “sporadically, more as a hobby,” when Derek Menard, a friend who had worked for him there, contacted him on Myspace and told him he should move down to work for him here. “I went to school with his wife, Robin Whelpley.” Derek, a chef, and Robin, a musician, ended up getting married and moved back to Pittsburgh with their daughter, Millie. Festa, however, stayed in Key West. His first job was at Santiago’s Bodega, where he worked for a year-and-a-half.
“I helped open Black Fin after that. I did some open mics, sat in with some people. I didn’t even bring my guitar with me when I moved here.”
Eventually, he started playing more, finally landing a steady gig at Bobalu’s Pizza on Southard Street (where Charlie Mac’s is currently). After getting more and more jobs playing music, he finally retired from the restaurant biz to pursue music full-time.
Teaming up with Joshua Warren and Mark Morales, he formed the band Fonzarelli, which eventually became Jettison Theory, which up until now has had a good seven-year run going on eight. They’ve recorded an all-original CD, played up the coast to Boston, played the Green Parrot, Hogs Breath and many other Key West venues, Looe Key Tiki Bar, and the Hurricane Grill in Marathon. One of their compositions, “Home” appears on the compilation CD “The Best of Key West, Volume One,” along with 17 other songs by popular Key West musicians/ bands. “We’ve been through some bass players, Josh (Warren), ‘Wavy’ Dave Parkhurst, Steve Merkel, Steven Martin Jr., Jack Chiniski and Ian Barber for a little while.”
These days, Jettison Theory includes Festa on guitar and vocals, Richard Vier on strat guitar, Bubba Low Notes on standup bass and Drew Gordon on trumpet. Clearly, putting a band together is not as easy as it sounds and Festa has put a lot of hard work into developing and maintaining a bond with his bandmates. “It was a long process,” he explained. “We focused on getting away from the classic ’90s rock, doing more original, more experimental, more electronic.”
Festa says he’s writing a lot, and when he’s not working, he’s smoking a little and writing even more. “When I take a night off, I like to walk around town and do my own bar tour and go see everyone else that’s playing.” Festa stays busy with a flexible rotating schedule of gigs at the Bull and Whistle Bar on the corner of Duval and Caroline streets, the Green Room on the corner of Duval and Greene streets, Duval Central at 203 Duval St. and at the hip and trendy Cali-Mexican joint Sinz Burritos. His band also plays regularly at the Bull and Whistle, Duval Central and at the open aired hideaway Virgilio’s just off of Applerouth Lane. That’s a lot of work for someone who didn’t move to the island to play music.
Festa’s influences include Dave Matthews and Les Claypool. If marooned on a deserted island the one CD that he would bring with him would be Sublime’s self-titled album, but he quotes his father as his biggest role model when it comes to music.
Festa has played for audiences of two to up to 2,000 people. One of the highlights of his musical career was opening for Seven Mary Three in Pittsburgh. “We felt like rock stars, smoking and chilling with the band.” They were even asked for autographs.
“The best thing about living and working in Key West is the weather and the people. The art that’s here in all forms. There is so much talent concentrated in this little town.”
You can follow Michael Festa and his band on Facebook by following Jettison Theoryband. ¦