Dewey Via band brings unique sounds to St. Augustine

Dewey Via, Unkl Ray and Bret Blackshear are onstage at the St. Augustine Fish House and Oyster Company. The three create a unique style of music with the guitar, bass and rhythm board.

By Meoghan Swain

A guitar, a bass and … a washboard? These are not instruments that are typically played together, but for a local St. Augustine band, these are what help make their one-of-a-kind sound.

With the combination of their voices, instruments and unique percussion trap set, the Dewey Via band turns heads and captures their audience in an almost spiritual way.

The band played at the St. Augustine Fish House and Oyster Company, one of their frequently played spots, on Friday, Nov. 11.

The band has been playing together on and off for about 9 years, but each member had been performing in various ways before forming the band.

Dewey Via is the main vocalist in the group and plays the guitar. He can be seen performing separately and has his own original music. The other members include Bret Blackshear on the bass and Unkl Ray on percussion.

The band takes percussion to a new level. Instead of a drum set on stage, they have a washboard with a number of other widgets attached.

The rhythm board, created and named by Unkl Ray, includes an old, standard washboard, three cowbells, two wooden blocks, two tambourines, a crash-ride cymbal and a splash cymbal.

A number of different noisy items are put together to create an instrument. The rhythm board plays the role of a percussion set for the Dewey Via Band.

The creation was originally a result of necessity, but Ray added more to the board over time to create his version of a portable acoustic trap set.

“I got out of the Navy and I couldn’t afford a drum set, and I went to a party and was playing the spoons and a friend handed me a washboard and said, ‘See what you can do with this,’” Ray said.

He now prefers to play the rhythm board over the drums. He has found that it is more liberating and allows more versatility than the average drum set.

The presence of the board onstage draws focus and makes people question what is about to be played. As a result, audiences stick around to hear what they have in store.

The rhythm board, however, is not the only element of the band that draws a crowd. Each member has their own unique style and, when put together, they make a truly one-of-a-kind sound.

Additionally, the group plays a wide range of music from many different genres. Some say they play bluegrass, others say classic rock, but these guys do it all.

“We usually tell people we’re anything from Hank Williams to Hendricks,” Via said.

He will also occasionally perform some of his own music, but the band always chooses what to play based on the feel of the crowd each night.

“Our style on any given night is dictated by the crowd,” Blackshear said.

The group goes with the flow as they never perform with a pre-made setlist. Instead, they have a knack for reading the crowd and also take suggestions from their audience.

What is really special about the band is the energy they give off. The members, as individuals, are very kind and wholesome people. With that being said, they’re also natural entertainers and give people a good laugh both on and offstage.

“On a spiritual, energetic, cosmic level, we’re all three coming from the same place. We’re pretty open energetically. That’s why, I think, we connect so strongly is because none of us are ego-driven, not scared, we’re just up there to have fun and enjoy each other’s energy.”

That energy rubs off on the crowd and creates a fun, laid-back community of people. Audiences describe the band’s vibe as almost church-like, especially when playing at the Dog Rose Brewing Company on Sundays.

Dewey Via, Unkl Ray and Bret Blackshear are onstage at the St. Augustine Fish House and Oyster Company. The three create a unique style of music with the guitar, bass and rhythm board.

“You can’t put words to them really. They look inside your soul. They figure out what you want and deliver it,” said Brandon Fairbanks, friend and sound tech for the band.

Over the years, the Dewey Via Band has developed a following of regulars that come to see them. This is good for the band and the businesses they play at.

“They jam, they draw a good crowd. People come strictly just to watch them,” said Daniel Andrews, a waiter at the St. Augustine Fish House and Oyster Co.

People like Rachel Morris, one of Dewey’s regulars, come back to see them because of their barefoot, nonchalant performances and clear love for music.

“He has range, he has heart, he has soul,” Morris said.

But none of it could happen without Dewey’s wife, Tara Via, the band’s manager, who pushes the group, sets up gigs and keeps people up to date on social media.

“She deserves a muchas gracias for that,” Via said.

To check out the talented, creative, one-of-a-kind band, upcoming gigs are always posted on their Instagram or on Facebook at Dewey Via- Singer Songwriter Musician.

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