Lightning in a bottle

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Anthony “Tony Baltimore” Durante and his lightning in a bottle

Tony Baltimore loves music, songwriting, and poetry. He asked his wife to tell him when he starts to lose his touch. When people aren’t coming to his shows or listening to his music, he would rather hear that from her instead of a reviewer.

He has nothing to fear. In 2022, his album, Let’s All go Insane, was a big hit, he won the Key West Music Awards’ Songwriter of the Year, and was Grand Marshall of the Fantasy Fest Parade. He has also received international acclaim for his alternative “roots rock” sound.

Tony has been performing in Key West for 14 years. After reading the 1400-page biography of John Lennon, he was inspired to develop and produce a Beatle tribute band. They are in great demand but only play every few months to keep their performance fresh.

The music business was much different during the golden era when an artist could put out an entire album with a dozen or more songs. The 60s & 70s vinyl albums had liner notes, stories, more photos, and sometimes a brochure. Today, everyone is putting out singles. The only people buying CDs or vinyl today are collectors. Tony asked one CD customer if he had a CD player, he quickly responded, “I have a PlayStation.” Technology is changing everything. Music has evolved from vinyl to tapes, cassettes, CDs, and now streaming.

When Covid shut down the world, musicians quickly learned to stream live internet Facebook and YouTube concerts. They scheduled regular streaming gigs, took requests, and connected to fans in a personal way.

Tony had an annual St. Patty’s Day gig at Shanna Key but in 2020, it was cancelled due to Covid. After a few days, he set up three cameras, with automatic switching and a beautiful background, and started streaming music from his home. He had a sign showing his Venmo account for tips and gratuities. He had over 1000 viewers the first time streaming on Facebook. He quickly set up a regular schedule three days a week which generated a nice shut down revenue stream.

His neighbors began to set up lawn chairs, socially distanced of course, with bottles of wine. Tony setup stage lighting and started to broadcast to a global audience. One night, he made several thousand dollars in one gig and told his wife he might never perform in a bar again.

Other musicians started to coordinate their streaming concerts so as not to interfere with each other. Everyone started to generate money to get through the shutdown. More importantly, the audience for streaming music became more defined. Some groups of musicians used different techniques, different equipment, some got permission to use shutdown clubs with sound and lighting. There were poolside concerts that were a big hit in the colder climates.

Tony speaks about the Key West music scene in very open terms. Different musicians do things differently, and collectively, they create this amazing music scene. When approached by some in the audience to play a certain cover song, Tony tries to be accommodating, especially if there’s a nice tip involved. He, like most artists in town, have their own shtick. There are usually common requests from Key West vacationers. Someone requested Jimmy Buffett’s “Come Monday” at a recent gig. Tony said he loved the song but didn’t know it well enough. He asked, “Do you like James Taylor?” The response was yes, money went into the tip jar, and everyone was happy.

According to Tony the Key West changing of the guard is happening for many reasons and has multiple meanings. Some change is a natural progression from older musicians to younger musicians, but there are other factors. One of the more ominous factors is the very high cost of housing.

In the 80s when Bill Blue, Barry Cuda, and others came to Key West, it was much easier and more affordable to live and prosper. A few gigs a week would usually pay the expenses. Key West in the 80s attracted musical artist because it was an eclectic easy going artist colony. Today, the cost of housing is much greater and it keeps going up – a 2-bedroom apartment is over $3000 per month. It takes 6-8 gigs a week to just make it. More musicians perform solo to generate more income. There are musicians being forced to leave Key West all the time.

Baltimore’s album Let’s All Go Insane was written earlier but wasn’t released until after Covid. The songs on the album helped lift the island and made everyone feel good. It was lightning in a bottle.

Tony wanted to do something different for his next release. He wanted to create a modern take on 70s rock ‘n’ roll. His strategy for the release of the new album, titled Hello Bordello, was to release six of the twelve songs as singles ahead of the full album.

The song, “Slow Crawl Back”, was written while returning to the devastated Keys after Hurricane Irma. It’s a completely different style of music than his previous album. Every song exhibits Tony’s poetic creativity, and he credits his label Conch Town Records for supporting his absorbed, and sometimes explosive, musical journey – with more lightning.


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