While you may not know musician Mike Guarniero personally, odds are you’ve seen him play. For years he has been involved in the Lake County music scene and played with over twenty different bands. You might have heard him play with his band, Dr. Groove, which regularly has performed in the county. Or you might have caught his Lake County Music Guide, which posts on Facebook and in The Bloom (when there is live music).
Sitting in the courtyard of Pogo’s Pizza in Kelseyville earlier this week with Mike felt as if we were seated with a long-time friend we haven’t seen in a while. You might feel the same if you are a music lover in Lake County; Mike’s friendly personality makes conversation easy.
“It’s okay; you don’t have to worry,” Mike begins immediately, sitting down at the picnic table in the courtyard. “I just got my test results back, and I’m COVID negative.” Even with the June sun glaring down, and the temperatures in the high nineties, the shaded courtyard felt pleasant and spacious; all the tables offer plenty of separation.
“We weren’t worried, Mike,” I reply.
“But what’s it like getting the test? I’ve heard they take a brain sample,” David says in jest.
“Well,” Mike launches into his story. “It was awful. They’ve got this thing that’s like a pipe cleaner. And they stick this thing in all the way to the back of your nose until it stops.” He pauses for a second. “Then they shove it a bit further in just to make sure. It felt like a bee sting in my sinus. It made my eyes water for like three hours. Yeah, I was crying for some time.” Mike then proceeds to pretend to cry for us, making the story immediate with his contagious humor and easygoing style that makes all who know him enjoy his company.
Between bites of Pogo’s heaping Garlic Chicken pizza and sips of beer, Mike keeps chatting. “We played our first gig in four months last weekend at the Riv,” he says. “Yeah, it was great!” Mike’s voice lifts in the excitement of being able to play again. “You know they had it all set up just right. I had no worries at all. They taped off the stage, so there was no dance floor by the stage, the tables were all spread apart. Everyone had their masks on and were staying socially distant. And I stood on stage and watched the sun go down,” Mike says, his eyes focusing in the distance just like he does when he’s playing. “The mountains turn this violet-purple, and I just sing to the sunset.”
But it hasn’t been so easy for musicians in Lake County since COVID; Mike is the first to admit. “I looked back at the Lake County Music Guide from two years ago, and it took up three pages. There were seven places in Lakeport alone that regularly had live music.”
“How many is it now?” I ask.
“In the whole county, there are only three, and that may end up being two,” Mike replies. And I don’t know how that is going to change.” He mentions a few other businesses that may be working towards the possibility of live music, but there are so many hurdles to jump to make it happen. COVID-19 and live music don’t go together well.
“I’ve got a good pension from working for the City of Santa Rosa, but a lot of these guys don’t. My bass player relies on gigs for his income, so even an extra hundred dollars makes the difference between eating ramen and flank steak for the month.”
David, his mouth full, nods in agreement. “So, what can people do? We love live music and would hate to see musicians not be able to make it.”
Mike pauses for a second. “There is a group of people in the county that travel to see live music. They may go from Clearlake to Upper Lake to see someone play.” He laughs. I get stuck at home, but they will drag me out.” Those are the people that make live music happen in Lake County. It’s a dedicated group of people, and if there’s live music, they’re there supporting it. And I’ve been tipping more than the usual 20%. Sure, these people are back at work, but they’re making up for the time lost, and need our help.”
The pizza, half-eaten, rests on the table, a couple of empty beer bottles sitting next to it. Light flecks shine through the trees while the summer sun works across the sky. It’s been two hours, but it’s easy for things like that to happen when you chat with Mike. By the time we get up to say our goodbyes, it’s mid-afternoon. We part, and Mike strolls off down Main Street, off to spread musical goodwill throughout the county.
So even though there isn’t a lot of live music going on right now, take some time to enjoy your groove safely. Musicians will thank you.
Yes, there is live music in Lake County. You can see what’s available on our Party Calendar. Rumor has it that Mike’s band, Dr. Groove, will be playing their next gig sometime in the next couple of weeks.