Some folks might say that Kaleb Stewart played strings that were worn out, but he would tell you that he played strings that were worn in.
He told me this once. It was when we played one of three acoustic sets together over the last few years. The shows happened in between 2017 and 2019 in towns like Tampa, Gainesville and St. Augustine where our bands shared the small stages at the original New World Brewery, The Boxcar at Depot Park and the iconic Sarbez. Our sets at Sarbez were part of a showcase set for the Sing Out Loud Fest (SOL).
At Sarbez, Kaleb was accompanied by Deadaires guitarist, Alan Mills. It ended up being the last time I would actually see or visit with Stewart and it was one of those moments filled with good energy and friends that stuck with me for a long time.
A Musical Tribute to Kaleb Stewart
w/Jeff Brawer/Lou Collazo/Marc Ganancias/David Kibby/Anson Mitchell/John Nowicki/Peter Nuffer/Dan Padilla/Buck Sands/Dave Decker/more
Saturday, May 15 4:30 p.m. $10 suggested donation.
As with most friends you get to know in the overlapping circles of friends, artists and musicians, it was always pleasant to hang, compare notes and talk about the old days of Gainesville life.
Kaleb passed away Thursday, March 25, reportedly as the result of health complications. He was just a few months away from his 46th birthday. He leaves behind his wife, Lila, their son Ocean, and an army of friends and family all over the world.
In March, friends gathered at the veranda next to the lake at Gainesville’s Depot Park and continued the celebration of his life at the Train Station.
Next month, on Saturday, May 15, some of Kaleb’s Tampa friends—including Jeff Brawer, Lou Collazo, Marc Ganancias, David Kibby, Anson Mitchell, John Nowicki, Peter Nuffer, Dan Padilla, Buck Sands and myself —will play a biergarten show in his honor at New World Brewery’s new location in Sulphur Springs. Proceeds from a $10 suggested donation will go to Lila and Ocean.
Opinions on music and musicians are tricky when describing the “sound” of a player or group of players, but Kalebs’ acoustic work and vocal rasp always gave me that vibe and mood I felt when I breathed in tunes by such international treasures like Frankie Stubbs and Vic Chestnut.
Like his contemporary Brawer, with whom he played a number of one-off shows over the last few years, Kaleb always knew how to manage space and silence in-between the notes sung and chords struck. I'm sure a good measure of this skill can be attributed to his years of bass playing in the power house Equal Vision Records band, As Friends Rust.
Other bands Kaleb played in include Grey Goose and The Crows, (formerly The Sheryl Cro(w) Mags), a band formed with Chris Wollard (Hot Water Music) and Bill Clower (Radon).
Recently, Grey Goose has been the name he has been playing solo sets under. I'll never forget meeting up with him downtown Tampa after a mid-week set in 2017. He put all his gear away, reached into his merch bag and handed me a brand new Grey Goose shirt which is titled “Tropical Depression.'' I remember staring at that shirt, detailing the melancholy moniker of a shared existence and thinking to myself, “No shit, ‘Tropical Depression’ Wow. This is Florida.’'
A rainy week passed after that interaction, and I got an invitation from Kaleb: “Hey Decker, let's go to Europe, bring guitars, back pack, take trains and book shows.”
I reluctantly declined because it wasn't possible for me to leave, but that did nothing to slow Kaleb’s fervor or add less fuel to the fire of a man continuing to live out his dreams of exploration and discovery. He ended up touring Europe twice.
Sometime, before or after one of his European expeditions he wrote and recorded “I Am Light” which, according to Lila, “was one of the last songs he wrote and he played a slower acoustic version of it live that was amazing.”
I have a personal reverence for this song and it touches the soul with deep admissions and lyrics showered with noble truths like, “Next time I’ll try and savor these days/ My instincts are never right.”
But to clarify the declaration of the aforementioned he continues, “When I think too much/ I know I think too much” then the subsequent lines “In my hotel thoughts/Life is just too much/ Then down to thoughts of you/ I know I’ll make it through.” The lyrics conjure up anxious memories of life on the road and living in a state of hope, looking for the beauty life has to offer followed by the optimism seeded in the power of faith in true love.
That’s the power of “worn in” strings when they’re the vehicle for a great song. In the words of Lila, “It’s one of my favorites.”
See a list of Tampa “Safe & Sound” live music venues here.
Support local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you up to the minute news on how Coronavirus is affecting Tampa and surrounding areas. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.