Stop the world I want to get off. I gave up my career to race home and save my family, only to be overwhelmed. We are behind on the mortgage; our family band is struggling, and my two younger brother’s constant bickering has escalated to Def Con three. The Seaside Music Festival is our last best shot – if we don’t land a music deal, everything will be lost. So why exactly am I kissing a stranger under the boardwalk?
I’m a music producer that lives in the land of tweaking mainstream music consumed by the masses. My reputation is taking a beating, and I’m losing clients. I’m at the end of my rope, failure is knocking at the door holding a stack of applications to mind-numbing desk jobs. Kill me now. It’s time to take a risk - all I need is one special artist. So why am I kissing a stranger at the Music festival?
Two souls in search of redemption discover the sweetest sound is the beat of their own hearts.
Release date: August 4, 2022
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Behind the book
Those familiar with my writing know how much I love the intersection of music and romance. And with Summer Sounds it is never more apparent. In this novel two of my book worlds collide.
I take Hailey and her brothers from the Lake Hope series as well as The Amazing Date and mash them up with the musical world introduced in Love on the Dance Floor. There are a ton of cross over characters from the two worlds and I had a blast bringing them together.
When the music hits, all you can do is fall.
Summer Sounds : A Summers of Seaside Novel
“Where is he?” I tip up on my toes, my head swinging on a swivel, my long crimson hair flying in my face as I search for my younger brother and permanent thorn in my side, Laredo.
“Where do you think, Hailey?” I catch the cold, ice-blue stare from Adam, my youngest brother, a familiar bite in his voice. He juts his chin out past the stage, jaw clenching so tight I fear he’ll burst a molar.
I follow his gaze and attempt to tamp down the anxiety building in my chest. Past the screaming crowd pumping their fists to the music blaring from the stage stands the most oblivious man on the planet, my brother Laredo. Guitar twisted to his back, his long, lean tattooed arms are on full display with his standard performance-day white tank top, the one that he’ll sweat through, ripping in two and tossing into the crowd before we hit our third song.
Laredo may be my younger brother, he and Adam twins born ninety-three seconds apart, three years my junior, but he acts as if he’s the elder, barking demands and taking the lead even when not asked.
Should he be by our side backstage a minute before we are about to perform?
But that’s not why I’m fuming. It’s because of what he’d decided to do. Laredo has his arms wrapped around a young groupie in a short skirt, tight tank, with long blonde hair and a shortage of inhibitions. She trails kisses down his collarbone while he uses the opportunity to scout out the crowd behind her. He blows kisses and winks at a group of interested women inches away. He’s already plotting his next conquest—and the one after that.
Even as his sister, I have to concede Laredo has mastered that bad-boy look that girls swoon over. Just under six feet with lean rock-star muscles, bad-ass tattoos, and untamed dark hair that reaches his shoulders, he’s never had a problem attracting female attention.
My brother is a man-whore. Plain and simple.
I turn away from one problem and confront the next. Adam. My two brothers may be twins, but they are as opposite as they come.
“Stay cool,” I warn, already sensing the wave of anger rolling off Adam. Laredo acting out and stressing everyone during a show is nothing new. Over the last few months, his actions have gotten more extreme, and the tension between the brothers has grown. I, as the oldest, am forced to play the role of Switzerland. It’s exhausting, and I’m not very good at it.
Adam twists to face me, the cheers of the crowd a warning that the current act is nearing their finish. We’re up next. “You said this time it would be different.”
“I know.” I wish I had a better response.
“I cleared my calendar, flew halfway across the country. For what? To watch Laredo act the fool and make us look bad. Again. We could have stayed in Indiana for that.”
I hold his shaky gaze, his normally warm eyes filled with a mix of fury and pain. I need to fix this. I need to get my brothers back on the same page. It wasn’t that long ago they were best friends. It wasn’t that long ago that we acted like a family. “We’re here. It’s only a few days. It will get better. I promise.” My voice cracks as I commit to yet another broken promise that I can’t control. When will I learn?
What made me think that my dysfunctional family band would somehow gel because the organizers of the Seaside Festival in Oregon extended us an invitation to their annual summer music festival?
I had visions of beautiful sunshine, beaches, boardwalk, and four days of music that would somehow heal our family. We’ve been through a lot the last few years, but music has always been our salvation.
“Two minutes!” A tall stagehand with an oversized headset pushes between us. My heart begins to pound louder than the applause from the crowd, and I twist to locate Laredo. My pulse quickens when I don’t spot him. If this jackass is behind one of these tents with that girl, I will kill him.
“Let’s sing ‘Big Shot,’” Adam nudges me with a shoulder, the first smile of the day on his face.
I snicker at the famous Billy Joel tune Adam and I have converted into a duet. It’s a song we play whenever Laredo shows up late for rehearsal, which means we’ve mastered it.
I press my eyes closed and take a deep, cleansing breath. Adam steadies me, bumping shoulders as I feel the movement of bodies pushing past us. I open my eyes and make note of the five-piece band leaving the stage. We’re up next, and Laredo is still not here. Can’t we ever have one day without drama?
The MC steps to center stage and taps the microphone.
“I guess we’re doing the asshole set,” Adam whispers in my ear and swings his long red, white, and blue bass guitar by his side, stepping onto the stage. The asshole set was created by Adam last year when Laredo ditched a show in Gary, Indiana, for a blonde waitress, the two of us having to create a forty-minute set on the fly.
I steal one final glance out at the audience. “It would have been nice. I really hoped Seaside would be our cure,” I whisper to myself. The modest stage sits under one of the two smaller tents constructed for the Seaside Music Festival that host workshops and small bands throughout the festival. Each tent can accommodate up to two hundred and fifty people.
The tents flank the main stage, each about two hundred yards east and west of the primary stage. The main stage hosts a massive first-class jumbotron screen that stretches to the sky and a sound system shipped in from Hollywood. The main stage is where the true action takes place. With the ocean as the backdrop, the main stage holds almost five thousand people and hosts the headliners of the festival. Each night, a rotation of the biggest indie and up-and-coming acts perform there. It all culminates Sunday night with a closeout performance by Prince Ali, the biggest rap star on the planet right now and a major get for the festival.
We’re small potatoes, which is why we are performing midday on the first day of the festival under the tent.
“Coming to the stage, a favorite out of Indiana. Put your hands together and show your love for the band Bluer Collar.” The MC’s intro pulls me to center stage, where Adam is bowing. He wears blue jeans, worn cowboy boots, and a blue-and-white striped polo shirt, his standard outfit for the stage. The name of the band was his idea. We are simple, hardworking folk from middle America.
Laredo is our front man, and without him, the duties fall to me. I paint on a plastic smile and strut with a confidence I don’t possess. It’s showtime.
The polite applause washes over me, taking with it the last of my anxiety. Music isn’t just our family’s salvation; it’s also mine. I step to the center microphone, Laredo’s mic, and shoot a wink over my shoulder at Adam. He nods back with a genuine smile on his face. He has total trust in me. We’ll make it work; we always have.
I pump a fist in the air and shout into the microphone. “Hello, Seaside!” The enthusiastic response buys me a few seconds. “Listen up, Seaside. I’m Hailey, and this is my brother Adam, and we are Bluer Collar.” I toy with a few chords on my guitar as the crowd cheers. It’s a rhythmic melody that I’ve been messing with forever, something about the incomplete piece of music providing a challenge and solace, a musical mystery that I will solve someday. “There is a third member of this musical family, and we have a favor to ask.”
My fingers play with the chords as I spin and give the crowd my back. Adam steps next to me and matches my melody on the bass guitar. I knew he’d pick up on it. He may be the quiet one of the family, but he’s always watching. His river runs deep. I nod and jut my chin toward the microphone, ceding the spotlight to him.
Stepping to the microphone, Adam lays down a slow sensuous bass beat. It’s the swaying of his hips and the clenching of his jaw that gets the crowd howling. Laredo may be the loud, sexy one, but Adam, in many ways, is the man the wise women take note of. Thank God he doesn’t share his twin’s attitude toward women. Adam tilts his neck and croons into the mic, “Our brother is out in the crowd with you. When I nod, we want you to shout out his name.”
We’ve spent thousands of hours playing together, and it takes all of three seconds for me to match Adam’s beat. It reminds me of the three of us back in the garage after classes in high school, fooling around and imitating our favorite bands. Back when life was simple, and our family was whole.
“Laredo!” Adam calls out and returns to the bass beat. When he lifts his chin, half the crowd shouts our missing brother’s name in tune with the funky beat. Two more cycles and the entire tent is singing his name. “Laredo, Laredo.” The ear-piercing chant floats out beyond the tent and probably halfway down the boardwalk, all the way to the Ferris wheel.
My shoulders sway to the infectious beat, and I strut next to Adam. My happy melody joins—music is all about timing, synchronization, setting and changing tempos and adjusting the mood. Adam adjusts and lifts my beat, a staccato beat lifting it up like a roller coaster climbing up the endless mountain at the start of an enjoyable ride. We are building excitement, anticipation, and teasing the audience. It’s what performing is all about.
A giggle escapes my lips. I have zero stage fright. Never have.
I twirl to the beat, knowing we have to deliver on our promise, or the goodwill we’ve built with the audience will evaporate. If Laredo doesn’t show up in the next five seconds, we’ll have to pivot to the asshole set.
Adam presses his back to mine, and I lean backward, nearly perpendicular to the stage, staring up at the inside of the tent. It’s a move we’ve done a thousand times growing up, messing around in the garage between songs. I twist when we hear an unexpected cheer from the crowd. Movement of a body racing through the center of the crowd toward the stage.
His hair flies in the wind with each step he takes, an unapologetic smirk on his who dares to disturb the king face. He leaps the three feet up to the stage, looks down, and buttons the top of his jeans. He winks toward the crowd with a devilish living my best life smile.
“Better late than never,” I chime into the microphone as Laredo hops onto the stage, whips his guitar in front of him, and adjusts the settings.
I step away from the microphone but not before hearing Adam whisper to Laredo, “Bro, this is all kinds of messed up.”
Laredo has the presence of mind to place his hand over the microphone to keep what I know will be a biting retort from the audience. “What? I gave you a chance at center stage. You should thank me. Now, back away and do what you do best. Fade into the background and watch how it’s done.”
I can’t believe my ears. I take a step toward Laredo, but Adam steps between us. “Not. Now.” He grunts out the two words as if they are the last words he’ll ever speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Laredo, and we are Bluer Collar. Sorry for my delay as I”—Laredo paints on a smirk and glances down to his crotch—“started the party without you. Who’s ready to join me?”
A throng of female-led cheers feed Laredo’s growing ego, the beast growing larger and more out of control every day. Over the last six months, Laredo has gotten more reckless, crueler, and more irresponsible. I have no clue why.
“I’m dedicating this first song to a beautiful woman from Ohio that almost made me miss this set. This one’s for you, Betsy.”
I hold my breath, with no clue what Laredo is going to play. I catch the movement out of the corner of my eye as Adam twists and gives the audience his back. I can’t hear him over the roar of the crowd, but I know he’s cursing into the wind.
I’m positioned between my two brothers, an eye on each of them, caught in the middle. Laredo strums a familiar melody, and my shoulders relax. “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. Thank God he picked a song we’ve at least played once. It’s been years, and I’m going to have to fake most of it, but it doesn’t matter. Laredo has already ripped off his T-shirt. All eyes are on him now, including Adam’s.
Ice-cold daggers shoot from his eyes into Laredo’s back, and I rethink this entire trip. Three months ago, I threatened them that if they didn’t get along better, I would break up the band. Standing here and knowing things have only gotten worse, I wonder why I didn’t follow through.
It was that damn brochure. Come to the Seaside Festival—home of sunshine, beachfronts, and happy people. Leave your troubles at home and escape.
I need an escape for sure because right now, I’m standing on a powder keg of trouble. Adam is dry kindling, and Laredo is tossing lit matches in his direction. It’s only a matter of time until the detonation, and I have no idea how to stop it.
“It really is a dry heat,” I joke and tilt my face up to the bright blue sky and close my eyes. The sound of waves crashing on the surface of the beach yards away makes me want to stay like this forever.
“Relaxing, right? I came last year for the first time. Puts Boston Calling to shame.” My best friend, Calvin, lands a soft punch on my shoulder, his jab at the music festival in my hometown landing harder than his playful punch.
“We’ll have to see about that. What can I help with?” I arrived from Boston two hours ago to experience the wonder that is the Seaside Music Festival that Calvin insisted I attend. It’s the top indie music festival on the West Coast, a perfect place to network and take in showcases. It helps that his brother, the artist Prince Ali, who is also one of the biggest rap stars in the world, is performing on the last night of the festival.
“Relax and enjoy the festival. Ali doesn’t arrive for a few days.” Calvin’s smirk holds a secret.
“I thought you needed an extra set of hands on the soundboard?” Calvin and I went to college together, both graduating from the sound recording and engineering program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While his career has taken off with producing his brother and a few other top artists, mine continues to sputter along. I have enough clients to pay my bills but no breakout hits. Not a one.
He bumps shoulders with me. “I may have exaggerated the amount of help I need. I really wanted to get you out here and let you take in the scene.” Calvin mirrors my movement, closing his eyes and tilting up to the sun. Calvin is my best friend, and we are often mistaken as brothers, both in our mid-twenties and African American with medium brown skin and short Afros.
“Why…” I don’t complete the question, already sensing the answer. Calvin is pushing me. He knows if left to my own devices, I would remain buried in my home studio back in Boston. He’s told me a million times that I need to network more, that the best connections are made at the numerous industry events—late-night parties, meet and greets, listening parties, and dozens of other social events I avoid the way water separates from vinegar.
I’m driven by the music. I find joy in making sounds, musical melodies that burrow through your ears into your heart. Or at least that’s what the mission statement I wrote in college stated. The real world with student loans, paying for studio time, and living in an expensive city like Boston forces compromise.
“Marshall, you know I respect you like a brother, and this comes from a place of love… but if you produce one more all-male One Direction rip-off group, my head will explode.”
I hop off the boardwalk bench and lift both my hands from my hip toward the sky. I sing the chorus to “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers and spin, dropping to one knee. “I still got it.” I laugh and rise. “Have you forgotten we were in a boy band together back in school? It’s what I know. I’m good at it.”
Calvin bites his lower lip before speaking. “Is that why the Lorinda Boys went with Jocelyn?” He calls out my latest client, who decided to change producers for their latest EP. That’s five groups in a row that have left me after I produced tracks for them.
I avoid his gaze, returning to the tranquility of the ocean. “They said they were looking to go in another direction.”
“Which is great. All artists need to be pushed and reinvent themselves. The question is, why did they feel they couldn’t make that journey with you?” Calvin slaps a hand across my back. “You don’t have to answer that right away. It’s why I wanted you here for the week. See that?” He points to the pair of white tents set up in the music festival area along the boardwalk. It’s early afternoon, but I hear a loud roar from a small but vocal crowd. The sounds of drums follow. Bongos joins in, and my ears perk up.
Summer sounds are the greatest sounds.
“Those are workshop areas. The organizers of this event have some of the best ears in the business. The artists performing are by invite only. Most are raw and need guidance, but every one of them is talented beyond measure.” Calvin steps to the railing on the boardwalk, his hands drumming the theme from the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movies. “Your mission, and you better accept it, is to spend time in the workshop tents. And by the end of the week, connect with at least one non-all-male group. That’s all I’m asking.”
It’s a simple request, and the fact that I don’t immediately scream yes tells me everything I’ve feared. I’ve known for some time that I’ve been playing it safe. I grew up listening to all types of music, but my parents loved the male groups. My dad admired the harmony and synchronization, my mom the smooth moves and coordinated costumes. As a family, we listened to everything from the Temptations to Menudo with a heavy rotation of Boyz II Men, the Beatles, and NSYNC. I developed an affinity for all of it. In college, I focused my studies on male groups so I could share what I discovered with my parents.
I loved dissecting their sounds, the balance of octave ranges, the cadence of the melodies and harmony. I could give a six-hour impromptu discussion on the history of the boy band in America. It’s what I know, it’s what I’m comfortable with, and it’s the lane I live in. In that box, I know I won’t screw up. I’ve built up a quasi-decent following in the community. Every year, I’ve had male groups seeking me out, but as Calvin pointed out, they never stay.
Calvin has never been afraid to take chances. He’s always had the support of his family and, of course, a famous older brother. He’s never been afraid to try the different, the unconventional. And it works for him.
Me, I’m an only child whose mother calls me once a week asking if I’m done listening to the radio and am ready for a government job with benefits. My dad is going on twenty-three years with the sanitation department in Boston, and every year since graduation, he sends me the application when the city tests open for new recruits.
I’d love to take more chances with my music, but what Calvin doesn’t understand is that just by being in this profession, I’m taking a chance. The struggling artist trope is alive and well. I don’t have a safety net beneath me. If I step out of my comfort zone and fail, I’ll be working in the city clerk’s office, stuck behind a desk for the next thirty years. Just the thought of that forces my throat to tighten and prevents me from promising Calvin anything.
My lack of response causes Calvin to lift a brow in my direction. He’s aware of most of my history and must sense the internal battle I’m fighting. His dark eyes soften. “How about this? Take the day, roam the grounds, take in the music. I have a few people I have to connect with. I’ll see you at the concert tonight, right?”
I tap my rear pocket, where I’ve stuffed the VIP ticket and backstage pass Calvin surprised me with upon my arrival. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Calvin nods at me and walks away down the boardwalk. I watch his confident stride as he waves at total strangers. I twist and walk in the opposite direction toward the sound of music. I avoid the gaze of strangers, lowering my chin to chest, and hum a melody that is a riff on the beat. It’s a strange mashup of mismatched sounds that every music teacher would tell you should never work together. But in my head, it does. But that is the only place they’ll ever be paired together. Because producing such a strange sound is a risk that’s not worth taking.
I enter the tent and kick myself for taking a slow stroll down the boardwalk. A group of five men is exiting the stage. I missed their name and only heard the last minute of the final song as I got through security. From what I heard, they could use some help with their harmony and chord progressions but appear to have a solid foundation. I swipe across my phone and pull up their information.
Based out of Chicago, they have a manager but no record deal. Guilt floods me for a moment as I think of Calvin and his advice. Here I am thirty seconds at the workshop and already falling into my comfort zone, disregarding free advice from one of the top producers in the industry, something other record producers would pay a percentage of their royalties to receive.
I can do better. I twist away from the boy band and force my attention to the small stage, ready to make good on Calvin’s request.
“… show your love for the band Bluer Collar.” I snicker at the name of the band and half expect to see my parents stepping to the stage.
I’ve never been happier to be wrong.
A young white redhead in a gold-and-black mini dress with thigh-high black boots steps to the microphone. She pumps a fist in the air and captures my complete attention. She stands only five five or so and has the cutest button nose I’ve ever seen. “Hello, Seaside!” She rewards us with a magnetic smile that demands a return. Freckles dot her rosy cheeks, and I can’t take my eyes off her. “Listen up, Seaside. I’m Hailey, and this is my brother Adam, and we are Bluer Collar.”
She whips her Fender guitar in front of her, those delicate fingers strumming a rhythmic melody that I commit to memory. She sways her tiny hips , and I remain mesmerized. I’ve been around hundreds of musicians, have studied thousands more. Only a rare few have a genuine ease and stage presence that can pull someone from the back row of a concert hall and make them feel like you are talking directly to them.
Calvin said the tents hold about two hundred fifty people, but this early in the week, less than a hundred are in the tent. My feet take me toward the stage. The closer I get, the more I feel the pull. If the waves of dark red hair, freckles, and gorgeous smile aren’t enough to grab my complete attention, it’s then I notice her eyes for the first time.
Grass green. The first day of spring beautiful, come and lay with me eyes that force my lips to separate and take away my ability to breathe.
“Hhhh… Hailey.” My whisper gets lost in the cheers from the crowd.
“There is a third member of this musical family, and we have a favor to ask.”
I lean forward, eager to comply, ready to do whatever this siren requests. She toys with the guitar again, a chord progression that displays yet another of her skill. She turns her back to us, her red hair whipping in the ocean breeze, and thoughts of what it would feel like to run my hands through that beautiful mane cross my mind.
Her brother steps to the microphone, but I don’t hear a word he says as my focus remains locked on the beaming goddess. As her brother speaks, her eyes scan the audience, and I hold my breath, waiting for them to meet mine. I lift on the tips of my toes, hoping to separate from the shorter man next to me.
I gulp, and I wait.
Her gaze inches closer, my heartbeat increasing like a Geiger counter approaching my radioactive heart. Her gaze lands on mine. Our eyes lock for a split second. Time stands still, and I wonder if I’m dreaming.
Hailey, I mouth her name too late—her gaze has already moved on. The crowd next to me cheers as a body races past me and hops onto the stage. The third member of the band.
He whispers something to the bass player, who shoots him a look that can’t be mistaken for anything other than hatred. The late-arriving member is nothing like what I would expect for the group. While Hailey and the clean-cut, polo-shirt-wearing bass player easily fit into a group called Bluer Collar, the tank-topped tattooed member looks like he belongs with an eighties rock band.
When he takes command of the lead microphone, I force myself to calm down. Hailey is not the lead singer. The beast the crowd crooned for, Laredo, is not only the lead singer but also the head of the group. I watch Hailey closely as she struggles to pick up the song. The song “Brown Eyed Girl” is a simple song, and I’ve already seen Hailey’s skill on the guitar, so her struggle can only mean one thing. Laredo is not following the planned set; he’s tossed in a song on the fly without consideration for his bandmates.
A protective thread pulls on my chest, and I feel an urge to rush to the front of the stage and call out the notes for her.
But Hailey is a professional. She keeps her head down and keeps strumming along. It takes half the song before she lifts her chin and smiles to the crowd. Her feet are now back underneath her. It’s a beautiful smile, one that deserves a spotlight.
I feel for her. Bluer Collar is not an all-male group, but they are dysfunctional AF. Their lead has his own agenda. The other member looks as if he’s plotting a murder, and poor Hailey looks like an innocent bystander, forced to drive a getaway car against her will.
They shift to their second song, a country tune I don’t recognize. Hailey’s body language is more relaxed, and I assume that’s because this song is on the playlist. It’s a competent song. It would play well in Tennessee, Texas, and the Midwest. I scroll through my phone. Bluer Collar is self-managed by Hailey and has no record deal in place.
I hold my breath when they move to their third and final song, praying that Hailey takes the lead. This is a workshop; bands are supposed to be showcasing what they are about, and all we’ve seen thus far is a front man that is more interested in preening and picking up women than a cohesive band with anything special to say.
It’s a damn shame. That thirty-second glimpse of Hailey on the microphone stands out more to me than the fifteen minutes of Laredo ever will.
She is the type of talent that should be showcased. I recognize the pull of attraction, but my musical instincts agree. I’ve crossed paths with many stunning artists that couldn’t hold a tune, couldn’t play a lick, or didn’t know the first thing about stage presence. They’ve never held my attention for more than the initial three-second first impression.
But here I am twenty minutes later, intrigued by all things Hailey. She is exactly the type of artist Calvin would want me to work with. She has stage presence, is cool under fire, can improvise, and plays a mean guitar. She’d be the perfect client, and therein lies the problem.
She’s not a solo artist. She’s part of a dysfunctional band with an identity crisis. Top it off with an out-of-control lead singer, and it has disaster written all over it.
Hailey may be worth the risk, but I can’t see it being a risk I’m willing to take.
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