Rockin’ Really Old School In Kapa‘a

The Big Swig (from left): Angelique Ell, Anni Caporuscio, Amy Nelson and Steven Meredith | Coco Zickos photo

The Big Swig (from left): Angelique Ell, Anni Caporuscio, Amy Nelson and Steven Meredith | Coco Zickos photo

The Big Swig rocks 1800s American music at the First Saturday Art Walk in Old Kapa’a Town, getting folks up on their feet and dancing

Put on your dancing shoes and take a musical gulp of The Big Swig this weekend at Old Kapa’a Town’s First Saturday Art Walk.

“People love it,” says band member Steven Meredith about the nostalgic 1800s American music the quartet plays. “We usually have people dancing from the first song to the last song.”

The group has managed to draw a sizable crowd on the first Saturday of each month in front of a. ell atelier on the busy sidewalks of Kapa’a since it first formed in December.

“It’s very catchy,” explains band member Angelique Ell about the tunes.

“And it’s feel-good music,” adds Meredith. “People played this music hundreds of years ago to feel good after breaking their backs in the field all day.

“It’s music your grandparents used to rock out to.”

Bringing the old-school music into modern times are Ell, who rocks out on the fiddle; Meredith, who plays the washboard, bass drum and harmonica; Amy Nelson, who helps set the tone with the banjo; and Anni Caporuscio, who lends her vocal talents.

Serendipity brought this foursome together.

Ell regularly had been inviting people to participate in jam sessions outside her store, a. ell atelier, at every First Saturday event. However, near the end of last year, there was a miscommunication.

“It was only the four of us who showed up, and we said, ‘Let’s make music,'” recalls Meredith. “We just started jamming. And it worked. From that night, we decided we were going to make this happen. It just clicked.”

Even the name of the group was a pleasant accidental discovery. It was pronounced after lead vocal-ist Caporuscio said she needed a “big swig” in between songs one night. Now, she keeps a large jar of thirst quencher by her side. Even though whiskey would be fitting for their style of music, she insists it’s just tea.

Caporuscio also acknowledges this is her first time singing for other people.

“I usually just sing in my car a lot or the shower,” she jokes.

While she played various instruments throughout her life, the Small Town Coffee Shop owner never really shared her vocal chops with an audience.

“I’m excited to finally get the opportunity to wail, to just belt it out,” she says. “It makes me feel good; I’m loving it.”

Nonetheless, she still gets nervous, especially playing on the crowded sidewalks of Kapa’a.

“For me, it’s a little scary. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m doing it,” she says. “You never know if you can pull it off, but I always do.”

Playing on the street presents a number of obstacles for the musicians, such as noise, inability to hear each other and people attempting to converse with them as they play.

“I had no idea how hard it was to be a street musician,” admits Nelson.

“But it adds to the lightness, which is what’s fun about playing on the sidewalk,” says Ell. “There isn’t a lot of pressure.

“That’s the ultimate venue; playing on a sidewalk like that.”

Sometimes the group admits to hearing people snickering at them as they set up for the night with their unusual instruments, gearing up to play squaredance style and Appalachian-type music.

“It’s a novelty for people here,” says Caporuscio. “But once we start playing, they’re into it.”

“I’ve always had a fixation on this music,” says Meredith, who has been hosting a radio show on KKCR dedicated to early Delta blues of the 1820s for about 13 years. He’s played the music for many years, including the blues harmonica, which he became “obsessed” with some 16 years ago.

“A creative outlet is essential for me, and music is limitless as far as creativity is concerned,” says Meredith, owner of Fine Finish Repairs and Restoration. “And it’s soul-fulfilling. You need that; you need something that’s going to feed your soul every day.”

Thus far, of all his instruments, the washboard has gained the most popularity on Kaua’i.

“The washboard is different and fun,” he explains. “It’s different and rootsy, and it’s from a couple hundred years ago. You don’t see it here.”

The fiddle and banjo also are not often seen on the Garden Isle. Ell recently was taking guitar lessons when she noticed that her teacher, Matt Morelock, had a fiddle.

“It was this old, antique fiddle and I was just oohing and ahing over it, and I asked him if I could play it,” she says.

The rest is history.

“As soon as I picked it up, I was like, ‘Oh wow, I like the way this feels.’ I love the instrument – something about the shape of it and the way you hold it,” she explains.

Nelson was a guitar player prior to picking up the banjo. It wasn’t until last year that she started seriously playing the stringed instrument.

“It makes me happy and it makes other people happy,” says the Small Town Coffee Company employee about what she enjoys most about playing. “When my music makes people dance, that makes me the happiest person on the planet.”

The Big Swig plays every month at the Old Kapa’a Town First Saturday Art Walk and is available for private gigs. Visit its Facebook page, facebook.com/TheBigSwig, for more information or call Small Town Coffee Company at 821-1604.

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