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John Bartus: Press

BARTUS HAS BEEN MANY THINGS IN MARATHON, BUT PREFERS THE COMPANY OF MUSICIANS - by Rob Busweiler

After 25 years of playing gigs up and down the Keys, Marathon music man John Bartus says his current band Storm Watch is playing some of the best music he has ever been a part of. “There is still nothing like a live band,” Bartus said of the difference between his solo and group gigs. “The clubs that still hire live bands realize that, too.”

Bartus has been in the Keys for 25 years, and the former mayor of Marathon knows the terrain all too well. His current bandmates are no slouches themselves, with two of the three longtime veterans of the Keys music scene. On drums, Glenn Faast has a laundry list of bands on his resume. On the keyboards, Marc Davis has more than 30 years of experience behind him, and has been working with local music education programs. The newest to the group is bassist and guitarist Christian Davis, a fresh face in a band with an endless array of stories to tell.

“Every night is different,” says Bartus, who plays between four and five gigs a week. In addition to the local mainstay venues like Dockside and Sparky’s Landing, Bartus and his crew can also frequently be found playing at the Marathon Community Park or at Sombrero Beach for a myriad of different charity events.

Politics and rock don’t often mix, but Bartus has found himself involved in a wide array of different opportunities over the past 10 years. After being elected to the city’s first council after incorporation in 1999, Bartus was later chosen to serve as the city’s mayor, and was one of two council persons in the city’s history to reach the six year term limit.

Bartus has also been part of creating a local newspaper group and was a morning talk show host on a local radio station. “There were times where I would have to put music aside for a while,” Bartus said.

Currently, however, Bartus said he is just months away from the release of a brand new CD with a bunch of original material. “I love being in the studio,” he said.

One of Bartus’ most popular songs, “The Islands of Marathon,” is a more mellow ode to island life than the margarita rock that is heard frequently. Bartus’ style comes from the school of classic rock, as gigs are marked with covers of songs ranging from Pink Floyd to Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Despite the old-school stylings, Bartus has fully embraced the digital distribution chain. He gives credit to the Web site cdbaby.com for getting his music on online distribution sites like iTunes and Rhapsody, acknowledging that it is now part of the game. Bartus and Storm Watch will again be gracing the stage at the Marathon Seafood Festival at the local community park next weekend.

rbusweiler@keysnews.com

Rob Busweiler - Marathon Free Press (Mar 6, 2009)
TOTALLY IN TUNE - Musician/politician hits the right key in Marathon
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Sun-Times Columnist

KEY LARGO, Fla. -- John Bartus looks out at the Gulf of Mexico and sees a world of tropical beauty. This must be just like when Mayor Richard M. Daley gazes at Grant Park and daydreams of tumbling tumbleweed.
Bartus is the former two-term mayor of Marathon (population 11,000) in the Florida Keys. He also is a popular singer-songwriter who just re-released his CD "Keys Disease." (Radio Active Productions, www.JohnBartus.com.) Bartus sings original songs about palm trees, a tribute to the Challenger and Columbia astronauts and an exotic dancer in Key West.
Daley always has professed to be a big country music fan. And for several consecutive years during Chicago's country music festival I tried to get a comment from Daley on his favorite country music. Anything. Even something about Alabama. I never got a response and finally gave up.

Living his mojo Bartus puts his mojo where his mouth is.
He is a 45-year-old plain-speaking native of Fort Wayne, Ind. In 1984 Bartus was booked into the Compass Lounge at the Holiday Inn/Marathon Inn as part of a top-40 duo with a singer named Sallie Foster. He never left.
"There was no reason to leave," Bartus said during a February conversation down the road from Marathon at the Caribbean Club (mile marker 104, U.S. 1) in Key Largo. "At that time there were more places to play music for a living on a few square miles than anywhere else I have seen. Of course, that was the tail end of the cocaine cowboys and the smuggling. You could tell when somebody had a deal go down. They'd be in the bar that night buying everybody drinks. The $100 bills would be like wallpaper."
The Keys are rich with subjects for songs and folks like Jimmy Buffett and Jerry Jeff Walker who took that to the bank. The title track of "Keys Disease" is an Allman Brothers-meets Tex-Mex workout about a guy who was a successful New England attorney. He gave it all up, moved his family to the Keys and has been bartending along U.S. 1 for 30 years.

Trying a new key Bartus is working on new songs and they reflect new issues in the Keys.
Like Cuban exiles.
"Drugs don't come through any more, but refugees get dropped off at shore," Bartus said. The Keys are ramping up for an exodus of Cubans who are expected after the death of Fidel Castro. Officials are looking at options such as closing down marinas and shutting airports. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been conducting mock drills in preparation for any mass migration.
Bartus explained, "What we understand is happening is that Raul [Castro, Fidel's brother] is trying to model his government along Chinese lines where free market is encouraged. I don't see a mass exodus. Any change after Fidel is going to be incremental. It's not going to be like Fidel dies and everyone from Miami is going to be on the next plane back."
Bartus said Marathon has a substantial Cuban-American community for a town its size. The community also has a large number of Hispanic commuters who take buses from Homestead to work in the hotels and resorts in and near Marathon. "Down here they pay higher wages," Bartus said. "There's a lot of businesss that really depend on that for their staffing."
Marathon didn't incorporate as a city until 2000. Bartus was a councilman between 2000 and 2006. As part of the council, he was chosen mayor in 2002-03 and again in 2005-06. Unlike Chicago, a city charter forces a two-term mayor to take a year off. Bartus is now running for council again in the March 13 election. The Marathon council chooses the mayor.

Keeping passions separate Bartus said, "No one ever made a big deal out of my singing career. I think it has helped. Long before I got into politics, I was high visibility. I've also done radio broadcasting in the Keys and I've written a newspaper and magazine column." His morning radio show on WGMX-FM (94.3) is currently on hold because of FCC equal-time regulations when someone is a qualified candidate for public office.
Bartus does not perform material from Woody Guthrie or Jackson Browne in his sets. "When I play music I stay away from politics," he said. "But if someone wants to come up and talk issues during a break, I'm happy to do that."
He first moved to south Florida in the 1960s. His father John was a Cape Canaveral engineer who was contracted by NASA on the Saturn I-B project. The family then relocated to South Carolina before Bartus came to Marathon in 1984.
Bartus loves his city. He and his wife, Marlene, live in the Hemingway tradition with their three cats. His "Keys Disease" CD concludes with "The Islands of Marathon," a beautiful ballad in which Buffett meets Dan Fogelberg.
The Florida Keys sewer project is the reason Bartus has entered the political arena again. It's the biggest infrastructure project in the Keys since Flagler's Railroad was built in 1905, connecting mainland Florida over 150 miles of open sea to Key West. The railroad was wiped out in a Labor Day 1935 hurricane.
Each jurisdiction in the Keys is doing its own sewer project.
"We have beautiful water surrounding us," Bartus said. "In 1979 the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] said they would sewer the Keys for us. County commissions said, 'We don't need them.' Now the federal and state funding is not what it could have been. But sewers are absolutely necessary. We cannot be pumping stuff into malfunctioning septic systems with the waters we have here close by. There's living coral reef just a few miles off shore. The environment is the reason we are all here and we love this because of what it is. Our duty is to protect this and preserve it."
Marathon got its name when the workers who were building Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway were assigned to build the original Seven Mile Bridge, then known as Flagler's Viaduct. Their first comment was, "Gee, this project is a marathon." Their second comment was, "Where can we get a good margarita?"

Town of plenty Marathon is now home to the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital. The 34th Annual Marathon Seafood Festival will be held on Saturday and March 11 at the Community Park and Ampitheatre. Bartus, his keyboardist Dave Howell and drummer Glenn Faast will appear at 1 p.m. Saturday at the festival. And on April 21, Marathon will host its annual Seven Mile Bridge Run.
"My original platform was to make sure the economic benefits that were coming down didn't leave people behind," Bartus said. "To a varying degree that didn't succeed. A lot of that had to do with the real estate economy going boom, boom, boom and all of a sudden everything falls out. A lot of people got hurt by that. But there were a lot of people who made out very well. They bought their houses way back when and when they saw how much they were worth they cashed out and left town."
Bartus remained. The alluring song of the Keys always hits close to home.
Review - Rag magazine (South Florida) - Keys Disease CD

John Bartus could well be a force to be recorded with, in the very near future. The song, "Velvet Elvis," is reminiscent of the soft sarcastic style of Warren Zevon: a man, eating donuts in the Black Lung Cafe, receives a vision from "The King" through a velvet Elvis hanging on a wall, and is inspired to go to Graceland to steal one for his own, even though it means jail time. The remainder of the CD is done in the story song style of Joshua Kadison with the Florida themes of Jimmy Buffett. A pure storyteller in a minstrel's soul, Bartus' voice is crisp and clear, and the music is easy to enjoy. Let's have more!
Rag Magazine (Miami)
REVIEW - Key West the Newspaper - Ridenour Report - John Bartus Live From the Florida Keys CD

I was delighted to receive the latest CD from John Bartus, a superb musician who plays in Marathon. John has produced some excellent projects for other performers, but this one is all his own. John sings and plays guitar or keyboard on the tunes, many of which he wrote. He is excellent across the board, with fine technique on both instruments and a glorious voice. His CD is titled Live From the Florida Keys and was recorded live from the Hurricane Lounge in Marathon.

It begins with "We'll All Be Free", which showcases his clear, sweet, expressive voice. Like all his original songs, it's a winner. My favorite cuts are originals "Keys Disease," which explains that maana is the operative word, "Wasted Days," which says "When time decides to go it travels fast," and "Looking back on what might have been is a heavy price to pay", "Vegas Town" an apt description of the gambling universe with a rolling western feel, and "Velvet Elvis," in which an obsessed fan chases the object of his desire.

John does some great cover tunes on the disc, including James Taylor's wonderful "Captain Jim's Drunken Dream," which is excellent. The covers are fine, as is everything John sings and plays, but it's the originals that will get to you. Bartus is an interesting man. He definitely has the soul of an artist. He's a radio personality and an editor in addition to being performer, and he was Mayor of Marathon!
Valerie Ridenour - Key West The Newspaper
Entertainment Profile ? John Bartus
by Ed Frost

He claims to know over a thousand songs. He sings as well as plays acoustic and electric guitars, piano, bass, harmonica, and some drums. He writes his own material. He produced his CD (as well as CDs by other local artists) in his own recording studio ? he even played all the instruments on the CD. His wife, Marlene, owns and operates three retail shops (Shipwrecked By Design, Marooned In Marathon, and Jules LaVerne's Overseas Adventure Store). He's a partner in the very publication you're reading right now. He even ran for (and won) a seat on Marathon's first City Council.

By now you may have figured out that this week's Entertainment Profile features local singer/songwriter John Bartus. With all the stuff on his plate, one might wonder where he finds time for music these days. "Long after all my other careers are through," Bartus says, "I'll still be playing music somewhere."
Bartus started playing music on his mother's chord organ "way back in the 1960's." When his family moved to South Carolina from Florida in 1968 ("a move I'm still trying to figure out"), his mother got an old upright piano. But it wasn't until the summer of the Bicentennial that Bartus really found his life's calling.

"I was at a summer camp, and there was this guy there that played an awesome guitar," Bartus recalls. "I knew right then that music was going to play a huge part of my life." That Christmas, Bartus got his first guitar, a second-hand Epiphone.

Within a few months of intense self-teaching (he never had a lesson), Bartus began playing local shows and talent contests, winning several in the process. While still in high school, he started playing his first professional gigs.

After a three-year stint at the University of South Carolina left him "a semester shy of a marine biology degree," Bartus left school to pursue music full-time. He hit the road as part of a duo with Greenville, S.C. native Sallie Foster (the same Sallie who plays in Key West). They first came to Marathon to play at the Holiday Inn in February of 1984.

"From that initial visit, we got so many job offers that there wasn't any real reason to leave," Bartus says. "Besides, I always knew I was going to come home to Florida, and Marathon immediately felt like home."

Since then, Bartus has played "just about everywhere" throughout the Keys, "from Duval Street to Ocean Reef." He has performed both solo, and with a lot of other musicians. Bands have included the Red Hots, Stark Naked & the Car Thieves, the Full Moon Band, Death & Taxes, Men Without Parents, the Dead Parrot Society, and most recently, JohnJohnny the Fantasy Band. "You can't say we had boring band names," Bartus quips.

John released his first recording, a duo project with Sallie Foster called Feed the Fire, way back in 1984. Bartus recalls, "It was so long ago, we released it on vinyl!" A solo cassette album called Velvet Elvis came out in 1995, and then Keys Disease was released last year. "Keys Disease is a bit of a mixed bag," Bartus says. "There are more than a few songs about life in the Keys, because that's the life I know." One of his songs about the Keys, "The Islands of Marathon," was voted the official song of the city of Marathon in 2001.

As is typical with a Bartus production, John played all the instruments and sang all the vocal parts on the CD. "I've always admired people like Paul McCartney, Prince, and Dan Fogelberg who can go into a studio and single-handedly produce a record," says Bartus. "It all started with the Beatles, showing just what could be done in the studio with creative minds and modern recording technology." Other influences Bartus cites are Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Elton John, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Dire Straits, the Eagles, and Pink Floyd.

When asked about a new CD, Bartus replied, "Well, I've got enough material. I've got about a dozen or so songs that are waiting for me to get into the studio and record. It's all about finding the time to just get them done." Will there be more Keys songs? "Of course," Bartus replies. "Where we live continues to be an inspiration to me."

Although a fan of studio technology, John's live performances are straightforward acoustic guitar and piano sets. "I used to use sequencers and drum machines on stage, but that's when they were cutting edge stuff ? you had to be a musician to know how to use it," Bartus says. "It's gotten to the point where you can buy or download a disk with a song on it, plug it into your laptop, and there's the band! That's why I went total acoustic for my solo gigs about thirteen years ago."

When John plays with a band, however, he gets to cut loose on his Stratocaster. "I love playing rock and roll with a good band ? there's nothing quite like it in the world." Otherwise, he can be seen playing solo at the Banana Bay Sunset Tiki Bar (mile marker 49.5) Fridays at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday nights at the Key Colony Inn (on Key Colony Beach, turn at mile marker 54). His Keys Disease CD is available at local gigs, as well as Marooned In Marathon and online at www.johnbartus.com.
Ed Frost - The Marathon Weekly newspaper (Dec 15, 2003)
A Recent Fan Review

John, I saw your "Keys Disease" in The Marathon Weekly and it reminded me of Saturday night. The people who were with us are members of the Fort Lauderdale HOG chapter.

We long ago planned this weekend as part of the Key West Poker run and rode our bikes Friday to our house in Key Colony. As the "host" my only suggestion was to not spend the second night crawling around Duval St. (not to complain about the sights) but rather take my word, and go to Key Colony Inn after riding the bikes to and from Key West during the day.

Well, you made believers out of them as to what I often refer to as my favorite place on a Saturday night. We had a blast, and hope we were not too obnoxious. It was often said the following day that it's been a long, long time since they saw a performer play so long, so well and put so much into their work playing the variety of music as you do.

Thanks - Barry Flanigan
Barry Flanigan - A Recent Fan Review (Jun 9, 2004)