To make it through a Hilton Head summer, musicians need tough fingertips, fans (the cooling kind)

eshaw@islandpacket.comMay 24, 2014 

Singer-songwriter Luke Mitchell of Hilton Head Island, left, performs with Corey Campbell on Thursday at The Frosty Frog Cafe on Hilton Head.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr, staff photo Buy Photo

Hilton Head Island singer-songwriter Luke Mitchell has been practicing yoga, taking supplements and abstaining from caffeine and dairy. But he's not on a health kick; he is in training.

As Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, local musicians, including Mitchell, are preparing to entertain the imminent crush of tourists on the island.

The influx of people is a boon for local musicians and an opportunity for their music to reach a wider audience. Yet veteran players know it takes more than a guitar and a dream to contend with the energy-depleting heat, the sometimes annoying song requests and the physical wear and tear of playing day in, day out, all summer long.

Mitchell, a prolific performer who has been playing on the island since he was a teen, has singing gigs booked every day until Oct. 1.

"I started to do yoga because music is very athletic, though people don't normally see it as that," he said. "I basically have to ice my whole body after I play."

In addition to playing guitar and singing, Mitchell plays drums with his feet, which he said has given him bad knees and tendinitis. The supplements he takes are to keep his hands from hurting, and the no-caffeine, no-dairy rule keeps his vocal chords pliable.

"Caffeine will dry you out completely. And dairy is not good for your voice," he said.

For singer-songwriter Sara Burns, fingertips are the biggest concern.

"I've been working up to playing for three straight hours, but I know my first night is going to be rough," she said. "The first night feels like your fingers are going to fall off."

Burns has a summer gig playing six nights a week on the back deck of the Old Oyster Factory on Marshland Road. The outdoor venue means she's constantly subjected to high temperatures and humidity during her sets.

"The heat really sucks the energy out of you," she said.

Mitchell brings a fan with him to every show to try to stay cool because, "some days it's so hot it feels like you're singing into a hair dryer."

It's best to just embrace "the singin' and the sweatin,' " advised veteran Hilton Head musician John Cranford of local band Cranford Hollow.

And to drink a lot of water.

"You're going to be singing for 30 hours a week. I'll drink gallons of water," he said.

Being hot and uncomfortable can also make it difficult to be patient with out-of-towners who are on vacation and want to hear the same cover songs over and over.

There's an expectation from tourists who come to the beach thinking they're going to hear beach music, Cranford said, which often equates to an unreasonable number of requests for Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville."

"That's a sacrifice a lot of guys make," he said of artists succumbing to playing covers instead of or more than their original music. "But if somebody has a $10 tip in their hand? Better play it."

Mitchell is not so easily swayed. He refuses to play any Buffett songs.

"There's no artistic depth in singing about cheeseburgers," he said.

He only plays covers he loves to listen to. And he's learned to play songs by the Beatles and Paul Simon, which are beachy, but have depth, he said.

Burns hands out laminated cards listing all the songs she knows how to play. It gives her more control over the requests, she said. She's been learning new songs by country artists like Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum to add to her list this summer, but is looking forward to throwing in more originals. Burns released her first full-length album in February, and said she hopes the quick turnaround on the back deck will mean more ears hearing her material.

"I don't want to be just a cover artist," she said. "I want to build a fanbase with people who are coming in."

Follow reporter Erin Shaw on twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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