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The Barehanded Backbeat of Mike Bowers

I see Mike Bowers all over the place. At open mics, countless gigs per his peers, my gigs, small shows, big shows, on stage, off stage…and most recently, backstage at the NY State Blues Festival as part of the stage crew. Being part of a crew backstage means that your day has intense bust-a-move moments and then periods of down time. In this case our respective downtimes (I was working with the people in administration) were fairly sympatico so we had a number of times to visit. Sitting under a giant tree seeking shade on a hot day we chatted about music, art, the scene and just some cool stories.

I’ve been pals with Mike for some time now. It’s easy to do since he’s everywhere and is more than generous with his better self. I think I met him first at the Limp Lizard open mic where he played percussion routinely. One of those guys who’s truly enthusiastic to be in the room and ready to give it a go. Further, Mike plays on a variety of gigs in different situations that come along with his freelance lifestyle in music. 

Chuck Schiele: How long have you been playing music? 

Mike Bowers: I have been playing music since 1983. In 1996, I took a hiatus to get married, take a job, buy a house and try to live the “normal” life!

In 2016, I started playing out in public again. However, I was not playing traditional hand drums. I had switched to an electric drum pad which I programmed for bongos and congas. During the Covid pandemic, I switched again. I had started playing the box Cajón, and found a whole new world had opened up for me. 

CS: What drew you to be a percussionist? 

MB: I had always wanted a drum set, but that would not have been possible in the house where I grew up, so I settled on bongos instead. I would listen to my record collection and play along with my bongos with each song.

CS: Do you play other instruments? 

MB: Yes. I play a recorder with an alto sax mouthpiece attached. I love the change it offers from percussion, but I am in no way ready to play it in public!

CS: Who do you look to for inspiration? 

MB: My inspirations came from my family first. My father was a band teacher in the local public schools, so there was always music of some sort going on at home.

CS: What styles do you prefer to play in? 

MB: Although I have played in many genres. I really like any music which lends itself to improvisation. 

CS: Please share a highlight or two from your music career? 

MB: When I was 18, I was in a local band called Slam. We opened for Grand Master Flash, in Syracuse, on their “White Lines” tour. Then in 2020, I had the honor of being a guest musician on Off the Ground’s CD, “Ready for Take Off” which won best new album in the Americana category, at the Syracuse Area Music awards. 

CS: Do you have any crazy stories that come from playing music? 

MB: I was playing a gig in Charlottesville Va, with a finger I had recently injured at work. At some point my bandage flew off my finger, causing blood to splatter everywhere while I played. The blood had covered my bongos and a band t-shirt that was on display. After the show, a lady approached us wanting to buy a band shirt. She said she wanted “The bloody one!”

CS: What are your thoughts on the Syracuse music scene?

MB: In 2016, I re-entered the music scene playing an instrument that was new to me. I was no longer playing traditional hand drums. Now I was playing the electric drum pad. I can remember the feeling of angst when I played it in public for the first time, after twenty years off! And then the relief I felt, when I was accepted by finer musicians than myself. It was truly gratifying. I feel from this experience, it is my goal to provide the same environment for other musicians. 

CS: What would be your advice to a budding musician? 

MB: Recognize what makes your talent unique and promote it whenever you can!

CS: What’s in store for you musically near-future?

MB: Currently I am free-lance playing a box Cajón. An instrument that truly speaks to me. 

CS: Thank you for doing this interview with Table Hopping, Mike. It’s been a pleasure.

MB: Thank you Chuck, the pleasure’s all mine.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.