Andy Matchett was a hard-rocking teenager playing in a garage band but the kid who grew up to be Johnny Wild has graduated to playing patios.
It’s all due to the Coronavirus and Villages’ music fans of the wildly popular oldies band Johnny Wild and the Delights.
“When I was 15, I started out in a garage band and now I’m playing driveways and patios in The Villages,” Matchett said. “I feel like a kid again.”
Like most other music acts in Florida, the Johnny Wild band was forced out of work for the past two months due to the COVID-19 virus. The rest of the group includes Holly Dawn, Katie Trott, Kari Ringer, Randy Coole, Chuck Zayas and Rob Mola.
“It’s been a tough grind for all of us,” Matchett said.
But last weekend, Johnny Wild came back to live performing – in a house near Spanish Springs.
A Villages homeowner with a large lot near a golf course invited Matchett to perform for a private gathering. Matchett and two of his singers – Dawn and Trott – stood on a huge patio facing a large lawn.
The homeowner then divided about 20 spaces on the lawn with flags. Each was marked 6 feet apart for golf carts and lawn chairs. Thus was born what Machett calls “the drive-in party.
“We wanted to have a way to keep social distancing and be safe,” Matchett said. Many of the guests wore masks and followed social guidelines. No food or drinks were served. People brought their own refreshments. Everything took place outside of the house. It’s like going to the drive-in.”
Machett set up a 2-speaker sound system on the patio, with a couple of monitors for the performers. He played guitar and said no music tracks were used.
“We wanted it to feel like a live performance,” Matchett said. That had meaning not only to the fans, but also the performer.
“It felt wonderful being up there and singing in front of people again,” Matchett said. “In a lot of ways, it felt like a regular show. It was a warm, cloudy day and the ambience was great. People loved the music. Couples were dancing in their 6-feet spaces.”
The setlist was typical for the Johnny Wild group. The song list included Buddy Holly’s “Maybe Baby;” The Everly Brothers’ “Dream,” Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari” Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and a rousing finale on Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light.”
The audience response was great, Matchett said, adding that people were “hooting and hollering, and also dancing and singing.”
Maybe it was out of relief of a pandemic that has altered their lives and limited the opportunity to hear live music.
In these strange COVID-19 days, everything from grocery shopping to concerts seems to be a compromise.
“Right now, there is a fine line between freedom and safety,” Matchett said. “This was a private party. It was not open to the public. Nobody was allowed to come in and crash it. You have to have control and you have to be safe.”
Other performers have been finding a way to entertain friends and fans at home. Billie Thatcher has been doing a series of solo shows in her Springdale Village driveway on Sherman Street every Monday at 6 p.m.
Petrina recently serenaded the residents of Steeplechase Retirement Residence in Oxford. And Ralph DiNome, Doug Skinner and Yvonne Miller will appear Saturday in a driveway at 5 p.m. at 394 Bishopville Loop in the Village of Mallory Square.
Like most Villages entertainers, Matchett mourns the loss of Katie Belle’s.
“We loved Katie Belle’s; it meant a lot to our band,” he said. “It was a place that made you feel at home, and we connected to it immediately. It won’t be the same without it.”
Now Matchett is hoping that private homes will be a place for the Johnny Wild group in The Villages. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at (407) 680-4781.