Fort Myers Florida Weekly

Harper: blending goodwill with a didgeridoo or two…

Harper is known for his didgeridoo and harmonica performances. The band Midwest Kind backs him up with percussion by Marc Dixson; guitar by Chris Wiley Smith; and slide guitar by Drew Pentakowski.

Harper is known for his didgeridoo and harmonica performances. The band Midwest Kind backs him up with percussion by Marc Dixson; guitar by Chris Wiley Smith; and slide guitar by Drew Pentakowski.

“Southwest Florida reminds me of Australia,” Harper drawls in his intoxicating Australian accent.

The professional musician leads the band, Midwest Kind, in equally intoxicating sounds and rhythms not often heard in these parts.

So, when Harper drones, as he does with his signature didgeridoo, Charlotte County folks sit up, take notice and flock to wherever he’s performing.

Harper performs this week at the Celtic Ray in Punta Gorda.

Harper performs this week at the Celtic Ray in Punta Gorda.

Come Memorial Day weekend, Harper and the gang will be performing at the Celtic Ray in Punta Gorda.

Last year, when Harper performed in Englewood, locals ventured out — perhaps out of curiosity — to take in the novel group’s opening performance. After that, they couldn’t hold themselves back, attending every performance till the gig was up.

Harper, a 46-year-old Australian singer, songwriter and harmonica/ didgeridoo performer and his business manager and wife, Bobbi, have found a second — maybe third — home here in Southwest Florida. So have the members of Midwest Kind, Marc Dixson (percussion), Chris Wiley Smith (guitar) and Drew Pentakowski (slide guitar).

“Bobbi does all the travel planning,” said Harper, an Australianborn Michigan resident. “She keeps us going in the right direction all the time.”

Besides the warm climate and the warmer welcome, Harper confides there’s another reason the band travels to Southwest Florida.

“We have a great relationship with the Buckingham School for Excep- tional students,” Harper said. “We like to play for the kids.”

The Buckingham Exceptional Student Center is located in Fort Myers, some 35 miles south of the Celtic Ray in Punta Gorda, where Harper and the gang will be performing Friday, May 28, Saturday, May 29, and Monday, May.

The band’s private performance for the Buckingham Center kids is set for June 1.

“The kids are delightful,” Harper said. “And the teachers are awesome.”

The connection between novel musicians and exceptional students was made three years ago when Buckingham teacher Barbara Chapin joined a friend on a blues cruise out of Fort Lauderdale.

“Harper was one of the musicians,” Ms. Chapin said, “and we got to talking. He said they played in Florida a couple of times a year. I said, ‘We’d love to have you come to our school.’”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Ms. Chapin describes the student body at Buckingham as students ages 3-22, with severe to profound developmental delays.

“When (Harper and the band) came, it was a mutual love affair,” Ms. Chapin said about the relationship between exceptional performers and exceptional student body.

“Harper’s terrific with them and they with him,” Ms. Chapin said. About half the students are in wheelchairs, she said. “He plays the didgeridoo right next to them, so they can feel the vibrations, even if they can’t see or hear.” The children “get the whole sensory experience,” she said, adding that some graduates come back to be entertained by their favorite rock star.

It’s clear, too, that Harper adores the connection his band has made with the Buckingham school, and schools, in general.

“We sneak music back into the public schools,” Harper said. “What’s great is I did research on Aborigines and spent time with them. So not only do the school kids get the music, they get the benefit of history from another country.”

As for his own music, Harper started out as a trombone player in a brass band. He took up the harmonica and has played the didgeridoo for six years. He uses the piano for music composition and he loves to write lyrics.

The Aussie-gone-Michigan resident is grateful to have good chums in his northern neighborhood, but admits to periods of adjustment — cold and snow, learning to plant vegetables that will thrive in a Great Lakes climate and, he chuckled, “It’s a little different driving on the other side of the road.”

Harper and Midwest Kind are looking forward to returning to the Celtic Ray and seeing meeting up with fans and longtime friend Kevin Doyle, who owns the Celtic Ray.

“You can’t fill a lot of people in there. There’s not much room to swing a cat,” Harper said.

“But we pack them in and they all seem to dig the music.”

Of Mr. Doyle’s reclamation of the Celtic Ray, Harper said, “It’s almost magical that he’s back running it. I’m looking forward to coming back.”

Fans will be hearing new music from Harper this time around, much of it from his new CD, “Stand Together,” produced this year on the Blind Pig label. The recording will be available to revelers for $15 at the Celtic Ray, with matching T-shirts available.

“If they’ve seen us before,” Harper said, “it’s going to be different this time.”

Next year, Harper hopes to roll out a CD recorded at live performances.

But as for this visit, Harper can’t wait to get back to the special population at the Buckingham Exceptional Student Center.

“They’re wonderful kids we’ve gotten to know. We get a lot more out of this than the kids do. The kids in wheelchairs spin their wheels and laugh. The whole room goes nuts.”

Whether it’s time spent with his adoring public at the Celtic Ray or at the Buckingham Center, Harper says he and his band love every moment spent in Southwest Florida.

“We just have a blast when we’re there.” 

in the know

>> What: Harper (Australian singer, songwriter and harp/didgeridoo performer) and his band, Midwest Kind

>> When: 8 p.m. Friday, May 28, Saturday, May 29, and Monday, May 31

>> Where: Celtic Ray Public House, 145 East Marion Ave., Punta Gorda

>> Cost: “There’s no charge. They can just wander in.” — Harper

>> Info: (941) 505-5556 or

didgeridoo details

>> What do you do with a didgeridoo? The didgeridoo is a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians some 1,500 years ago. Sometimes called a drone pipe, the didgeridoo is a sort of trumpet, often made from naturally hollowed-out tree limbs.

>> Modern didgeridoos can measure from 3 to 10 feet in length. Most are about 4 feet long. The longer the instrument, the lower the pitch.

>> What you never knew ‘bout the didgeridoo: A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that mastering the circular breathing technique required by proficient didgeridoo players helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea. Apparently, muscles in the upper airway get a mighty workout, and they don’t tend to collapse during sleep. Who knew the didgeridoo could be so good for you? Oi!

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