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COVID-19 Trapped Big Mike in Paradise; He’s Still There 

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Aguirre and Banx have been streaming live from the Dune Preserve to viewers around the world, which has helped sustain both musicians as Covid destroyed the gig industry. - CRISPIN THURSTON
  • CRISPIN THURSTON
  • Aguirre and Banx have been streaming live from the Dune Preserve to viewers around the world, which has helped sustain both musicians as Covid destroyed the gig industry.

Part of Aguirre's ability to make due on the island comes through the connections he made on previous trips through the region. Aguirre took his first tour through the Caribbean at the end of 2016, accompanying fellow St. Louis scene stalwart Hudson Harkins, drummer and bandleader of Hudson and the Hoo Doo Cats, on a three-week run through the Virgin Islands.

"He's been going down to the V.I. for maybe 25, 26 years," Aguirre says. "And we were out at the Beale on Broadway one afternoon after a gig or something, drinking beers. And I said, 'Are you still doing that run?' And he said, 'Yeah, I'm thinking about one more.' And I'm like, 'Fuck it, take me with you. I'll carry everything heavy, I won't complain,' you know. He's like, 'It's a three-week run.' I'm like, 'Perfect, sounds good, sign me up. Won't even charge a rate; let's just get it done.'"

Aguirre and Hawkins tapped Andy Coco, a KDHX DJ and bassist who has put time in for a number of local acts over the years, including the Street Fighting Band and Aguirre's Blu City All Stars, and the three set out as a trio performing on the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Tortola as the Hudson Hoodoo All Stars. At the end of that run, Aguirre sat down with Hawkins' booking agent and inquired about setting up another string of shows in the spring, but he was told that things were all booked up and he should try making a trip in the fall.

"Which, hindsight shows would have been after [Hurricane] Irma rolled through here and busted everything up — it wouldn't have been a possibility," he says. Undeterred, Aguirre got a run of shows put together for March 2017, bringing Coco and fellow St. Louis musicians Nathan Hershey and Tony Barbata along to accompany him, performing as Big Mike and the Blu City All Stars. "I put my head together, called some friends and lined up like a week's worth of shows in the V.I.," Aguirre says. "Came down for a week, had that Tuesday and Wednesday off, and just sent a Hail Mary request to the place I'd been in Tortola called Myetts and said, 'Hey, could you give the band a work permit, a gig, a room, some dinner — some combination of those things?' And they totally hooked it up."

That particular gig would prove to be a consequential one. In attendance that night was one Bankie Banx, organizer of Anguilla's Moonsplash Reggae Festival and owner of the bar where it takes place each year, the Dune Preserve.

The Dune Preserve has been Aguirre’s “office” for the last 300 days and counting. - HARBOUR WOODWARD
  • HARBOUR WOODWARD
  • The Dune Preserve has been Aguirre’s “office” for the last 300 days and counting.

"Normally, after all of these Moonsplashes, after all of the production that takes a month or two or even longer, he'll get on a boat and sail to a different island and go visit friends or this or that," Aguirre says. "So he happened to be in Tortola the night we played — this St. Louis band playing all this R&B and soul stuff. And he liked it, invited me for breakfast in the morning, and we chatted." A few months after that, on July 5, 2017, Banx flew Aguirre and Coco, who teamed up with yet more St. Louis musicians, Kevin O'Conner and Elliot Sowell, down to perform at the inaugural Rendezvous Bay Folk and Blues Fest, which Aguirre describes as "a little whirlwind four-day trip at the Dune Preserve."

Aguirre would go on to forge a tidy working partnership with Banx, and he flew down solo in June 2019 to perform at the Rendezvous Bay Folk and Blues Fest again, followed by an eighteen-day solo stay in Anguilla running from December 2019 to January 2020. It makes sense, then, that he was invited to play at this year's Moonsplash in March, which is what got him where he is today.

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