If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to a nightclub, the person in the DJ booth is no longer that unkempt dude, lazily smoking a cigarette and taking a dollar while you beg him to play Madonna. These days, professional DJs are up onstage, high above the crowd, infusing energy onto the dance floor. Some describe themselves as puppet masters—in ultimate control of the parties they preside over.
We recently visited with three popular Southwest Florida DJs to get a sense of their worlds, their own unique styles and the passion that drives them.
Club Kid Grows Up
At home in Fort Myers, with his fiancée and two kids, Christopher Fous is a family man and an entrepreneur trying to get an organic toothbrush company off the ground—but when he’s at Burning Man in Nevada conducting a six-hour set on a moving art car shaped like a giant airplane, he’s “Groove Chemist.” Fous has been pulling the strings on dance floors since he was a self-described “club kid” in late ’90s, but his love of music goes back to middle school when he played drums in a garage band (“We did a lot of Green Day covers,” he remembers, laughing). But, later, as a teen, when he first heard the music of Nine Inch Nails and caught the rave culture buzz of strobe lights, dance, fashion, electronic, he found his tribe. He sold his drum set for turntables and picked up DJ gigs in area clubs that embraced his sophisticated, high-energy mixes.
“Electronica is a niche,” Fous says, “especially around here. To make money, I’d need to be in Miami or New York.” Music is Fous’ art: “I don’t have to DJ, I get to DJ.” Lately, he’s played at Zombicon in downtown Fort Myers, plus fashion shows and private parties. Like most DJs of the millennium, he keeps his crates of records at home and travels with the less backbreaking iPad for music storage. “When I’m behind the decks, I do not stop moving,” he says. “I have a blast sharing my sounds.”
Director of Entertainment
Late-night revelers at Mercato know Travis McReynolds, DJ T-Mac, for his mixing expertise at Burn by Rocky Patel. In fact, his work impressed Patel so much that McReynolds earned the title “director of entertainment” at the popular club.
McReynolds started in his hometown of Detroit. “That’s where rave was born,” he says. At first, he was just a patron; then he started carrying the equipment of more established DJs as they mentored him. He found himself spinning in Europe and eventually landed in Naples. Burn is his main gig, but he DJs parties, corporate gigs and other events. McReynolds sees his business growing: “I’d love to mentor other aspiring young DJs and eventually have a staff—I’m ambitious about this business.”
From Karaoke to DJ
The enthusiasm in Melissa Crawford’s voice is infectious as she tells of becoming “DJ Mad Mel”. The 39-year-old Fort Myers native has sold fireworks most of her life. But, a dozen years ago, her lifelong love of music paid off when a karaoke emcee at Tubby’s Bar called in sick. “I just happened to be there, so the boss asked me to run the show,” Crawford says. “In between singers, I played music—everybody loved my mixes.” Soon, she found herself as a regular DJ at Tubby’s, plus B-103.9 radio picked up her upbeat morning “Eagle Mix” five days a week. Mad Mel is now a fixture on the club scene—venues include The Bottom Line, World of Beer, Stevie Tomatoes and more. She works at least 80 hours a week.
“It’s not an easy business to break into for a girl,” Crawford says. “You have to work twice as hard—you have to prove yourself.” DJ Mad Mel is just as popular for her ability to bring fun to a dance floor as she is for her mixes. “I’m shocked and blessed to be able to do this and actually get paid for it.”
Andrea McArdle Is Back
Andrea McArdle, Broadway’s original “Annie,” returns to TheatreZone in Naples for the professional theatre’s 10th anniversary celebration and she couldn’t be more thrilled. “I love Naples,” she says. “It’s like this secret little unspoiled side of paradise.”
TheatreZone Producing Artistic Director Mark Danni met McArdle in the ’90s during the national tour of Les Miserables.
“Andrea’s a dynamite singer, actress and great friend,” he says.
When Danni started TheatreZone, he asked McArdle to play the title role in Evita. She happily accepted—since then, she’s returned for two more shows. “I really enjoy regional theater,” the Broadway veteran says. “I get to play some fantastic roles and discover these wonderful little pockets around the country.”
The event will include four concerts starring several past performers with McArdle as headliner. McArdle’s set will feature familiar Broadway favorites from past shows. Does she still sing Tomorrow from Annie? You bet’cher bottom dollar she does—and she will.
In fact, at press time, the Annie of 1977 had just seen the new Hollywood Annie of 2014. “I was surprised—I really liked it,” McArdle says. “The new music by Sia was fantastic and all the kids were fabulous.”
In show business since she was 7, McArdle advises young actors to see and do all the live theater they can. “Community theaters are the best way to get your feet wet,” she says. “Every aspiring actor should work backstage and learn the ropes. These days, you can make a YouTube video and get a record contract, but I’m old-school. Learn from the bottom up.”
McArdle stays busy with tours, concert performances and theater roles: “There are so many successful regional theaters all over the country—from what I see, theater is alive, well and thriving.”
THEATREZONE’S 10TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
Community School of Naples, G&L Theater Building, 13275 Livingston Road
• Feb. 20, 8 p.m. • Feb. 21, 8 p.m. • Feb. 22, 2 p.m. and 7:30 pm. Tax-deductible tickets, $100 each;
VIP center aisle tickets, $125 each— includes a wine and cheese reception following the concert in the G&L Theatre annex Lakeside
(888) 966-3352, theatrezone-fla.com