The two main musicians who make up postmodern jazz band Hot Tonic rolled into Gulfport less than a year ago for a quick jam. Now, they’re playing local stages six days a week.
While there might be up to 10 people filling the stage for a Hot Tonic show, the root of their sound lies in the pairing of Victoria Woods and Josh Hindmarsh.
She’s a 29-year-old from Columbus, Ohio on double bass and lead locals; he’s a 44-year-old from rural New Zealand on guitar and backup. The duo came together in a fateful session at an artist retreat in Columbus.
“I could hear Victoria’s groove in the bass just after the first few beats,” Hindmarsh said. “Within four beats I knew she could play and what she was doing spoke to me.”
Woods, a third generation big band leader whose father was the marching band director at Ohio State University for 38 years, took to leading the group naturally.
“I play music because there’s nothing else I want to do,” she said.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
In November 2020, the first person they met in Gulfport was local arts supporter and Airbnb host Larry Enlow, who rented his art house to the duo for a month.
“Larry came out in a tie-dyed Black Lives Matter shirt with a bottle of champagne and we knew it was a good part of Florida,” Woods recalled. “We were just gonna stay for the month and see what the local music scene was about.”
Soon, they had gigs booked.
By the end of their stay, they had a choice: make the drive back to frigid Ohio in the dead of winter, or stay and sleep in their van. The musicians quickly chose the latter.
“We faced the professional dilemma of sleeping in parking lots,” Woods said.
Thankfully, the nomadic life was short-lived.
“Gulfport appreciated creativity and appreciated not hearing a band that’s a copy of other bands,” Hindmarsh said. “Everyone here is an artist and everyone is encouraged to be. It’s about keeping Gulfport weird.”
Staying put is new for both Woods and Hindmarsh, who played a handful of New Zealand and Australian music festivals before the shutdowns.
“Once everything opens up, we’re definitely planning on some more traveling gigs,” Woods said.
While Hot Tonic always features Woods on the giant double bass and Hindmarsh on guitar, the band formed into variations of a ten-piece ensemble: a party band and an acoustic group, and sometimes a little of everything.
The shifting lineup is born of necessity. Ten people fitting into schedules and small stages isn’t always feasible, and not every venue can contain the sound of big band. The entire ensemble includes a keyboard, drums, trombone, trumpet and saxophone – and occasionally a second guitar.
Whatever the lineup, the group brings big energy to regular gigs at the Taphouse, The Floridian, the Tiki Bar & Grille and wherever else they end up in one of their two incarnations, depending on the scene.
“We don’t have big rehearsals,” Hindmarsh said. “Everything happens on the stage. And that’s the way we like it.”
The group performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in June and is slated to partner with ROB Galleries, an international gallery group that has locations in Rome, Orlando and in Gulfport starting 2023.
“We just are so thankful to the community, especially the Gulfport community, for supporting us,” Woods said. “It’s surreal.”
Follow Hot Tonic at hottonicmusic.com.