During the day, Evan Haines, Lucas Desmond, Dave Henault and Al Giusto have little in common.
Haines labors for the Portland Water District, Desmond is a financial adviser, Henault works for Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Giusto is a school resource officer.
But at night they’re all part of Portland’s live music scene, adept at juggling families, late-night gigs, and day jobs. Here’s how they keep the music alive – and pay the bills.
Evan Haines starts his day at 4 a.m. It’s his practice time and he’s got two hours before his boys – ages 3 and 5 – get up and he has to get ready for work as a utility specialist for the Portland Water District. He’ll work a full day, take care of the kids until his wife is done with work, then head off for a gig and try to be home by 10 p.m. so he can do it all again the next day.
“I’m pushing it on both ends really hard on a regular basis,” Haines said. “It would stress most people out.”
But instead of easing off, Haines is pushing himself further. While he’s busy in the local music scene, he’s also trying to break into the European music scene, write a new album, and improve his jazz playing through online classes. Haines said he does a lot of mental practice and visualizing in his head, but “getting the time to learn material is getting harder and harder.”
He typically has gigs twice or three times a week, with more in the summer. Besides his solo guitar work, he’s played with Pete Kilpatrick, Retrospecticus, Dean Ford, the annual Stevie Wonder tribute, and Kenya Hall, among others. He has also accompanied national artists like Lexi James, Sarah McLachlan, Sir James Galway, John Popper, and Tim Janis, and is preparing for his seventh year playing Janis’ American Christmas Carol Dec. 5 at Carnegie Hall.
“I work as a full-time musician, I would say,” Haines said.
At the same time, Haines works full time for the water district, doing dig-safe work and meter installations. He’s been there for nine years; five in his current position. Before he was promoted, he was doing repairs and would often put in 18-hour days in all types of weather, digging and repairing pipe.
Haines said he cut his fingers a lot and at one point realized he was losing some of his ability to play the guitar from swinging hammers all day. He also broke a lot of nails, which affected his finger-style playing.
While the job is easier now, Haines said he is still on the road all day.
“I recently started drinking coffee. That was something I never did before kids,” he said. He also eats a healthy diet, heavy in vegetables and fruit, and doesn’t drink any alcoholic beverages.
“I see guys have three beers at a gig and I can’t do that. I’d be dead,” Haines said.
Although he had considered making music his only job when he was younger, that’s not on the table now.
“I’m kinda stuck. The water district has the best benefit package I’ve ever heard of … that’s worth more than anything at this point,” Haines said. “It’s not a bad place to work. I’m outside all day.”
Lucas Desmond often checks financial markets and manages trades for clients on his iPad when he can’t be in the office. It’s what you would expect from an Edward Jones financial adviser. But not necessarily what you expect backstage at a rock show.
“One of the real advantages of the job is I can do it anywhere,” Desmond said. “I make my own schedule and can work around my calendar. I need to be available during market hours, but that’s the only thing that’s time sensitive.”
Desmond is fresh off a weekend of gigs in New York and New Hampshire with Rustic Overtones. The band left Friday afternoon for upstate New York, played a gig that night, then drove to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the next day for a show that started at 11 p.m.
“Rustic often does two to three nights at a time,” Desmond, saxophonist for the band, said. “We do two, three hours of work, but you lose two days. There’s so much time spent in a van and it’s not necessarily the most productive time.”
Desmond also plays with Royal Hammer, Gina and the Red Eye Flight Crew, Model Airplane, and Native Isles. He started playing sax when he was 10 (“It’s the easiest instrument in the world to play, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be better at it”) and studied jazz performance in college and summer schools. His father had a southern country gospel quartet, and he would tour with them in a converted school bus, playing churches and other venues. Desmond said he’s “pretty comfortable on a stage.”
While he said his music career could pay the bills in the summer, when he’s working three or four nights a week, the rest of the year “you’re sort of out of luck.” He said Rustic alone could almost pay the bills, but there are still sometimes substantial gaps between gigs.
And besides, Desmond likes his day job.
“I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I like having different things that need different attention. Playing a show is a change in mindset from going to the office. I feel like it could be keeping me sharp,” he said. “I go through moments where I feel like I’m not doing either of these pursuits justice, but they’re few and far between.”
He also likes being able to help fellow musicians and artists manage their money and make good financial choices. Edward Jones, he said, is a company that supports pursuing such clients, who aren’t typically great for the bottom line.
“I don’t like teaching music, but I love educating people about this stuff,” Desmond said. “I love working with other musicians. I get that what I do is not for most people.”
“It’s good to have something to pay the bills. My goal from the start was never to be a rock star,” said Dave Henault. “I don’t think I necessarily had the balls to abandon my day job and stability.”
During the day, Henault works for Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, finding ways to improve claims processing and implementing changes to automated systems. At night, he’s a drummer for the Fogcutters, Native Isles, Doubting Gravity, and Sly Chi, although they do not book much now.
“Being a part of the music industry has really helped my day job,” he said. He learned analytical skills from doing things like trouble-shooting a public address system, and interpersonal skills by negotiating bookings and smoothing over situations with club owners and other clients, he said.
Henault will play four or five shows a month, plus associated rehearsals. Working from home and an in-home practice space help him to manage his time, although some days are still almost 24 hours of work.
But he considers it all worth it.
“I’ve been playing music for so long it’s almost my identity. People call me Drummer Dave,” he said. “Being a musician and playing with people who you thoroughly enjoy their company, people who you’ve been playing with since college, it’s 100 percent worth it.”
Henault’s dad was a drummer who introduced him to drums when he was 5. By the age of 15, he was playing for money, getting dropped off at bars by his parents for gigs. By his 20s, he was playing four or five shows a week, plus holding down a full-time job.
“I would love to do it full time, but the amount I would have to work to pay the mortgage and health insurance – I would have to be away from my family a lot more than I do now,” said Henault, who is married and has a 3-year-old child. “Less family time isn’t my goal.”
When he’s playing a show at Amigo’s and someone comes up to him to say, “Hey, you’re the cop,” Al Giusto is a little hesitant.
“I’m like, ‘Did I arrest you?’” Giusto said.
More likely than not, the person has a child at South Portland High School, where he’s the school resource officer.
“People don’t expect musicians to be cops and cops to be musicians,” Giusto said.
At night, Giusto performs under the name Fat Knuckle Freddy, playing solo American primitive style guitar, and in a duo with a drummer, playing what he calls the “demon blues.” He released a CD, “Death Don’t Get No Blues,” earlier this month.
During the day, he wears many hats as the school resource officer. Giusto’s there for safety, to talk to students about the law and the risks of addiction, and about their problems. He describes himself as a “social worker with a gun,” and said being a musician helps him to connect with students.
“The kids who do play, you connect there. They see you as a person. It bypasses the uniform,” Giusto said.
He said being a school resource officer is an easy fit for a musician because he works school hours, and only schedules early gigs during the week. He saves late-night bar gigs for the weekend — and has no plans to give up either job.
“I have a family and I love my job,” Giusto said. “But if someone offers me a grand tour, I’m gonna take it.”
Freelance writer Lori Eschholz lives in South Portland.
Going for it
For years, Dave Ernst was a familiar face in the city’s restaurant scene as a delivery account manager for General Linen. A few months ago, however, he decided to take a “leap of faith” and go into music full time.
“My body was getting beat up and I was making more money on the weekend than during the week,” Ernst said. “I realized I could make more if I put more effort into it.”
“It’s been a journey in a great way” since he left his full-time job, Ernst said, because he’s been able to record and write music he was too busy to put down. He’s also taken on a part-time job with an insurance company (a job he did for 15 years before joining General Linen), which he plans to leave at the end of the year.
Ernst learned to play in church as a kid and picked up instruments along the way, including Hammond organ, keyboard, guitar, bass, and clarinet. He plays with Stolen Mojo, Ivory Rose, Auto Players, and L’il Mojo, along with his solo gigs.
“When I learned people were paying good money to go out and play, I jumped on the bandwagon,” Ernst said about his early years.
He said his dream is to “share my heart,” evoke emotion, and encourage people in their lives with a show that combines music with stories.
“I don’t want to leave this earth and be somebody who kept himself private and not vulnerable to others,” Ernst said. In the meantime, “I’m a professional musician now. You’ve got to book everything you can.”
Where to hear the music
Stolen Mojo, Dec. 6, Porthole.
The Fogcutters Superfantastic Christmas Extravaganza, Dec. 14, State Theatre.
A Tribute to Stevie Wonder, Dec. 28, Port City Music Hall.
Rustic Overtones, Dec. 31, State Theatre.
Evan Haines and Friends, fourth Wednesdays, Frontier, Brunswick.
LQH (the ‘H’ is for Haines), third Fridays, Dogfish.
Man vs Jazz (Haines and bassist Duane Edwards), first three Wednesdays, Hilton Garden Inn.
Fat Knuckle Freddy, on hiatus until spring. Watch for shows at Blue and Amigo’s.