In my journey around Hawai’i island to interview various musicians, one of the hardest working bands I’ve encountered is the Average Joes. While their name might not dazzle you, their music and stage presence will. One of the keys to the Hilo-based band’s popularity and full-gig schedule is frontman Ryan Sabate. He heavily promotes the band on social media, books all of their gigs, and organizes the Joecast– an informal video podcast that takes place in the back of Big Island Guitars in Hilo after business hours. Sabate, who faithfully populates my in-box with weekly info about where the band will be playing next, invited me to be a guest on Joecast episode #8. Comments in this article were taken from that show.
The Averages Joes play a mix of Top-40 pop hits and along with funk/dance tunes. They formed in 2016 when drummer Jason Silva saw Sabate playing some classic rock guitar riffs at a party and approached him about forming a band. Before saying yes, Sabate did some web research and found a video of Silva playing front and center in a college drummer line. “If you can do that,” said Sabate to Silva, “what we play will be easy!” Sabate did some previous musical projects with bassist Scott Sayers, and worked with keyboardist Grayson Ishihara at a local church, and eventually brought everyone together to form the newly minted quartet, but they hadn’t finalized their name yet.
“For the first edition of the band, we called ourselves Circle of Trust,” recalled bassist Sayers with some hesitation. “We got booked for gigs before the band was up and running,” added Sabate, who came up with the name Average Joes. He admits its origin stems from the 2004 movie Dodgeball, where a bunch of underdogs form a team to save the Average Joe’s Gymnasium from closing. “For my history in Hilo,” said Sabate, “I always felt like I was an underdog, or a black sheep, based on the way I operated, like being shunned by other musicians. I’m a little OCD about the way I like the stage set up – No messy cables! We run a tight ship and keep the shows fast-paced and flowing. We’re trying to bring an arena show to the local clubs.”
One of the ways they accomplish that is through good lighting, special effects, and guitarist Sabate plays wirelessly so he can walk out about 200 feet into the crowd and play to people in the back of the room. “At Laverne’s Sports Bar in Kona I played outside the club on the wall with the traffic going by,” fondly remembers Sabate.
Keyboardist Grayson Ishihara is the youngest member and keeps the band up-to-date on what’s popular in music and would work well in the set. This helps out immensely since island audiences differ on the east and west coasts. “On the east side,” said Sabate, “it’s like you’re playing for your aunt and uncle, but when you go to the west side, there’s a lot of tourists and they know the popular songs we do, and it goes over really well. We tend to gravitate towards Kona because of the energy the crowd gives us, and we feel appreciated there. When we play Laverne’s’, they can hear us on Ali’i Drive, and come running up the stairs. We don’t have any weak songs in our sets, and our catalog is carefully picked as well.”
The “Joes” are not shy when it comes to social media and spend their down time efforts growing a “friend base,” not a fan base. “I think we’re one of the few Big Island bands that’s relentless about self-promotion,” said Sabate. “If you wanna eat, you gotta fish. If you want the crowds to come, you have to do the offstage work ahead of that. It’s paid off too. We’re probably the busiest band on the Big Island. We play Hilo and Kona, and whoever else will have us. We like to play a lot, and money is never an issue with the band. We’re flexible about the amount we get paid. The venues appreciate that and keep having us back.” The other benefit the band experiences from their Kona gigs is that they’ve built up an international following. “We now have friend’s who like our Facebook page from the UK, the Netherlands, and all over the world,” added drummer Silva.
You can catch the Average Joes live at the following venues:
July 20 – Laverne’s (Kona)
July 27 – Hilo Town Tavern
August 3 – Laverne’s (Kona)
August 10 Korner Pocket (Kona)
September 14 -Eagles (Keaau/Hilo)
September 20 – Hawaii County Fair
September 21 – Laverne’s (Kona)
September 28 – Korner Pocket (Kona)
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Featured image courtesy of the Average Joes’ Facebook page.