The Enthusiasts are THE best Skagit County band that you’ve most likely never heard of. They are THE Skagit County band to watch in 2020.
The core of the Enthusiasts are siblings Sommer Velin-Carter and Andrew Velin. Sommer and Andrew were born and raised in Orange County, California and were involved in music through their church. When they were late adolescents they started their first band, “Level”, a Christian based group. At the time, Andrew was in high school and Sommer was around 21. A few years later, the siblings started to get more serious about their music endeavors, writing and composing original songs. At this time they were heavily influenced by folk artists and song writers such as Bob Dylan and Nancy Griffith. They met Bill Burgess, a Julliard trained Jazz drummer, producer and engineer. Bill joined the band and the name changed to “Velin”, Sommer and Andrew’s surname. Bill helped them get to the next step … recording their first LP. The name of the recording is “Instinctive” and came out around 1999. “Velin” was playing gigs and trying to get into the LA music scene but were unsuccessful. Not having a manager, as well as the band being inexperienced at the promotion end of the business, they were not able to establish themselves in the bigger music scene areas. Also a factor, life happened. Andrew got married and Sommer followed suit shortly after. Sommer’s husband, Rob Carter, was just starting medical school which was funded through the Navy so they were relocated out of California. Andrew and his wife, Heidi, started traveling abroad and both couples started families.
Fast forward to a little more than a decade later, Sommer’s husband Rob finished his internship in Seattle and took a job at Island Hospital in Anacortes. At this same time, Andrew and Heidi were looking to move out of Southern California. Andrew and his family came up to Anacortes several times to visit Sommer and her family, and they ended up falling in love with the area. So they sold everything they could and moved to Skagit County.
Sommer and Andrew took up right where they left off musically …. although it was just the two of them playing and writing songs on the weekends. A couple of years ago, bass player Doug Cassidy and drummer Robert Shapanus, both with the Anacortes band “The Mosstones”, were asked to join The Enthusiasts. Shortly after, Mirah Erken, friend of Andrew and Sommer, also joined. She started off playing the accordion but that is not an instrument that does well in live shows …. so she switched to the keyboards. The band was rounded out with a mandolin player …. who just happens to be Sommer’s husband, Rob Carter.
The band name came from a friend of theirs who said “you’re just so enthusiastic!” Which they were … and still are. The adjective suited them so it became the band name.
I’m a music fan that dislikes putting music into a box and labeling it. All music is unique …. music is art. So to push hundreds of thousands of bands into one category has never worked for me. But in order to illustrate them I guess I would have to say they are Americana, Folk, Gypsy, Roots with a Rock & Roll edge. This is not your grandma’s folk band …. this is Rock & Roll. Andrew shreds some mean guitar solos. Drummer, Robert, who followed the Grateful Dead for two years and played in New York in the same circuits along side The Blues Travelers and The Spin Doctors, is no stranger to the world of Rock & Roll. Doug Cassidy, who bass playing was influenced by Kiss’ Gene Simmons, spent his teenage years thru young adult playing punk rock. And Mirah, who’s folk influences mirror that of Sommer and Andrew, can basically play nearly every instrument and is always eager to jump in and start pounding the keys. Then there’s Rob, a talented mandolin player who happens to be married to the spit-fire of the entire band ….. Sommer Velin-Carter. As talented and well versed as all the band members are ….there would be no Enthusiasts without Sommer.
I don’t even know where to start to describe Sommer Velin-Carter. Powerful ….. firecracker ….. passionate ….. intense ….. I want to say she’s similar to a Janis Joplin type in the fact that she commands your attention when she’s onstage and she has some guttural wails that start off low and by the time they’re ending up high, you find yourself hollering and jumping up and down with her. There’s no way that this article does The Enthusiasts justice. Only by coming to a show will you be able to see for yourself the collective talent, heart and passion these six individuals have. And after you’ve seen them …. I promise you’ll be doing Sommer howls in the shower just like me.