Local band gone big, returns to play their “Sweet Home” Yucaipa

Michael Finn and Steve Gauronski

When Michael Finn of Yucaipa, Darryl Reed of Riverside and Mike Hunter, of Yucaipa, decided to start a band, little did they know that in the span of a few years, they would be touring the U.S.

Southbound and Company, with their Skynyrd and Frynds tribute, have played the American Gardens Theatre, at Epcot Center in Orlando, The Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun, Mexico, And the world-famous L.A. area nightclubs whiskey A Go-Go and House of Blues.

The band has built quite a following of fans that repeatedly come out to support their shows.

Now the band will rock-out it’s hometown crowd at the Yucaipa Performing Arts Center for Autumn Fest, with their Skynyrd and Frynds tribute, Friday, Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

“I started playing (guitar) when I was around 10,” said Finn. “I was heavily influenced by the British Invasion guitarists as well as people like Johnny Cash, John Denver, and bands like CCR.”

When Finn was a child, he was quite shy. He used the guitar as a way to find an identity.

“Playing the guitar became a part of my identity,” said Finn. Something that I could develop on my own that was mine, but also something that I could share with others.”

Finn’s talent on guitar is immense. He is a perfectionist, and it shows when he shreds through the riffs he plays night after night like clockwork.

Finn, who portrays Gary Rossington, is inspired by the likes of Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Paige. Finn started with old folk songs and progressed to Johnny Cash, John Denver and the Beetles, and many other greats.

Touring the country with a band can be tough, admits Finn. “Being away from home and family for extended periods is tough. Another factor is trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Living out of a suitcase can be very challenging.”

Finn loves to perform on the road but is happy to be coming home to play a local gig. “I love the new arts center, and the whole band is very excited to be performing at this state-of-the-art facility,” said Finn. “Also, I think the physical location of the center will play a very pivotal part in the continued growth of the City of Yucaipa.”

Driving the beat on drums is Yucaipa drummer Mike Hunter. Hunter grew up in Calimesa and attended Yucaipa High School. He played drums in the high school band and started by playing in many Inland area bands including Entourage, Chalice, Strange Behavior, Subtle Thunder, Radio Flyers, Hip Shot, and various others.

Hunter developed his talent at the top of a barn in Calimesa, California. The barn was well known for musical talent and was the place to jam in the 80s.

Hunter has an uncanny ability to capture an audience with his playing style and keeps perfect time.

“I started playing drums at about five years of age,” said Hunter. “It’s just something I’ve always done even as a 3-year-old boy; I was banging on pots and pans. But what sealed the deal was watching a guy named Jim Massey set up his drums for my brother John’s graduation party,” said Hunter. “Seeing him play just did something to me.”

Hunter credits the support of his wife Cheryl to part of his success. They are parents of an Autistic son, which can be a big challenge by itself, but they manage to give him the support needed and remain able to both pursue successful careers.

Also, Hunter says, “I have played with a lot of bands through the years and would like to give a shout out to them and to all the people who have been there for me. They have shaped my style of playing.”

Hunter recalls the moment his Rock and Roll journey took a turn for the better. “Meeting Mike Finn and lead vocalist Darryl Reed changed everything for me,” said Hunter. “We just clicked we’ve been on this journey for ten years now and done so much, we’ve been all over the country, been on T.V. a couple of times, and met some great people.”

With influences such as the great Buddy Rich, Neal Peart, Dennis Chambers, Chad Wacherman, Ian Pace and Bill Ward, and his high school band director Kim Kruger, it is no wonder Hunter is as accomplished as he is on the drums.

“Watching Joe Walsh’s drummer at his concert, up on the riser, in those lights was one of the defining moments of my life. It captivated me,” said Hunter.

Also from Yucaipa, is lead guitarist Steven Gauronski. Gauronski has performed with the band since 2016. Gauronski began playing music in the mid-1970s but as a bassist.

“I had always been interested in guitar as well and was fortunate to play with some great players, so learning guitar seemed to come naturally,” said Gauronski. “I switched to guitar as my main instrument in the mid-1990s and began playing night clubs, casinos, and concerts all over Southern California.”

And the rest was history. When Steven is not playing for the Skynyrd and Frynds tribute, he acts as an audio engineer for the other tributes they perform.

“We travel quite a distance to play some of the larger venues,” said Gauronski. “So it will be great to perform right here in our hometown at the Yucaipa Performing Arts Center where our local friends an family can come to enjoy the show.”

The presence of Finn and Gauronski, together onstage is a formidable one. The duo puts on a master class when they bring the house down with “Freebird,” a song that Guitar World ranked third in their list of the “50 Greatest Guitar Solos Ever.”

The band is full of seasoned performers. As Ronnie Van Zandt, Darryl Reed provides authentic, soulful southern vocals, and plays a mean Guitar and Harmonica. He also performs his parts dead on, to the pitch-perfect harmonies of Wendy Dinkel and Cyndi Lopez who also call Yucaipa home.

Dinkel was the lead vocalist and Co-lyricist in the band “Strange Behavior,” together with Hunter years ago. She always had aspirations to perform in a Pro-level Rock and Roll band, and after singing with the band recently in Las Vegas, she has achieved that goal.

“I am delighted to be back touring with a live rock band,” said Dinkel. I am having the time of my life!”

Lopez has been singing for over 35 years “I fronted two extremely popular cover bands in the casino circuit for over ten years,” said Lopez. “Then I took a few years off to focus more time on my boy’s sports and extracurricular activities. The opportunity then came to me to join this fantastic tribute band, and I jumped at the chance.”

In addition to the performers from Yucaipa, the band also features the dynamic Patrick Vargas of Riverside on Piano and Organ, as well as Kevin Haerr of Big Bear on Bass Guitar.

The band brings their Skynyrd and Frynds tribute to Autumn Fest, Friday, Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m., with Jumping Jack Flash headlining Saturday Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to www.yucaipa.org.

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