Think times are tough?

Consider what the Blu Simon band does.

At each performance, the group sells the T-shirt right off of its sound man's back.

OK, stop. The band doesn't really do that because of the softened economy. Selling the shirt is just part of the group's entertainment.

"We do all sorts of things like that in our show," said band manager Ben Shoemaker, adding that the group always gives the soundman a free shirt and that, although shirtless, he does wear a vest.

An Omaha band that plays classic rock 'n' roll tunes, Blu Simon performed at Fremont's Corner Bar in December. Shoemaker said the group also plans to play here in February and March.

In the meantime, the band is working to find 20 or more venues in the Midwest where young musicians can play their music and earn a living at it, Shoemaker said. The group primarily has been working with Corner Bar for the circuit, but does have performances scheduled in Lincoln, Chadron, Alliance and Omaha as well as some in Iowa and Kansas and are seeing if they'll be a good location for a stop on the circuit.

"By creating a circuit, you can create consistent, good entertainment in the venues on a weekly basis," he said. "By creating this consistent entertainment, you're going to develop an in-house crowd at these venues. We're trying to work with other bands and bars and venues that we think will work for the circuit."

Shoemaker also believes that towns, where the bands perform, benefit because group members eat at restaurants, stay at hotels and buy music supplies from stores in those communities.

Members of Blu Simon formed the band about

2 1/2 years ago. Band members are Ben's older brother, Aaron Shoemaker, who plays guitar and provides lead vocals; Garrison Garza, who plays bass and sings backup vocals; and Ben, the drummer, who also provides backup vocals.

The Shoemaker brothers have played music together for years. They came across their bass player in an unusual way. At the time Aaron Shoemaker was taking school photos for a living. Garza arrived late for his photo at an Elkhorn school. When he came to have his picture taken, Shoemaker noticed that Garza was wearing a guitar shirt.

After a little conversation, Garza agreed to try out for the band and then joined it.

Today, the group plays cover songs by groups such as The Beatles, ACDC, Black Sabbath and Foghat. The band also plays more than 35 original songs.

Last April, the band released a CD called "The American Dream," which features 15 songs.

Ben Shoemaker said the CD is a concept album, in which the separate songs flow together to tell a story.

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In August, group members left their jobs to become full-time musicians.

"If you want to do something, you've got to go at it full force," Shoemaker said.

There have been difficult times. The band didn't get paid what it was supposed to at a gig in Colorado. A transmission in one of the vehicles stopped working on another trip.

Even so, group members have enjoyed their times in the band.

"It's cool to see people having a good time and enjoying your music as much as you do," Shoemaker said.

Group members plan to keep building the circuit and finding bands for it.

"As long as we can see that we're growing, then we'll continue to do what we're doing," Shoemaker said. "We don't want to be stagnant and be 50 years old, playing in small clubs. We want to see growth eventually."


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