She Moves Through Music

Genevieve Esapas’s calling came from the urgent opening bars of The Doors “Break On Through”, “I was 11 and it came on over the morning announcements  at school and. I was like, ‘this is it, this is what I want to do forever.”

Growing up the youngest of five in Ellenwood, GA, The Doors were a stark departure from a childhood steeped in the sounds of gospel music and scripture readings.

Determined to make her way to the other side, Genevieve got an early start, teaching herself chords on a $35 thrift store guitar. The first song she learned to play was the Misfits “Hybrid Moments,” a punk rock thread that continues to pull through her life today. 

Evidence of that thread can be found in her mixed media art pieces and collection of tattoos which includes a red ink tribute to The New York Dolls, applied DIY style with a sewing needle, “I love Johnny Thunders,” she admits, “I have an affinity for Cancer men.” 

Over her heart another tattoo ‘you make me ___’ suggesting an enduring openness to the unknown. 

After moving to Palm Springs, Florida for high school, Genevieve played in a string of bands, touring the United States with a variety of them.

At points, she made her way across the country on the arteries of its tracks; hopping trains and playing songs. Time spent in the south and on trains built an appreciation for the defiant sound and spirit of outlaw country. 

“I feel like from my experience of life, I have a lot of independence. I make decisions on my own. I move on my own. I go to places on my own. I’ve been to all these different cities, all of these places and I’m always just like ‘I’m going to find a bar, I’m going to find a jukebox.’ I can go somewhere I’ve never been and just be.”

Her first introduction to Key West came from a bandmate who returned from the island wearing a sailor hat and a smile and carrying a Pokemon weed grinder, “He said, ‘I just came back from Key West and I’m just so free.’”

Like many musicians before her, Genevieve was led to the end of the road by the end of a relationship. 

Following a breakup and making good on the invitation of a friend who lived on Southard Street, Genevieve arrived eight years ago. “I got here around Christmas and there was that guy who paints his whole body and wears the speedo. He was riding his bike and he had red angel wings and a black dog and his whole body was painted red. I thought, ‘Now this, this I can get with.'”

Not long after, and on account of the acoustics, she began busking in front of the La Concha Hotel on Duval Street. 

Busking comes from the Spanish “buscar,” meaning “to seek,” and what Genevieve finds in busking is intimacy and immediacy, “I like that people can relate to it more. When someone is playing on a stage people think of them as a separate thing but when you see someone playing on the street, you tap right in.”

Genevieve who also plays the violin, viola, cello, bass, piano and washboard, insists 

kids make for the best crowds, “Sometimes they’ll just stand and stare and take it all in. Maybe they’ve never seen anyone playing on the street because they’re from somewhere that’s usually cold and nobody’s doing it. It’s just so fun because they’re impressionable, and I like to make that impression.”

In addition to her street shows, Genevieve has performed for crowds at Heroes Bar and Hugh’s View at the Studios of Key West. She recently completed a year-long residency at B.O.’s Fish Wagon.

The history of B.O.’s, as a live music landmark and favored venue of piano pushing, blues singing Barry Cuda spoke, our sang, to her. “It was a passion project for me. I was like, ‘wow, this place used to have a lot of great people playing here so let’s vibe it up, let’s bring it back.’”

The songs she chooses to play are most often a blessed deviation from the status quo. “‘I listen to music as often as I can, I always try to stay inspired. At first I went around town and I listened to as much as I could and I recognized some repetition. I thought, ‘what’s not going on here?’ I want to bring out things that nobody is doing or singing but should be.” 

She doesn’t play “Brown Eyed Girl,” or “Wagon Wheel,” but she does true justice to musicians like Blaze Foley, the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and Leadbelly.

For Genevieve there’s a kind of uniformity in the Key West music scene reflected not only in the songs that are played but in the people that are playing them. “There’s lots of talent in Key West. There’s a surging amount of musicians but not many of them are women or people of color.” 

As she is both, she fields constant comparison to and requests for songs by Tracy Chapman, “I have never had a Tracy Chapman moment in my life. People are always like ‘Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman,’ and maybe that could be a money grab,” she jokes, ” I should do it one time at some show ‘I’ll say, ‘All right. I know y’all been waiting for this. Here we go!”

Genevieve resists comparisons to Chapman or anyone else. “I don’t equate myself with other existences. The things I generate are just from inside, It’s not from anything I see. I’ve never really related to anyone. I relate to music.” 

At the insistence of fellow musician Sam Carlson, Genevieve began playing the Thursday night open jam at Andy’s Cabana on Petronia Street, where she has become a fixture. She counts Carlson as a friend and inspiration and points to the other musicians that frequent Andy’s as the communal stitch of what keeps her in Key West. As she sees it, “Not everybody moves through music, but you can’t hear it and not be moved by it.” 

And to hear Genevieve is to be moved by her.

See her every Wednesday afternoon at Winslow’s Bungalows and every Thursday at Andy’s Cabana. For more information, booking, and upcoming shows follow her on Instagram at @genevievestrums.

Reda Wigle
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