It was a foggy Thanksgiving Day in 1977 when the cargo ship, Gilberto, carrying over 25 tons of marijuana, crashed into the Fernandina Beach jetties. The ship’s captain knew he was in trouble, and so he ordered the contraband to be set on fire.
In theory, this might have seemed like a good idea, until the ship’s fuel tanks ignited, causing the vessel to explode. Bundles of cannabis and clouds of cannabis smoke poured out into the water, beach, and sand dunes on north Amelia Island. From that day forward, Ocean Avenue, on the north end of Amelia Island, was nicknamed “Reefer Road.”
Forty-three years later, a group of five musicians were jamming at 7th Street and Reefer Road trying to figure out what their band should be called. “We wanted a name with ties to Fernandina Beach and we wondered, how did Reefer Road get its name?” After learning the story of the Gilberto, the quintet knew they had found what they were looking for: “Gilberto ’77,” a unique name with an even better story that nods to locals who remember Thanksgiving Day 1977.
Today, Gilberto ‘77 is three years old and renowned as a local, original band whose members write their own music and lyrics. “If you ask our genre, we can’t say, and neither can anyone else,” they laugh. “We’ve been called ‘Jam Band,’ ‘Surfer Band,’ and ‘Dave Matthews Band,’ with a sprinkle of reggae, hip-hop, and funk. We love that nobody can put a pin on us, and we take pride in entertaining across genres. Our main goal is to play a vibe that represents Fernandina Beach and the people who call our island home.”
With band members contributing their own culturally and musically eclectic backgrounds, the blend is extraordinary. “Gilberto ‘77 is made up of some seriously talented musicians that we are lucky to have on our little island,” says fan Drew Scott. With Michael Hawthorne on drums and lead vocals, Patrick Haynes on guitar and piano, Andrew Christopher on mandolin and guitar, Tommy Pelkowski on bass, and Ernest Gonzales on sax, the result is an intermingling of classic rock, reggae, pop, funk and bluegrass, with inspiration from a number of musical communities across the country. Best of all, Gilberto ‘77 is ready, willing, and able to play anything and everything!
“I was so impressed with them that I invited them to our ranch in Montana last June, and they blew the audience away,” says Drew. While going on the road is something they enjoy, having played recently in Vero Beach, Pensacola Beach, and elsewhere, their primary passion is to entertain in 32034. Regularly, you will find them onstage at Green Turtle Tavern, Mocama Beer Company, local festivals, and of course, on all streaming platforms.
“I love streaming the band on music apps, but seeing them live is truly amazing. Their sound is incomparable, and the way it’s all put together during live performances really showcases
their talents.” says Chris Evans, another local fan.
While playing music is the group’s passion, they also love giving back to the next in line while helping Amelia Island’s music community grow and flourish. “We aspire to support the music scene and invite musicians to come play their originals beside us, students to join for their first times on stage, and we host an ‘open jam’ at Green Turtle on the first Monday of each month.”
Gilberto ‘77 is proud of the following they’ve built and looks forward to creating more tunes to rain down on Amelia Island next year. Visit gilberto77.com to hear their music and find out where you can find them onstage. And if you want to know more about the ill-fated Gilberto, visit the Amelia Island Museum of History.