Michael Rusch is the "house musician" at Green Springs Bistro in Safety Harbor.
He and his acoustic guitar provide the background music for diners in the Key Westy atmosphere of this fine local restaurant located in an old wood frame home on Fourth Avenue North.
For the past twelve years Michael has sat upon a tall stool with his notebook of a thousand songs spread out on a stand in front of him. He is quiet in the extreme. His personality is submerged in his music. He's a man of custom and personal traditions. Each Sunday night Michael dutifully changes the strings on his guitar to have the bright sharp sound he treasures Tuesday morning when he goes back to playing.
"When you first put the nylon strings on they stretch like crazy, so I like to give them a couple days to get them into playing shape," Michael explained.
"I know I don't seem to have much of a personality from where I sit to entertain. I don't wear fancy clothes, I don't tell jokes or interact very much with the clientele but I don't believe that's my purpose. They don't come here to see me. They come for the dining experience. It's my job to provide an atmosphere that they'll enjoy," said Michael.
He went on to explain, "I study the people when they come into the dining rooms. I study their age and try to figure out who were their musical heroes when they were in their twenties and thirties? I play everything from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to the Beatles and Pink Floyd with everything in between. I scale the volume down to make the listening comfortable so diners can talk and enjoy their meals without my playing being the center of attention. When I come to work I check my ego at the door."
It's this personal philosophy of playing that has enabled him to keep his guitar playing gig for so many years at the same venue. This is rare for musicians who often think the people are coming to see them. In a theater atmosphere that might be true, but for dining pleasure Michael believes his purpose is to become the atmosphere rather than the center of attention.
If someone approaches him with a song request, he tries to honor it. If he doesn't know the piece well he'll learn it by the time they come back in a week or so and will play it the moment he sees them enter the restaurant. House musicians generally rely on tips and CD sales to augment their salary. Such is the case with Michael who often plays from the four CDs he has for sale in order to promote his original songs.
Two of his favorite compositions are, "Flamingoes in the Air," and "Skipping Stones." Both are reflective of his native Curacao home. Curacao is an island in the Dutch West Indies of the Caribbean. Michael was born there and spent the first 16 years of his life on the island. His family had escaped the invasion of their Indonesian homeland when the Japanese took over. It was always Michael's dad's wish to move to the U.S., but they came here by degrees using Curacao as the first major step in their plan.
Michael grew up speaking Dutch and Papeamentau, a native language with roots from Africa. It was spoken by ex-slaves brought to the island by Portuguese and the Dutch.
Michael's father picked up a hitchhiker walking from the local seminary. He brought him home for dinner. During dinner the guest started sharing stories about the beauty, quiet and charm of Safety Harbor. The dinner guest's name was Frank Preston. For eight years Preston was the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Safety Harbor. Continuing with the plan to get to the States, Michael's dad packed his wife and four sons and made the jump to this little town on the edge of Olde Tampa Bay.
Michael attended Dunedin High at age 16. He spoke no English when he enrolled and felt terribly out of place. He scampered to learn the language and shortly before his eighteenth birthday passed the test for U.S. citizenship. Following high school graduation Michael took jobs in retail. At one time he was a manager of a Radio Shack store. A disagreement with the regional manager caused him to walk from the job. For a while he wondered how to get started in life all over again?
Michael had been playing guitar since he was four. He tried playing with other musicians but felt he was at his best when playing solo. For three years he played at The Blue Magnolia. This was an intimate dining restaurant that had
once been in a strip mall on Main Street. Paul Kapalis was one of the chef's there. The Blue Magnolia closed it's Safety Harbor location and moved to Tampa.
Paul Kapalis and his wife Kris Kubik developed plans to open Green Springs Bistro. Michael Rusch wanted to be included. He told Paul he wanted to be on board and only asked to be part of the restaurant's daily operation. Michael said, "I wanted to play every day they were open." Paul Kapalis agreed. That relationship has been music to everyone's ears to this day.
To hear Michael's marvelous musicianship go to Green Springs Bistro any day they're open from Tuesday through Saturday. Michael will be at his spot in the dining room next to the bar from 11:30 in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon Tues. - Saturday. Friday and Saturday evenings Michael plays from 5:30-9:30. Green Springs can be reached at (727) 669-6762.