“Johnny and the Moondogs” was one of the names the Beatles used when they were starting out in the music business. Today, we are delving into the backstory of Happy and the Moonshine, a talented local musical duo that someday might make Westerly almost as well-known as Liverpool, England. Hopefully, we can spread the word about this talented duo, and maybe someday we’ll be able to say “we knew them back when.”
Happy and the Moonshine consists of two down-to-earth young men with a passion for music and the talent to go along with it. Their website describes their music as an “eclectic mix from the past nine decades.” They perform everything from Gershwin classics, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, the contemporary hits of artists like Justin Timberlake, and everything in between. In other words, they aren’t your ordinary group that plays a specific genre of music and at a certain type of venue. They are just as comfortable playing John Denver as they are a Broadway hit or current hit single.
So, if you are a local who has yet to hear of this duo, or you are someone out of the area who is discovering the treasures of the Westerly area for the first time, it is an honor to introduce you to Happy and the Moonshine’s Michael Chicoria and David DeAngelis.
The duo agreed to an interview which took place on a rainy Saturday morning in October at the Westerly Library. They were one of the acts for the library’s 125 birthday celebration and took time out to sit and chat. Seated on the window seat near the new books and DVD sections, they answered questions and shared how Happy and the Moonshine came to be, their thoughts on music, and what they’d like to do in the future.
Mike and Dave have known each other since childhood. Music was something that brought them together. Both were involved in the Chorus of Westerly, and an appreciation for music was woven into their lives from an early age. Dave’s father was the musical director at Westerly High School and he credited his father as the prime influencer of his love for music, saying plainly and powerfully, “My father taught me what music was.”
Mike attended Westerly High and Dave went to Chariho High. After graduation, life took them in different directions for a while but they reconnected after a chance meeting in downtown Westerly. They started sitting in on each other’s performances and decided to work together in August of 2011. The rest, as they say, is history. Mike plays keyboard and Dave plays guitar. Dave is the lead singer and sometimes Michael will do backup vocals.
The most frequently asked question they get is how they got their name. Initially, they were known simply as “the Mike and Dave Show,” but they wanted to come up with something a little more catchy. They came up with one practical criteria, which was that they wanted the name to be unique so when someone searched for it online it would come up on the top of the list.
They first considered “Carpe Noctem,” Latin for “Seize the Night” because their gigs were primarily at night and they thought it would be a creative opposite to the familiar term “Carpe Diem,” which means “Seize the Day.” They discovered that a band in Germany already had that name, so the search continued. After multiple nights of brainstorming, the name came in a flash when Mike blurted out: “Happy and the Moonshine!” Dave liked it right away, so, they became Happy and the Moonshine and at the top of the search engine list!
Mike said that some people assume one of them is “Happy” and the other is “Moonshine,” but that’s not the case. Others think “Moonshine” means alcohol, but Mike said when he blurted out the name he thought of the moon in the night sky, not alcohol. Jokingly, Mike said, “If someone can come up with a better fictional story of how Happy and the Moonshine came to be, than the way it actually happened, we’d be happy to accept it!”
One of the neat things about both performers is their deep personal love for music and what they want to give to their audiences and fan base. Dave shared that music makes him feel good, and he wants others who are hearing the music to feel the same way.
Mike commented that we live in a society bombarded with social media and we often hear music playing in the background. He likes it best when the music is in the foreground and not just another background sound. He hopes people are captivated by the sound of their music.
Happy and the Moonshine plays in a variety of venues, mostly local, but they are available to play anywhere in the country. They’ve played weddings, private parties, at restaurants, bars, local venues like the Malted Barley, the Ocean House, and B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill. They also do a couple of charitable events a year.
Happy and the Moonshine has a really interesting offering for weddings that makes them unique to other bands. Because they are so versatile they play a set specifically suitable for the cocktail hour, another during dinner, and then can morph into DJs after dinner when it is time for dancing.
Both Mike and Dave are also busy with other interests. Mike teaches piano and plays with another band, and Dave plays solo gigs, is available for freelance audio and video work, and also sings for local Catholic funeral Masses. He’s also done theater. In the future, Mike would love to do a film score and learn more difficult Chopin pieces.
Overall, Mike and Dave both agree that it wasn’t that they chose a career in music, but that music chose them. They both feel that they “have to” play music, whether there is an audience or not. As Dave said, “When you have to sing, even for yourself, that is when you realize that music is choosing you.”
Anyone who listens to Happy and the Moonshine’s many varieties of music is grateful that music did choose them – because we all benefit, and maybe someday people will flock to Westerly to see where this dynamic music duo first started out. You can connect with Happy and the Moonshine via their website or via their Facebook page.