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Pelican West returns for hometown gig

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Robb Frederick
Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2002

Last week's Pelican West homecoming show came at a bad time: The Boss was across town, rousing a sell-out, lit-Bics Mellon Arena crowd.

You can't compete with that.

The five-piece stuck to the script, though. The band, which formed in Greensburg 13 years ago, knows its niche. For six years, they've been the house band at the Radisson at South Padre Island, a five-mile tropical resort on the southern tip of Texas. They play the 225-seat Quarterdeck Lounge, home of the Wednesday night crab races.

"We're not big time," says bassist Damion Giacchino, "but we're touching some people."

It's a nice life, free of the nine-to-five grind. Giacchino and the other band members — drummer Tom Johnson, guitarist Craig McWhinney, keyboardist Darren Rapp and singer Pamela Rich — live at the resort. They're booked 46 weeks a year.

They tried the island in 1996, after a long stint at the Four Points Hotel by Sheraton near Greensburg. They went for a month.

"We treated it as a vaction," Giacchino says. "But we got down there, and we fell in love with the island."

They welcomed the steady work, which spared them touring life, sleeping on a bus or double-bunked in motels.

"It really makes a difference, being in one place and not living out of a bus," Giacchino says. "We've been able to settle in and write music. We've established ourselves as artists."

The band has worked several originals into its sets. The island's mayor picked one, "South Padre Island," as the community's official song.

Mostly, though, they play covers, following a Patsy Cline cut with one from Rush, and following that with an Alanis Morissette single.

The mix is aimed at all kinds of listeners. "In a hotel format, you get a variety of people," Giacchino says. "They all know how to have a good time."

The crowds come in waves: First the winter Texans, who want country or oldies; then the spring breakers; then the summer Bermuda-short set. That's the family crowd, with kids allowed until 10:30 p.m.

"That's the cool thing about the resort," Giacchino says. "When you have a parent saying she needs two CDs — one for her and her husband, and another one for her daughter, that's really unique."

The band's debut, "Picture Perfect," was finished in 2000. Giacchino hasn't been home since.

He made sure this trip, his first Christmas visit in four years, was long enough for some home shows. In addition to last week's gig, at the Hard Rock Cafe in Pittsburgh, the band will do 11 nights at Four Points. They also will host an open stage for local players Sunday.

Giacchino hopes the band's early fans will come back out for those shows. But he doesn't know what to expect.

"No guarantees, I guess," he says. "Do we still have a local following• WIll they still come out and support us• I really hope so."

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