The members of Fortunate Youth were in different bands when they started jamming at a birthday party in June 2009.
It only took about a year for the Hermosa Beach garage band to become a fixture in the South Bay at bars such as Cafe Boogaloo, Brixton and Sangria.
In the 10 years since, the reggae band has been “perpetual motion," according to its lead singer Dan Kelly.
“The first year was like, all right, we're stomping down the local scene,” said Kelly, originally from Mississippi. “Then the second year we were like, you know let's make a choice, let's go out and do this, hit the country, 278 shows that year.”
Fortunate Youth celebrates its 10th anniversary with a national tour with its only Southern California gig in Irvine at FivePoint Amphitheatre on Friday, Aug. 2.
The current incarnation of the band was started by Mira Costa High School grads including Greg Gelb (class of 2006, bass/guitar), Travis Walpole (2003, percussion), as well as brothers Jered (2004, keys/bass) and Corey Draskovich (2006, keys/bass).
Former Mira Costa grads that have left the band include Ryan Gonzales (2006, guitar and vocals), who was an original member, and Sam Mandelbaum (2005), who filled in on drums and recorded with the band. The brothers and Gelb grew up in Hermosa Beach while Walpole grew up in Manhattan Beach.
They've been together ever since that fateful day when they jammed at Jared Segawa's 24th birthday party. Segawa graduated from Mira Costa in 2003 and later became their manager.
“We started as friends and have been together since day one,” Segawa said. “Fortunate Youth are the most genuine group of guys as well as extremely hard workers and deserve every bit of success they’ve seen so far. We’re just getting started and have a strong future ahead.”
“He would have a party in his backyard and everyone would bring their instruments and have a house band with whoever was there... from there you could kind of tell who was really interested in pursuing putting this band together,” Gelb said.
“When we first started doing this we were basically either in college or taking leave from college to get together and play weekends and have a good time and just hang out with our friends,” Corey added.
Fortunate Youth played at some parties and other gigs with their reggae, Sublime-type vibe.
“When you play for four or five people and you think that doesn’t matter, it's a stepping stone,” Jered said. “You start at zero and that's the first time and you have to go through that... you learn as you go.”
But soon the band landed at Brixton in Redondo Beach and other South Bay clubs.
“Before we knew it, we were on a path to regional touring,” Gelb said.
Heavy touring schedule
Going into 2010, Fortunate Youth began touring heavily. They have had nearly 30 tours nationwide and abroad since their formation.
“You get those friends and family all over the country and those are our core fans... when we got back home, we were like: you know what, that was amazing! Look at the love we're getting back,” Kelly said. “Then we come home and our home is so proud of us.”
Gelb said their fans have been “spreading the movement for us.”
“They're keeping the ball rolling and we're continuing to kick the ball down the road,” Gelb said. “This is an opportunity to leave a positive mark one way or another. I think that’s something that drives us to continue to do that. People have given us such positive feedback of how we positively affected their lives.”
“Every one in the band has a rally good heart, every one wants to help people,” added Jered. “When we get feedback like 'this song saved my life' or 'this song got us through a tough time' or 'I play this song every time I want to put my baby to sleep'... when we get responses like that it's kind of overwhelming. We would love to continue to do that and help other people if it takes us making music and trying to travel to let people hear it we're blessed to have that our job.”
While they have spent an enormous amount of time on the road, they have found time to record several albums, from “Irie State of Mind” in 2011 to their last, “Fortunate Youth” in 2017. They are also releasing a string of singles in 2019. Their music has evolved over the decade, branching out from reggae to incorporate a variety of musical genres.
Mix and match instruments
Songwriting has been a team effort since the band's inception.
“From the beginning, we decided that, 'Hey guys, if you're going to bring a song into the group and work it through with all of us, we're just going to split it all evenly'... we've don’t that since day one,” Jered said.
Corey said it “goes through the grinder.”
“It's not going to be fully done, but in the end everybody puts there taste and flavor to it and truthfully the cool part is working with the band,” Corey said.
The band continues to mix and match instruments.
“It will be the Fortunate Youth sound because you never really know who's playing what if you're listening to it,” Kelly said.
Because of their success, the garage band from the small coastal town has also become a business. They've built their own publishing house by producing their music, releasing the music and marketing it as well.
Social media has been a huge tool in expanding their fan base globally.
“It makes it that much easier to connect... we're always working trying to figure out what to do moving forward,” Gelb said.
Fortunate Youth is still touring heavily, about 100 shows year, but they want to “dig back into the community in a philanthropic sense.”
They also joined forces with the King Harbor Brewing Company in Redondo Beach to brew a double IPA. They hope to collaborate more with the brewery which is celebrating its fifth year.
Kelly said when they are on the road they try to find good restaurants and local microbrews.
“Once we get into a town, we might only have a few hours and you try to dive into what's gong on there,” Kelly said. “I think these guys have done a great job of being a staple in the community.”
While Fortunate Youth are away from their home community, they look at every town on the road as their hometown.
“Every night there are different walls, but we bring the South Bay no matter where we go,” Kelly said.
For more information on the band, visit fortunate-youth.com.