Musicians Jarad and Christel Astin had a sweet life on New Jersey’s Rockaway Beach. Two young daughters, burgeoning careers, friends and family close by. But in late October 2012, everything took a wild tack when news broke that a storm was coming … A big one.
They heeded warnings, hustling kids and valuables inland – a prudent move that saved all because days later, on October 29th, Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore leaving a wake of broken dreams.
Rendered homeless, the Astin family moved through a series of temporary lodgings for nine months. Permanence seemed elusive until they considered a boat – a home that would float on the waters’ of the world. Although sailing was a newly acquired skill and shopping for a cruising boat a novel experience they began the hunt in earnest.
They needed room for four, storage for music equipment and a perfect price. A string of vessels didn’t pass inspection until a friend insisted they look at one more. “The boat was in Mystic,” said Jared. “I had to drive through a blizzard to get there.”
The drive was worth it, Catherine, a 43ft C&C Landfall was perfect.
The Astins moved aboard in June 2013, followed by a six month ‘shake down’ at a marina before jumping offshore. That ocean crossing, the first of five so far, was a kind teacher. The boat was outfitted with gear, stores and crew but seriously lacked in funds. “When we got to Bermuda,” laughed Jarad, “we only had enough to clear in!”
Months before leaving, the couple began a duo as Stell and Snuggs with weekly gigs in Brooklyn, then sailed south for their first show in St. Thomas. Christel, playing flute, ukulele and voice combine with Jarad’s vocals, accordion and stomp-box creating a sound they describe as gypsy soul. Their style, borrowed from Columbian Cumbra, gypsy, country and Brazilian choro is a sweet sound in the islands where dancehall, ska and reggae reign supreme. “We like to have fun playing music; like to party,” explained Christel, “But the type of music is important. It has to have cultural integrity.”
Judging by the number of bookings, now over 200 a year, listeners love their music.
Stell and Snuggs have an unusual work commute when you consider that their schedule has them hopping up and down the island chain. Performances this season began in Grenada at Roger’s Barefoot Bar on Hog Island followed by gigs in Carriacou, Antigua, St. Maarten, Anguilla, St. Thomas, St. Croix and the BVI. It’s not uncommon for Catherine to carry them to multiple islands in just one week.
Time at sea is not just sailing. Jarad writes most of their music while underway. “I’m a night-owl,” he said. “I like the time alone.” Instruments frequently come out for practice; the girls work on school projects; meals are prepared; boat trimmed and maintained – all without self-steering.
Early on, the girls were in the audience at performances but now they’re part of the show. Arden, 15, began accompanying shows with hoop dancing. That crowd pleaser led to LED lit hoops and the most recent accoutrement entails fire. “She met Kiki and the Flaming Gypsies in St. Croix last year,” explained Christel. That inspiring encounter changed everything. “Last year we opened for Mishka in St. Croix. Arden did her first fire dance there.”
Riley, now six, also wants in on the action. “She writes a little ditty and we perform it,” Jarad said. Judging by her gregarious character and costume flair, the stage is in her future.
The girls are perfect boat kids. “Arden gets the boat thing,” said Jared. “It’s opened her eyes –she wants to continue that.” The past two Classic Regattas, she’s crewed Carriacou sloops. “She’s a great hand on a boat. Riley is all water-baby.”
Last summer the family took their show on the road, literally. Via Craigslist they scored a land-yacht, a ‘vintage’ 1986 Jamboree RV, that took them on a US tour from New York to Chicago, Des Moines, on to Denver and back. “We’re performers,” said Jarad. “That’s where we find our real enjoyment. We have a lot going on in the states and want to do more.”
The Astins are partners and producers for CueBro Audio, a publishing company producing music for film and advertising. Their talent is heard in ads for Corona and San Miguel beer, Channel One Productions, and is part of the soundtrack for the film, What Happened to Nina Simone. They have over 25 recordings available through Van Camp, Spotify and I-Tunes.
Having now spent a significant amount of time in the Caribbean, they have developed an unwavering respect for its natural environment. To help our precious ocean ecosystems and wild life, they are excited to launch the #onecupatatime campaign!!
“The goal of #onecupatatime is to take a chunk out of plastic waste getting into our oceans! It is being hosted on Generosity (an IndieGoGo site), and the goal is tangible. If we can raise jut $6 for every one of our page followers, we can make a REAL impact…won’t you help! We’ll also be looking for great ideas from YOU for the logo that will go on the cups – send them our way!!! Thank you all so much for your support through the past few years, let’s do something great together!”