DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Growing up in New Jersey, Greg Cardino started playing in bands at a young age, but after receiving an invitation from another bandmate to come to Daytona Beach, Florida, his musical journey truly began.
“So I come on down, left New Jersey with my station wagon, my PA system, and equipment... and $80 in my pocket,” Cardino recalled.
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It was the ‘70s and this adventure was one that was too good to pass up.
Cardino ended up in the World’s Most Famous Beach at the Aku Tiki Inn, starting with a gig in the traders show lounge. The band came together to form a group called “The Better Way,” which was made up of Cardino, Brad Yates, Ken Wilczek, Paul Spencer, and Tony Graziano.
During the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Aku Tiki lounge was a very popular lounge that both locals and tourists would flock to. It often reached capacity early in the night and had a long line of people waiting outside the venue.
The lounge was the hot spot for live music and dancing. Cardino and his bandmates would put on a show full of hits, playing every genre from country to disco and every artist from The Temptations to the Four Tops to the Eagles.
“We had to learn all of that stuff because that was our business. We supply music. People come and see us. That’s how we earn a living,” Cardino said. “It was just an incredible experience watching Daytona grow and change.”
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Change it did. Technology was introduced, and slowly, live music was replaced by DJs spinning records in clubs.
“The clubs didn’t want to pay a four or five-piece band anymore. They were tightening their budgets,” Cardino said.
That’s when more changes had to be made and Cardino was forced to adapt after spending 18 years with his group at the Aku Tiki.
“The clubs wanted DJs spinning records. So as a musician, I went from four- and five-piece (bands), down to a solo act... using... computers and specific soundtracks, and so on and so forth,” he said.
Time passed and Cardino continued playing gigs. As things changed in the music scene, Cardino became a teacher.
It was at Mainland High School, where the musician taught speech, drama and video television production when he remembers the moment COVID brought everything to a screeching halt.
“I went longer than I’ve ever gone without playing the gig,” he said.
Stay-at-home orders were issued and nightlife was nonexistent for a period of time.
“It changed everything. Fortunately, for me, I had my other career as a school teacher, so I had another income,” Cardino said. “I was very grateful for that because a lot of musicians don’t or didn’t have another income.”