Music of the Islands in Highlands

August 17, 2015
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Sam Sims, left, with Dimitris Kulaga

THERE IS AN all-too common scenario at the end of the typical work week: you’re exhausted, stressed and just want to grab some good food and catch some local music, but nothing too raucous or loud. Or, perhaps you’re at the shore on vacation, and want to sample some of the best ambiance and entertainment that Monmouth County has to offer. The solution to these quandaries is not difficult; catch the Sam Sims Band, and visit the Windansea restaurant in Highlands. A recent visit to the popular Shrewsbury Avenue establishment brought out the best of both worlds.

The Windansea has been in operation since 2001, and owner Dan Shields, husband of NJ State Senator Jennifer Beck, has transformed the old Branin’s Wharf into a topnotch restaurant, and they continue to hire the best musicians year after year. One of the acts to consistently “make the grade” at Windansea is the Sam Sims Band, featuring singer/song writer Sam Sims.

Sims is a shore area regular, and his young age belies his musical experience. Learning piano at age 7, he began his songwriting career at age 14 and has released three full albums and an EP in the last seven years. His style is best described as Folk/ Rock, with a significant Hawaiian island influence, and Sims’ music is just perfect for an easy, laid back evening in the summer time. There is also a dash of reggae faintly heard in his music, making it all the more fitting for a shoreline setting. His first two releases, “Neon Signs” and “Moments,” were well received by his fans, and his 2013 CD, entitled “Into The Blue,” is perhaps his best work to date. One of the most popular songs from this album is “Swim,” and can be heard at nearly every Sims show. “Saturday Morning” is another upbeat, catchy number, luring those with good footwork to the dance floor, and “Open Roads” has a James Taylor-esque feel to it. Sims is a classic storyteller; each song penned is a chronicle of life, love and everyday trials and tribulations. Each album reflects a part of Sims’ life, and as life is a work in progress, so is the music catalog for this talented man.

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Performing all over the eastern U.S., Sims focuses on New Jersey in the summer months (although a “road trip” may take him to D.C., Virginia or North Carolina as bookings present themselves) and Florida during the winter months. While in New Jersey, Sims associates himself with two of the shore’s finest musicians: guitar prodigy Kyle Ward of Rumson, and percussionist extraordinaire Dimitris Kulaga of Little Silver. Currently studying at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Ward lends his phenomenal talent to the band, working the fretboard with surgeon-like precision, and adding backing vocals when needed. Only 19 years of age, Ward performs with the skills of those many years his senior, and he is a great complement to the steady rhythm guitar of Sims. Ward is a fast rising star, and can also be seen performing with Sofia Nicole, GNGR band and the Elk-Manzo-Ward trio. One of his greatest honors to date is his acceptance into the Holiday Express troupe, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the tristate region, performing benefit shows during the
Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.


The Sam Sims Band at Windansea in Highlands, from left: Kyle Ward, Sam Sims, Dimitris Kulaga.

If it can produce a beat, Dimitris Kulaga can play it. From an ordinary drum kit, to bongo drums, conga drums, tumba drums and a plethora of other devices (cowbell, chimes, tambourine, timbale), Kulaga will keep the tempo no matter the music or venue. Taking inspiration from his childhood friend, Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres, Kulaga set out at an early age to hone his skills. A financial career got in the way for many years, but the passion returned, and the talent never went away. Impressed by former Prince percussionist Sheila E, Kulaga eventually leaned towards hand percussion, and his conga work is very well known in the area. When space permits, he will perform with his unique foot-pedal operated tumba drum, which is essentially a larger diameter conga drum turned on its side with custom stands. It acts much like a bass drum on a standard drum kit, but with different tonal qualities.

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Not one to settle for the ordinary, Kulaga comes well prepared to every gig, and is a regular at the open mic nights at Jamian’s in Red Bank on Sundays, and at Molly Maguire’s in Rumson on Tuesdays.

Sims’ popularity led to the band being chosen to open for the legendary Wailers (of Bob Marley fame) in 2014 and 2015 at Jenks Club in Point Pleasant Beach. Sims’ recent show at the Windansea Tiki bar proved that he and his band can entertain the local music patrons at the highest level, mixing his original music with popular cover songs like “Layla,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Fields of Gold.” The Windansea has a fabulous outdoor stage, with great views of the Navesink River and Sandy Hook, and a friendly, courteous staff that makes every visit special. Working four and five nights a week, it’s not hard to catch the Sam Sims Band in the Monmouth County area, so point your browser to for all the latest info on these talented musicians.

There’s still time left in the summer to catch Sam and company outdoors, the perfect way to enjoy a little island music; don’t miss out on a great show!



Photos & Story by Chris Spiewak  currently the bassist for Rock/Blues cover band VyntEdge.

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