Monthly Archives: January 2020

From the Heart


Photos courtesy of Billy S

A local artist spreads good will and happiness through his music and paintings.
As a self-taught painter and musician, local artist Billy S doesn’t have to search hard for inspiration. He simply works from the heart – just like his lives his life.

“I try to be loving, kind and generous because those things come back to me,” he says.

And whether he is wielding a paintbrush or a guitar, he always seems to strike the right note with his upbeat, vibrant style.

‘Make People Dance’
Billy’s paintings are displayed at various venues in the area, and he is slated to release a new, 19-song record called Do It Now on Valentine’s Day. “It’s acoustic only. One guitar, one voice,” he says.

The record includes dance songs and ballads, and “Do It Now” also is the name of the introductory song on the album. “The first words of the song are ‘Love one another,’” Billy says. “That’s our purpose for being here.”

Another song called “The Flame” is about something or someone important in your life that is no longer here.

“A few songs might make you cry a little bit in a good way,” he says. “I never want to write a sad song unless it helps.”

“The Flame” and “Do It Now” can be downloaded at In addition, Billy will give an acoustic solo performance of his new record in a concert, fittingly called “Love,” at Southbound Smokehouse at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, February 15. Love is a recurring theme in his work.

“There are all kinds of love like friendship or romantic love, so it’s very inspiring,” says Billy, who grew up as the middle of five children. “I was loved, but I was also disciplined. And I respected love.”

Billy is not just a solo artist, however. He also plays in a band called billy s electric power trio with Dave “Muz” Mercer, who sings and plays drums, guitar and bass; and Alex Bruce, who plays bass. Billy is the lead singer and plays guitar.

The band will perform a live set at Southbound Smokehouse on February 15 as well. “Playing live with the trio is one of the things I enjoy most,” Billy says.

In addition to Southbound Smokehouse, he and his band play at various local venues and events including The Soul Bar, Stillwater Taproom and Arts in the Heart.

“I just want to make people dance,” he says. “Some people listen to the lyrics, and some people don’t. You want people to escape for a minute. I want my songs to bring back good memories. I’d rather heal than harm.”

He first started playing music when he was about 17 years old after a new neighbor, who had a guitar, told Billy he needed to get a bass. He never had played before, but he played two notes on the top string. Then in 15 minutes, he wrote a five-verse song entitled “Nevermore,” based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

“I realized I was a songwriter this whole time,” says Billy, who also taught himself to play the piano.

When he was studying computer drafting at Aiken Technical College, he went on the road with a band. He came home and told his father he wanted to quit school to tour with the musicians. Billy says his dad asked him how much he was getting paid and said, “Do it.”

The group traveled across the country, playing on Sunset Strip, in New York City’s Greenwich Village and Washington, D.C. On their days off, Billy visited art galleries.

He ultimately quit the band in the 1990s, and on his birthday in 1994, when he had a job waiting tables, he decided to take a mental health day. He spotted a box of paints – with dust on it – that a former girlfriend had given him.

“I had a few canvases, and I started squirting paint on them. When I woke up the next morning, I had 10 paintings,” says Billy. “I showed them to my brother, and he couldn’t believe I had done them. I said, ‘What do you think this is?’ My brother punched me in the arm and said, ‘It’s art, stupid.’”

Color & Shape
From that first jab in the arm from his brother, Billy has welcomed brutally honest feedback about his work. He laughs as he recalls the friend who told him, “That ain’t your best” about some of his work. Another man who used to work at the downtown Augusta Mellow Mushroom, where Billy has artwork on display, said of his guitar painting, “I could have done that.”

“I’m a little radical, but I like a punch or two. I want people to tell me the truth,” he says.

However, his truth tellers have given him encouragement as well.

For instance, in 1995, several months after Billy started painting, a friend suggested he show his work to Al Beyer, a former USC Aiken art professor who retired in 2018. Billy still remembers what he told him. “He said, ‘Billy, what you have here is what we try to teach.’”

Billy says Beyer didn’t want to teach him. However, the professor told him he could come to his class to paint and use his supplies, and he said he would answer any questions.

A Billy S painting typically includes several identifying characteristics. First and foremost, Billy likes color – lots of color – and shapes.

“I wish there were more colors,” he says. “I even think on the other side of our existence, there are more colors.”

He uses sacred geometry, which ascribes symbolic and sacred meanings to certain geometric shapes and proportions, and the Golden Ratio in much of his artwork as well. The Golden Ratio is a common mathematical ratio found in nature (think the spiral of a seashell or the eye of a hurricane), which can be used to bring harmony and structure to artwork (like the “Mona Lisa”).

In addition, Billy sometimes adds a long swirl to his paintings because a deaf girl told him that the symbol means “artist.” A half-mask sometimes shows up in his paintings as well. “That’s me, looking into the painting,” he says.

For anyone who still might harbor any doubts about his distinctive style, he also signs his work with a signature “B.” “It’s not a rounded ‘B,’” he says. “I want it to be almost like a mark, like it’s carved.”

He works primarily with acrylics, but he also uses oils. “I love what acrylic does. It’s so forgiving,” Billy says. “There are no mistakes. You just paint over it, and that gives the painting texture.”

With his artwork, he says, “I try to make another place. I wouldn’t mind if the art gives people someplace else to go.”

Giving as Much as He Gets
When Billy sits down in front of a canvas, sometimes he has an idea or an image in mind and sometimes he doesn’t. “Anything you see will come out. I’m painting from my head or my spirit,” he says. “I don’t draw anything. I just start painting. I like the sound of a brush.”

That free-spirited approach most likely dates back to elementary school when he had a clear disdain for pencils. “I always wrote with a pen instead of a pencil because I hated the sound that a pencil makes,” says Billy. “But when I was in fourth grade, I was told I had to use a No. 2 pencil like everyone else.”
(Conformity isn’t exactly his M.O. He once was let go from a church quartet for having long hair.)

Billy has learned that his art will take care of him “one way or another.”

“When I’ve tried to use my art to make money, I would end up giving it away,” he says. “I’ve learned not to sell it, just share it. I feel like everything I paint is for somebody.”

When he displays his artwork, he usually doesn’t put a price on his paintings because he doesn’t want cost to influence someone’s reaction to them. He says people always try to give him more money for his paintings than the asking price.

“The titles usually mean more than the prices,” Billy says.

However, “survival” is a factor in selling his artwork, he quips. “And seeing the person and what it does to them.”

In addition to Mellow Mushroom in Evans and Augusta, his work is or has been displayed at places such as Nacho Mama’s, New Moon Café, Hire Grounds Café, Augusta University Medical Center, Art on Broad, 600 Broad, USC Aiken’s Etherredge Center, other South Carolina galleries and even hair salons.

“I like being in a gallery,” says Billy. “But I would almost rather be where anyone can see my work, not just people who go to galleries.”

He also tries to give as much as he gets from his talents.

“If I had some music success, I would want to go to some of my art supporters, buy my paintings back for a lot of money and then give the paintings back to them,” Billy says.

In the meantime, though, he says his artwork “allows me to live inside and keep warm and eat my organic stuff. I’m safe, secure, happy, fed, and I have a future.”

And he plans for the coming years to be as productive as the past years.

“I want to make sure I do everything I’m supposed to do, and I feel like I have,” Billy says. “I have lived the life of five people.”

By Betsy Gilliland

Island Allure


Photos courtesy of Lovers Key State Park, Fort Meyers Beach, Friends of Lovers Key

Love to get away from it all? Explore secluded Lovers Key, where waves and wildlife are the main attractions.
Nestled within the islands of Southwest Florida is a tropical oasis known for its impeccable beauty and amazing wildlife. Lovers Key State Park, located between Florida’s Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs, is an outdoor enthusiast’s pristine playground, where visitors can swim in the turquoise-green Gulf of Mexico waters, sunbathe, look for shells, go for a stroll on the powdery white sand, picnic, fish, canoe, kayak, hike, bike or simply relax.

Once slated for development of luxury high-rise condos, the island was donated to the state and has become one of southwest Florida’s most visited destinations. One of four barrier islands that make up the park, its name dates back to the early 1900s when the islands were accessible only by boat. It was said at the time that only lovers made the effort to go to the remote, romantic island.

Even though a road to the island was built in 1965, it’s still secluded. However, even though it’s away from the crowds and the bustling city, Lovers Key is visitor-friendly and provides plenty of things to do.

By Land
According to the Travel Channel, Lovers Key ranks fifth among the best beaches in Florida for its secluded beauty, wildlife and minimal commercial development. A quarter of the island is a sandy, serene beach where visitors can leisurely stroll on the unspoiled 2.5-mile shore, skip shells, swim in calm waters or simply lie out in the sun and enjoy the breeze.

A tram takes beach lovers to a picnic area and gazebo on the south beach, while a scenic walk takes visitors to the less-developed middle of the beach. The north beach is accessible though a gate at Big Carlos Pass.

Shelling opportunities abound on the tranquil beach along the Gulf of Mexico. After high tide, dozens of shells, fossils and the occasional sand dollar wash up on the shore. Empty shells are there for the taking, but it’s illegal to take sea stars or shells with an animal living inside.

For those who aren’t content to simply lounge on the beach, Lovers Key offers more than five miles of hiking and biking trails along terrain that is reminiscent of old Florida. The trails are well-marked with maps and signs to help intrepid explorers find interesting points along the way.

The Black Island Trail stretches for 2.5 miles along canal banks through a maritime hammock, and several overlooks with benches offer optimum wildlife viewing. The 1.1-mile Eagle Trail takes hikers and bikers along Black Island’s inner waterways.

The winding trails transition from hard packed sand to grassy trails and challenging sugar sand. Several shortcuts allow explorers to create new routes so they never have to experience the same ride, and one leads to a freshwater pond where the resident gator lives with her family.

Bicycles are available for rent, and state law requires helmets for cyclists 16 and younger.

The island even offers a a seven-cache geo-challenge, courtesy of the Friends of Lovers Key. This non-profit volunteer group helps maintain Lovers Key State Park and coordinates many activities for visitors.

The geo-challenge is designed to help visitors experience the environment and learn about the significance of the state park’s ecosystem. Six of the challenges involve a riddle or a question that explorers must answer to retrieve the coordinates for the final bonus challenge.

By Sea
Canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards are available for rent to explore the 2.5-mile estuary. If you prefer to travel with knowledgeable companions who can point out wildlife and share the history of the island, then guided canoe, kayak and SUP tours are offered, and private vendors also take visitors on boat and fishing tours.

In addition, the Lovers Key boat ramp is one of the best places to launch a kayak or canoe to paddle to Mound Key. Mound Key is about a 45 minute paddle from the boat ramp through the open waters of Estero Bay.

Fishing enthusiasts will fall for Lovers Key hook, line and sinker. They can fish from a boat, canoe or kayak; the shoreline; or the beach’s fishing pier. Trout, redfish, snook and tarpon are plentiful when they’re in season. Some anglers even have caught sheephead, flounder, Spanish mackerel and grouper. Visitors also can cast their nets for mullet in the bay.

Wildlife Watch
Because three-fourths of Lovers Key is a natural preserve, the wildlife-viewing opportunities are endless. Adventure guides will point out wildlife and explain the background of each species including the plants, trees, and flowers that still grow as wild as they did before early settlers began the transformation of the Sunshine State.

Paddling through the mangrove protected trail, visitors can observe manatees, ospreys, dolphins, bald eagles, pelicans, egrets, shorebirds, gopher tortoises and other fauna in their natural habitat.

Don’t be surprised if manatees swim alongside while you paddle, dolphins jump out of the water or osprey swoop down to catch fish that they take back to their nests.

To maintain the pristine habitat, visitors must walk a long, narrow path or take a ranger shuttle to get to the preserve. Repeat guests to the islands tend to see different animals each time they visit the state park, and photographers should be sure to bring a camera. In fact, shorebirds seem to be so acclimated to people that a long lens isn’t required to photograph them.

Whether you want to join a naturalist for a tour, or you want to explore on your own, there is no shortage of things to do at Lover’s Key Florida State Park. For more information,

By Morgan Davis

Baked Eggplant with Tomato and Garlic

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium eggplants
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1/3 cup finely diced onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Generously coat a large baking sheet with olive oil; set aside. Cut eggplant lengthwise into slices about 3/4-inch thick. Arrange slices in a single layer cut side down on baking sheet and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place in oven on middle rack and roast 15-20 minutes until underside is dark brown and slightly bubbly.

While eggplant is baking, mix together capers, onion, garlic, tomatoes, vinegar and minced parsley. When eggplant slices are ready, flip with a spatula and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Top with tomato mixture and continue baking 10-15 minutes more or until underside is dark brown and slightly bubbly. Remove from oven and arrange on plate. Garnish with fresh parsley. Makes 4 servings.