By: Shawn Moynihan
Patrick Rice, editor of the Northwest Florida Daily News, has a career ambition separate from his day job: rock star. Rice, the Daily News’ editor since 2004, and his musical partner, Wichita (Kan.) Eagle Food Editor Joe Stumpe, have been singin’ and playin’ together since the days when Pat Benatar was winning Grammys and bandannas were still in fashion.
Although the two journalists live and work many miles apart, each year they still get together to play live. Typically it’s Rice who makes the trip to Stumpe’s neck of the woods, as he will this year: The two hope to get some warm-up club dates in before appearing together onstage at the annual Riverfest held on the Arkansas River, scheduled from May 9-17.
Rice, who admits to being shy about performing in front of an audience even after years of doing it, tells E&P his newsroom staff “would be surprised to know that I play.” But once a year, he adds, “There’s something about leaving town, going to another city, and walking into a bar that makes you really want to do it.”
Stumpe, 47, and Rice, 50, met in 1984 while fledgling reporters at the Texarkana (Texas) Gazette, where Rice covered county government and Stumpe worked the police and City Hall beats. After discovering their mutual love of music, the two soon began jamming in Stumpe’s living room beneath a wall-sized mural of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album cover in the Palmer House, a large Victorian-style home owned by the Huffman family (the Gazette’s owners) and rented out on the cheap to reporters. “Stumpe is definitely the better musician of the two of us,” says Rice.
After a few gigs for newsroom colleagues ? during which some alcohol was usually involved, Rice says ? the duo honed their act playing the usual series of endless dives and honky-tonks. They built a repertoire of covers spanning the likes of the Violent Femmes, The Who, Elvis Costello, and Springsteen, among others.
Rice left Texarkana in 1986, and has since put in 11 years with Gannett and was managing editor at the East Valley Tribune in Arizona before landing in Florida. Stumpe joined the Tulsa (Okla.) Tribune in 1987, and went to work for the former Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock in 1990. He has been in Wichita since 1999, where he plays three to four nights a week in local bars both solo and with his band, Fly By Night.
But the two still make it a point to get out and do their annual gigs. They both play guitar and switch off on lead vocals; Stumpe will handle some of the more country-influenced numbers, like Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane,” while Rice takes the lead on songs like The Boss’ “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and the Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.”
The shows, which Rice says are often performed to twentysomething audiences in “mostly dives, not pretty places,” are well worth it, he adds: “Every time we do it, I get so nervous ahead of time, but afterward I always feel like it’s the best fun I’ve had in a year.”
And even after nearly 30 years of playing cover tunes for well-lubricated patrons, Rice sees no end in sight. After all, he adds, “We like playing together, and Stumpe can’t sing high harmony.”