WINTER HAVEN – More than 80 BBQ teams from around the country and some fantastic music headlined the 16th Annual Smoke on the Water fundraising event this past weekend. Proceeds benefited the Boys and Girls Clubs of Polk County.

During the event, Winter Haven was formally introduced to the Rusty Wright Band on Saturday afternoon.

Rusty Wright, his wife Laurie LaCross-Wright, and bassist Nic Allen all reside in Winter Haven, but this is the first time they have ever performed together as a band in their hometown.

Rusty and Laurie were living in Michigan when Rusty turned 40 and decided to pivot away from metal music and to start expressing his love of the blues by forming a band of his own.

“I told her I want to be happy and I didn't care what the rest of the world thinks,” Rusty Wright recalled.

One of Rusty's childhood friends is former Godsmack and Everclear musician Tommy Stewart, who played drums on the Rusty Wright Band's first album. “Ain't No Good Life” was recorded in the White Room Studio in Detroit, the same studio where Kid Rock recorded the song “Cowboy,” which was played during the 2004 NFL Super Bowl Halftime Show. Hip hop artist Eminem is also reported to have mixed parts of the “Slim Slady LP” at the same studio.

The Rusty Wright Band now has six albums available for purchase and the band is almost done recording its seventh album, which may be released sometime in May.

Rusty and Laurie Wright have been married for almost 24 years. When Laurie's father passed in 2014, the couple left the Michigan snow in their RV for Florida sunshine. After living in Naples for a bit, the couple chose Winter Haven since it is more centrally located, as they drive around 1,000 miles per week to their concerts.

In search of a new band, Rusty said as they were settling into Winter Haven that he realized his bassist friend Nic Allen lived less than 10 miles away. Vail Hayes out of Brooksville currently plays drums for the band.

Rusty and Laurie have played quite a few duo concerts at local bars, but the Rusty Wright Band has not played much in Polk County beyond a show at the Music Ranch in Lakeland.

Opening up for the Rusty Wright Band at Smoke on the Water this past Saturday was the Justin Grimes Band, playing with Cory Greenway of the Outta Hand Band.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Polk County operates three facilities in Lakeland and other facilities in Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Haines City and Mulberry. Former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden is scheduled to speak at the organization’s 4th Annual Light the Way fundraising event Saturday, March 16. Check for more information.

Rusty and Laurie Wright will play as a duo next at Sunset Tavern, on Lake Marion in Haines City, on Sunday Feb. 16 starting at 3 p.m. After that, they are scheduled to play at Grove Roots March 7, starting at 7 p.m.

The Rusty Wright Band plays again in Polk County March 28 at the Music Ranch in Lakeland. More information can be found at

Contact Charles A. Baker III at