Ken Smith was walking through the River House homeless shelter in Beverly in October when he spotted a familiar face. It was Max Zdyrko, his former partner in a local band.
Smith, a 52-year-old house painter originally from Chicago, had become homeless when his apartment building was turned into condos. Zdyrko, a 37-year-old native of Czechoslovakia, was a self-described “starving artist” who also needed a place to stay.
The former bandmates began jamming together, Smith on keyboards and Zdyrko on drums, amid the shelter’s basement bunk beds.
They were soon joined by Bruce Crivello, a 52-year-old former Marine who served in Desert Storm and had also moved into the shelter.
“There was no music, no nothing, when I first got here,” Smith said. “Once music entered into the River House, I was like, wait a minute. It helps. Music is a personal thing. It helps.”
That music is now spreading beyond the shelter. Joined by two others, the shelter residents have formed The River House Band. It has performed at a luncheon for military veterans at the shelter and at a Thanksgiving breakfast at the Italian Community Center. On Saturday, the band is scheduled to play at the Emmanuel Community Church.
“It can be a bit humiliating to be homeless,” River House Executive Director Kate Benashski said. “They wanted to show people what you can do when you come together as a group. It’s really quite inspiring.”
Music has always played a role in the lives of the band members. Smith, who has long dreadlocks and wears a gold cross on a chain around his neck, said he once played in a reggae band that toured Boston, New York and New Orleans. Zdyrko is the son of a retired professional opera singer who performed across Europe.