In the fall of 2015, I attended the Outlaw Country Tribute Concert at Seaside Repertory Theatre. In the midst of all the faces, there was one in particular who looked familiar, but I just couldn’t place him. When he was introduced, my jaw hit the floor and I watched with glee as Duke Bardwell’s face lit up.
That was the first time I saw Duke’s son TK Bardwell perform, and it was far from his last performance in Beachcomberland. He and his family returned to the area in 2015, and TK has been steadily growing a name for himself as a performer, often sharing the stage with Kyle Ogle, Mark Gillespie, and his father.
“I have always been around (music),” TK says. “With my dad being Duke Bardwell, my earliest memories are being in Louisiana when he was working a couple of jobs and was actively playing. My perception was that he was playing all the time, and we would often go with him. With it being kind of a different world in the early ‘80s, I was left to kind of roam around the festival grounds and at his gigs.”
TK soaked in how people reacted to Duke’s performances. “At an early age, I saw how people would respond to him and how he could affect people. It definitely got me interested early on.” That interest didn’t quite morph into picking an instrument until high school, when Dad taught TK a few chords on the guitar and TK took up the drums.
At 20, he found his voice to chase off boredom, “I was driving around broke in this little piece of crap car, my radio quit, and I didn’t have any money to fix it,” says TK. “I was commuting to my job each day, and it was like 40 miles each way—and it was horrible. So I started singing just to entertain myself. It was then, over a period of month, that I thought, Maybe I’m not that bad.”
The timing worked out. Around that time, Duke was recording his Angel’s Wings album in Austin, Texas. “He flew me out there to sing harmony on the title song. He wrote that while he was with me in the seat next to him in the U-Haul driving down to Florida. At the time I was like four—I don’t really have a memory of it, but by the time we got to central Florida, I had the chorus and I was singing it with him. So, at 20, I got to sing it with him for real.
“For the next 15 years, I hardly did anything with music,” TK admits. “But then I moved back here in March of 2015, and I started playing a little bit with Kyle and sitting in, and then playing a little bit more regularly, then playing with Dad. And it just kind of picked up from there.
“My Mother was in my ear early on that music was not the way to go, that I was going to college, getting a real job. I think Dad was frustrated because he felt like I had talent that wasn’t being utilized at all, cultivated, cared for… that I wasn’t being a good steward of the talent.”
TK kept his promise to his mother, though. “I was able to move down here and work from my home office. I went to college, got a ‘big boy’ job and everything. But I’m also playing music so it’s the best of both worlds.”
When I ask him about potentially being in his father’s shadow, TK doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m honored to be in his shadow.”
TK hopes to have some original songs in the pipelines and suspects his kids might continue the family tradition— especially college-aged Erin and eight-year-old Teagan.
“She is very focused on what she is doing,” TK says of Erin. “But she is a better singer than me or Dad ever could aspire to be.” As for Teagan, she is described as a constantly moving ball of energy, “a natural performer. All she wants to do is dance and sing.”
TK Bardwell can often be found performing at the Red Bar in Grayton Beach, one of his favorite places. “People come to hear the music and are engaged,” he says. “But one of the reasons is it’s a comfort zone. Dad’s friend opened the Paradise Cafe in the building that is now the Red Bar. My first job, that I got paid five bucks for, was sitting back in that kitchen and crumbling bacon into bits for their baked potatoes. I’ve got a long history with that building.”