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Darien Softball Coach Finds Hits With His Country Band

DARIEN, Conn. – Nick DeMaio changes hats for the summer, swapping his Darien softball cap for the cowboy hat he wears as the lead vocalist in his country and western band, Gunsmoke .

DeMaio, coach of the Darien High School softball team, performs with his brother, Jeff, who plays pedal steel guitar and sings, and his father, also named Nick. The elder DeMaio, whose nickname is “The Ambassador,” is a guitarist and singer.

Scott Tyler and Gary Tokarz also play in the band. Christina DeMaio, daughter of the Darien coach and a former softball standout, joined the band for several shows this summer. She is a senior at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

Gunsmoke started in 1982 and released two original songs in 1985. It performs at shows throughout the region and played Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk last week. It was named the New York Metropolitan Country Music Association Band of the Year for six straight years, played two gigs for presidents and was inducted last year into the Connecticut Country Music Hall of Fame.

“In the summer, when we do more shows, I’m a singer that coaches softball,’’ said Nick DeMaio, who is also the trainer at Darien High. “During the rest of the year, I’m a softball coach who sings.”

Gunsmoke performs the songs of country and western legends such as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams Jr. It has also shared the stage with big names, such as Williams, Waylon Jennings and Conway Twitty.

“It’s the type of music that has always been my favorite,’’ Nick DeMaio said. “When we started out, we played a little bit more variety. In the 1990s and 2000s, when the big artists came out with a song, we’d cover it. The new country has gotten so poor, we can’t be bothered with it. We’ve gone more toward becoming known as a classic country band.”

Fairfield County is a long way from Nashville, but Gunsmoke has found a niche in the region. The band had a busy summer lineup, playing at gigs all over the state. It is booked for an October gig in Massachusetts. Its next show nearby is Sept. 7 at the Downtown Darien Summer Concert. “We’re somewhat unique, so we tend to stay very busy,’’ Nick DeMaio said. Gunsmoke’s complete schedule is available on its website .

Christina DeMaio, who goes by the stage name Christina Mae, released her first CD earlier this month. The Norwalk appearance was her last for the summer. “She adds a lot to the show,’’ Nick said. “People seem to be intrigued by the fact that there’s three generations up there.”

The only drawback for Nick is the occasional conflict with his softball team. In the spring, Darien won the softball championship. A few hours later, he was on the stage. “I’d rather have been celebrating with the team,’’ he said. “But I had to go up there and do that. You have a commitment to the other guys in the band.”

Nick hopes to increase the band’s exposure. “We’re trying to strengthen our ties to Nashville,’’ he said, “and do more radio and TV down there. We’re keeping busy with it.”

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