Memoirs of a Middle-Aged Parrot Head

Since Jimmy is playing at the North Charleston Coliseum tomorrow night, I thought I might put up a section of my book that’s sitting on the shelf, half down as I write Jimmy Buffett FAQ.

How In the Hell Did I Get Here

Without A Disguise

North Charleston Coliseum

Charleston, SC

Driving into the parking lot was surreal. The parking lot was built for 3,500 cars, but it wasn’t the lack of cars that threw me off, it was the lack of people and activity. I’m used to not seeing many cars when I drive into a Jimmy Buffett Concert parking lot. I’m usually one of the first ten cars to arrive. But today it was like people had parked and immediately left their car…just like!

Instead of our normal carnival atmosphere, costumed Parrot Heads, blaring music, rising BBQ smoke, and all the other usual tailgate trappings, there was simply a line of people outside the venue doors quietly making noise. Oh, I saw an occasional Hawaiian shirt, tropical attire and lei here and there. But aside from that, this crowd looked like they were in line for a Michael Bolton concert. In no way did I get the felling I as about to experience what most Parrot Heads would give there left coconut to experience; a private party thrown by Jimmy Buffett.

The Coliseum was the home of the South Carolina Stingrays of the East Coast Hockey League, a minor league franchise of the Buffalo Sabers. It’s a beautiful glass building and can hold 13,259 people at full capacity, but the days half-house “Oyster Shell” was configured for 5,327. And while not exactly the Fox Theater, it somehow seemed to have the quaint feeling of a smaller venue. I had read on the Internet that they allowed indoor pyrotechnics, and with Jimmy’s T-shirt Troubadours Tim & Wally around, I feared my Vietnam flashbacks might just appear.

Jimmy and the Reefers had been in town for a couple of weeks rehearsing for the upcoming Beach House on the Moon Tour, which coincided with the release of the new album by the same name. So far, three legs had been planned for the summer; with twenty-five shows spread over seventeen cities. Today festivities weren’t a part of the tour though. It was the last rehearsal and would be before a live audience full of the bands friends, the people of Charleston, and a few lucky Parrot Head that had somehow managed to score invitations. As Jimmy would soon say, it was his way of thanking the town for putting up with the band for the past few weeks.

As we walked around waiting for the doors to open, I spotted a couple of old Pirates; I mean these guys would have stuck out at in the parking lot at Irvine! I had to do a double take just to make sure they weren’t sporting real eye patches. When we passed, our eyes locked, as over fifty-year-old people with beards are prone to do. As we acknowledged each other with smiles, it only seemed proper to introduce myself. I found myself talking to two old-time buddies of Jimmy’s: Dave Wigman, who has a Studio above Le Select, and Captain Harry, proprietor of The Blue Marlin Bar in Charleston.

Captain Harry is a bit of a legend.  Story has it that he was shipwrecked while sailing to Bimini in 1967. A freighter rescued him and deposited he and his crew on Grand Bahama Island where they ended up in a little Bahamian fish shack called The Blue Marlin Bar.

After a night of rum, Captain Harry got lost in the dark on his way home. Somewhere along the way, he was overcome with an intense desire to relieve himself. It was dark, and his current state, he had do idea of where he was, but when you got to go, you got to go. It was in the middle of his “tinkle,” when seemingly out of nowhere, the air was filled with the screaming of four get engines coming directly at his head. And in an effort to save his life, Harry fell face forward into the puddle he had just created. It seems Harry’s roadside urinal was at the end of the airport runway. It was then that Captain Harry promised himself if he ever got home alive, he would open a bar and call it The Blue Marlin.

My talk with the two pirates would reveal that Dave had known Jimmy for years and that they had spent a lot of time together at Le Select, and the Blue Marlin Bar is one of Jimmy’s favorite Charleston watering holes. They also informed me of the Le Select Birthday Party in November and invited me to attend.

Suddenly the doors opened and a few hundred Parrotheads calmly proceeded in. Our little group didn’t even begin to make a dent in the capacity of the place. As we walked in, we passed tables full of free beer and food. Jimmy was throwing a party, and while it wasn’t at his house, we didn’t have to wonder who would come.

Down on the floor, there were tables and chairs—that’s right, tables and chairs at a Bubba Show—with about fifty fee of clear floor space in front of the stage. And hanging at the front of the stage was a curtain with which I would become very familiar with over the next year, beckoning, “Greeting from the Planet Earth.”

The first thirty minutes were spent greeting old friend like Gary and Mary Lou Schottoff, and the rest of the Peter Mayer Fan Club, along with Robert and J May Weaver. As we were catching up, Jimmy’s son Cameron and a friend whizzed by playing a game of tag and almost knocked me down.

As the lights started to dim, many of us started approaching the stage only to be met by Charleston, the head of Jimmy’s Security Team and the larger of Jimmy’s two personal Body guard bookends, putting his hand up. He didn’t have to say a thing. There was no misinterpreting his stare, It could only mean one thing: “Don’t go there.” I made a mental note not to cross this guy. The memory of his making a blind-side tackle on a guy who had foolishly jumped up on the Irvine stage was only too fresh in my mind. As I looked up over his outstretched arms I noticed flashing red digital numbers on a clock.

Suddenly a deep voice joined the backwards countdown as the flashing numbers moved from “10” to “1.” Rocked engines rumbled as the speakers at the edge of the stage began to shake. Smoke bellowed from the stage and the curtain dropped as Lage Nom Ai Filled the air. Lift of in more ways than one. Not only had the show begun, but also my adventure, as I raced to catch up with my dreams.

And the Joint Begins to Jumpin’

 Besides the few of us who had tried to get close to the stage only to be met by Charleston, the crowd seemed rather tranquil, and Lage Nome Ai was the perfect song choice to jump-start this group. The opening song was also particularly significant to me, because like Nordstrom, my writing JimmyDOTcom and embarking on this “Road Dawg Tour” was my non-conformist plan to save my ass. I just couldn’t take anymore of the corporate world and had decided to roll those cosmic dice. I wanted to become a professional Parrothead.

Plus, Lage Nome Ai always reminds me of my good buddy Bill Burton, who started closing all his emails with, “Without a clue and still without a master plan” when the song debuted on a 1995 album. I made a mental note to give ol’ “O2bndKeys” a call as I headed up to North Carolinas. One of the great things about this whole trip was going to be seeing all of my old Parrothead friends, and meeting the many other that I had only known online.

After the first song, Jimmy stopped to explain to the audience that not only was this his way of thanking the town of Charleston for putting up with the Coral Reefer for two weeks, but it was also their dress rehearsal. He also warned us not to be surprised if they stopped during the show and mentioned that when they were on the Today Show the day before, Matt Lauer had thought they were singing “Matt Sucks” when they were saying “Math Suks.” We all got a laugh out of that one.

The tour’s set was awesome, and the backdrop continually changed during the show as the ocean transformed into a moonscape when the occasion fit. The guitar section, with Peter Mayer, Mac McAnally, and Jim Mayer were up on the dock to the left, with Roger Guth and this drum kit anchoring the middle. Jimmy had brought back his old buddy, slide guitarist Doyle Grisham, who joined Robert in front of the bait shack on the right. The “Reeferettes,” blonde temptress Ms. Tina Gullickson and the ever-beautiful Nadirah Shakoor, were on the bar stools below the guitar section and the Coral Reefer Horns—Amy Lee, Tom “TC” Mitchell, and Johnny “Martini” Lovell—were down below the bait shack. Greg “Fingers” Taylor, Jimmy’s irrepressible harp man, “dressed to the nines,” was left to roam down center-stage with Jimmy, and Dr. Michael Utley, in his new green-suede shoes, was immediately to Bubba’s left. All in all, there was a wide-open unobstructed view of all the Coral Reefers, and Set and Lighting Director Sid Strong and Costume Designer Helen Hiatt had done a fantastic job in capturing the feeling of being on the moon and in the tropics at the same time.

The first BHOTM song of the day was a Bozz Scagg’s cover, You Call It Joggin’, and Jimmy had choreographed a little dance / jog number where he swung a towel around his head. At the end of the song, Jimmy tossed the towel into the crowd and it landed in an open space on the floor. I was surprised when no one immediately went for it. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little blonde surfer kid streaking past. As he approached the towel, he very coolly slid down on both knees, scooped up the towel, and while still in mid-slide, went back up to the vertical position. Man, this kid had moves! As the crowd howled with approval, I noticed that it was Jimmy’s son Cameron. You had to love it—the kid’s a Parrothead gather up his own parrotphanalia!

By the seventh song, I had slowly worked my way down to the front of the stage. It wasn’t hard either, as other Parrotheads seemed to know that today would be a relaxed day, with plenty of opportunity to get close to Jimmy and the Reefers. Added to that, the town’s people don’t seem to be ad caught up in the moment as the serious die-hard Parrotheads and are content to stay in their seats. My friends and I knew that this was a memory in the making. We were going to savor I and make it last for as long as possible.

Up to that point, only one song from the Beach House On the Moon album when my ears suddenly perked up to the sound of the mandolin. Hey, I knew this song! It took me awhile to place it though, because you wouldn’t normally expect to be hearing Chason Pour La Petits Efants at a concert. As my recognition set n, the irony of how this song tied into BHOTM didn’t escape me as I joined young Mr. Moon in circling the Milky Way, once around Venus, twice around Mars. As the lyrics changed to French, I noticed the tears streaming down J. May Weaver’s face.

Then, as suddenly as the show had begun, the fist set concluded as the tour title son Beach House on the Moon was heard in concert for the first time. It was intermission, but even this was a different experience as Jimmy and the Coral Reefer mingled on stage talking to the fans.

Frank DeLuca asked me if I’d like to meet Rich Davis, Jimmy’s sound guy. I of course couldn’t pass up that chance. After a nice little chat, I let Rich go back to work and off I went in search of a beer, only to run into Cameron again. This time he wasn’t traveling at the speed of light and I was able to grab his attention for a quick second and introduce myself. He’s a pretty cool little kid and was very polite. But you could tell he was used to Parrothead bugging him, and was soon on his way, joining a few of his buddies for another game of tag. Man, can you imagine being Jimmy’s kid?

As I milled around taking in it all in, I ran smack dab into Jimmy’s business partner, Sunshine Smith. I introduced myself as the “Guy who made the Bank of Bad Habits ATM Cards.” That seemed to bring a smile to her face, and she gracefully mentioned that Margaritaville might have made a mistake in not taking me up on the offer to see these great little pieces of parrotphanalia in their store.

My next “self introduction” was a Charleston Miles, the larger of Jimmy’s two “book end” bodyguards. I figured I’d be seeing a lot of them over the course of the summer, and I sure as hell didn’t want them to think I as some sort of stalker. He was very friendly, and even introduced me to his partner Haley. Intermission was about to end, and the tow of them took their positions at the opposite corners of the stage; as always, Charleston to the left, Haley to the right.

The second set started with somewhat o a surprise with Mac MacAnally singing Asshole and a Hole in the Ground. I had never heard the song before, and besides the rather startling title, I couldn’t really remember any of the Coral Reefer’s personal work being featured in concert before: I liked the song, it definitely had a message.

Up until that point, I was surprised at the number of BHOTM songs that were a part of the set list, and pleasantly surprised that Flesh and Bones was one of them. The Tams join Jimmy on the CD, but today Mac and Jim Mayer were their part, with Jim supplying the deep bass vocals of the chorus. In the middle of the song, Jimmy got lost in the lyrics, but no big deal; Jimmy’s one fast thinking dude and spotted a Parrothead holding the BHOTM liner notes. Without missing a beat, he grabbed the liner notes and finished the song. Jimmy was even nice enough to autograph them before handing them back. Jimmy was save, the show went on, a Parrothead had a mystical moment to share with al his Parrothead friends, a parrotphanalia collection was expanded, and a legend was born.

The first encore set of the season included two new sons from BHOTM, with the old standard Brown Eyed Girl sandwiched in between. The show ended with Bruce Coburn’s cover pacing the Cage. Parrotheads had really bee embracing this song, and I had talked to TC Mitchell about it the week before on the phone. He told me that the band and crew were mesmerized by Jimmy’s rendition. And he was right. I bet Bruce would love what Jimmy has done with his song.

Then it was over! And just like not being able to ever relive that fist Jimmy Buffett concert experience, this moment would never again be duplicated. I wanted to hold on to the feeling as long as possible. Saying that there was a glow about he whole thing wouldn’t do it justice. While I was working hard to savor the moment, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t over yet.

Jimmg and the band had remained on stage, and Bubba was talking to his fans. Charleston and Halie had backed way off, and let it all happen. I waited, spending some time talking to Fingers. And when the crowd had dissipated a bit, I summoned up the courage to ask Jimmy to sing my Bank of Bad Habits ATM Card. To my surprise, he said, “Hey, I have one of these.” I of course couldn’t stop from telling him that I as the one who had given it to him. After thanking me, I drifted away from the stage, letting other Parrotheads gather their own memories. Jimmy didn’t seem in any hurry to leave and must have stayed up there taking and signing autographs for over half an hour.

As I stood there contemplating it all, I felt a hand on my shoulder. As I spun around, I was face-to-face with a bearded guy sticking his hand out saying, “Hey man, I’m Bob Rob.” It was Bob Robinson, Founder and President of the South Carolina Sandlapper PHC. I had known him online for quite sometime, but we had never officially met. I knew he was crazy though, because I had visited his personal web site. Behind that beard, was one of the friendliest faces I have ever seen, and I just love his southern drawl. He told me he had arrive late at the beginning of the second set because he had to coach his daughter’s softball game that morning, and it was a two and a half hour drive down from Rock Hill. Then when he arrived, all the doors were locked. Luckily someone had felt the need for a smoke, and hen they went outside, Bob ducked in the open door. Man, I really like this guy’s style.

I thought it was a great show. The new songs had almost equaled the SYKBH (Songs You Know By Heart), seven to eleven, and I enjoyed the other inclusions. A Parrothead is never completely satisfied with any set list. Some of your favorite songs are always missing. There are so many sons to choose from, and Jimmy has so many people to pleas, that it’s rally a losing proposition. All in all, today was a fantastic way to start a road trip. There was a totally different energy her today as compared to the normal concert, but it was a very unique experience all the same. It was going to fun to watch the show develop over the tour.

After a while, I kind of backed away from everything and asked myself, “What have I started here?” The enormity of the whole project had begun to hit me. Could I really make it to every show of a Buffett concert season: I knew on thing for sure. I’m 53 years old, so I better pace myself. And most of all, I better treat it like a job. Easier said than done, s I se out to attend the longest Parrothead Party a Parrothead could ever imagine.

With Pacing the Cage still in my mind, I couldn’t help but to think of something I read in A Pirate Looks at Fifty. It pretty much summer up the day I had just experience and the adventure I was about to begin. Jimmy can be pretty damn prophetic at times:

“Begin your adventures as early as you can. I promise you, you will not burn out. It actually becomes the most enjoyable way to spend time on earth, as opposed to just pacing the cage.”

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