By Mike Lindsay
See the Event Pictures
A full year of anticipation, three months of planning, and the time had come to taste the music where it should be... Jimmy Buffett in south Florida.
The trip was set to be a three-night escape from civilization. No laptops, no cell phones, no meetings, no answering e-mail. Leaving the office at 5pm Thursday December 9, I joined the masses on the Beltway for a short ride around from Rockville to the GW Parkway, then down along the river to Reagan National Airport. Traffic backed up early this day, and my 5-mile trip on the Beltway took nearly an hour. The images of ocean shores, boat drinks and sunny blue skies began dancing in my mind far faster than traffic was moving, so opening the windows and sunroof helped ease the time. I arrived at the airport to find that my flight would be leaving on time, so I stopped quickly for a cold brew before boarding. The plane left the gate on time, but was held up on the runway for 20 minutes before taking off at 7:45pm. I knew by this point that my chances of seeing any part of the Thursday night show were gone. Upon flying over the Pavilion around 940pm, I set the cranial hard drive in motion to devise a plan to get to the show. The hotel shuttle driver showed quickly, a young guy who at first glance would be an ideal accomplice for a bribe. After leaving the terminal area, I started to comment about how the van sounded a little noisy, and that he should pull over and check it out. He asked what made me notice that, and at that point I made my offer...$20 for a lift to the show, corroboration that he had to get the engine checked out, and a letter of recommendation to the boss. He laughed, and said that he wished that he was there also. He graciously stopped at the nearest gas station, not to check out the engine (it was fine...made that part up) but to allow me to spend that $20 on fuel for me...BEER. It was worth a try. He did offer to get a cab for me, but I decided to get the beer on ice in the room and get comfortable first. About an hour after getting settled, the show bus pulled in and the partying began.
The Holiday Inn Palm Beach Airport once again played host to both club members and parrotheads who traveled from as close as Riviera Beach and as far away as California for the festivities. It is located across the street from the airport, next to I-95, about 10 minutes from the beach and 15 minutes from the Pavilion. The sad sight of a closed Phillips Seafood Restaurant was next door; it closed at least 2 years ago because of its distance from the downtown and waterfront areas. How ironic that it would take a group of parrotheads to bring it back to life for the Friday night show. As we learned later, the hotel is owned by the Phillips family, not well-known in Florida but known for putting crab in crab cakes in Ocean City, Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic for the last 40 years. David, the hotelís GM, worked for several years in the family restaurants in Maryland before making the move south. He and his staff did an admirable job to make all of us, whether from DC or Key West, feel at home. Room rates, beer prices and food costs were all very reasonable.
Among the first people I met in the lobby was Robin from the Palm Beach club, who promptly announced a party in their suite upstairs. Room 415, which quickly was renamed Club 415, was the site of after-hours gatherings Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. The poolside bar didnít open Thursday, and since the lounge was catering to the suit crowd, Andrea and I joined Mike (Captain Tony) and Lu Cousins there. The room had a full-size sectional couch and a small balcony which provided a view of...the train tracks. In addition to Robin, we met several other Palm Beach Parrotheads...Ann and Rodney, Rich the club president, and Karen. Beers were flowing freely, but food was nowhere to be found. The call came out for the seventh deadly sin...Pizza! We called seven different places around midnight, and none were still open to make deliveries. We began to wonder how people lived after midnight here. We were then offered tequila. End of question. We left the club well after 2am.
After nearly 3 months without a vacation, I was overjoyed to be in bed until after 10am. We made plans to meet Mike and Lu to go for breakfast, and to meet Diane back at the hotel afterward for a tour of Palm Beach. Waiting out front to go, two guys checking in began asking questions about where the festivities were taking place for the weekend around the hotel. After telling them what I knew, I noticed that they were wearing Persian Gulf Parrothead Club t-shirts. Mark and Mike Donnelly, brothers from Boston, are vets who were overseas for many years in the 80ís and 90ís. They confirmed that Saudi King Fahd was not a member, although he was a fan. We would see a lot of these guys during the weekend. Out of the next arriving shuttle from the airport came Bob Becker; we let him know of our plans to return after breakfast.
Once Lu and Mike arrived, we headed out for either a late breakfast or lunch, with our first stop being the Sailfish Marina on Singer Island, near Riviera Beach. They had been to the restaurant there before, but on this day we found that a new clubhouse, restaurant and lounge were under construction. Before leaving, Mike did take the opportunity to replace his slightly-aged (shredded) hat in the gift shop with a new one. No discount was available for replacing the hat, but not from a lack of asking. We found lunch up the street from the marina at the Buccaneer Inn, which allowed Mike to continue his quest for good Clams Casino and Lobster Bisque. The bisque rated quite highly, but the clams were small and bland. Although the want for a boat trip from the marina was there, the day was getting along quickly. We returned to the hotel, Afterward, it was time for the pilgrimmage to the sand and sea - Palm Beach, South Ocean Drive, Route A1A. Diane and Bob joined us for the drive over to Palm Beach.
Among the many sites of Palm Beach we visited was Worth Avenue, a Rodeo Drive-style collection of fancy boutiques, galleries, clothing stores, and antique dealers. Talk about posh...even the street signs had noses that point up and away from you. In one shop window, I spotted a collection of flamingo gifts. Having a flamingo nut for a sister, the attraction was immediate. Several of us wandered in, and found these Flamingo Christmas Tree ornaments, made by of all companies Department 56. I turned out not the only one with a flamingo lover in the family...Diane and Bob each bought one also.
We returned to the hotel and learned that the doors to Phillips next door were opening at 5:30 before the 8:30 show. I quickly changed and moved downstairs to garner decent seats. Upon noticing 8 spots in the front 2 rows, we staked claim to watch another Mac/Peter show from the front row once again. Drinks and food could wait...seats were first. The Palm Beach Parrotheads did a great job organizing everything...food and drink sales were done by ticket for draft beer, bottled beer, rail drinks and grilled cheeseburgers and chicken. The hotel also opened the poolside bar, just outside the club door, for drink sales. Also brought in for the show was a brewery rep from Hurricane Reef, who brought a keg of Pale (red) Ale and a keg of Lager for sampling. He started taking $1.50 tickets for samples, but concluded not long after tapping that the only way he was going home with 2 empty kegs would require discontinuing said practice. Wise move...and a successful one. Outside on the pool deck, two reps from Cruzan set up a tasting table with free samples available from among ten different rums and four tequilas through the night. The sales rep, who was holding court at the bar, was mixing batch after batch of rum runner samples (a full cup) as long as the waitress was tipped. Two of the hotel cooks were also outside preparing specialties of the evening...grilled Cheeseburgers. Heinz 57 was requested, but barbeque sauce was all that was available. Weíll remember for next year. Either way, this was a LOT more than I expected a $10 ticket to take care of, and a lot more than Virginia would let us get away with doing.
Shortly before the show I stepped behind the mixing board and met Steve Huntington, the Wolfman Jack of Radio Margaritaville (okay, RM DOT COM). He showed me his high-tech transmission sources (stereo mixing box, line into the mixing board and IBM laptop), spoke about interviewing famous people backstage before, during and after shows, and talked about how much he has enjoyed working for and with Jimmy over the last year. He hadnít been informed about whether Jimmy would be appearing at this show, but he didnít deny anything when I inquired. Would this night hold another surprise appearance? Only time and patience in a front-row seat would tell.
By showtime, only Andrea, Bob, Diane, Mike and Lu joined me up front. First on was Key Westís (via Concord, NH) own Scott Kirby. This was the first time that any of us had the opportunity to see this guitarist play after reading a great deal of praises from various sources in the Church. Scott is a great songwriter and guitarist, whose influences cover styles from Nashville to Nantucket. After a 16-song segment on his own, he took a seat in the crowd with wife Michelle and enjoyed the opportunity to hear Peter and Mac perform their own material. As enjoyable as his set was to listen to, meeting with him was an even greater pleasure. He is a humble musician, a trait that characterizes many of the musicians that make up the Coral Reefer traveling road show. He was as comfortable in the crowd as he was onstage, and mentioned that he would be in the crowd for the concert Saturday night as well. Itís true...even musicians catch the parrothead bug.
Peter Mayer tagged in second on stage about 9:40. He sang and played several songs from both his recent Romeoís Garage CD and his upcoming Spare Tire Orchestra (due this month Ė see petermayer.com for info) CD with his brother Jim handling his bass for almost the full set. The frenzy in the crowd grew through the set, and after a few more songs Peter invited another to join him and Jim onstage. Up comes Fingers Taylor, the harpmaster and original Coral Reefer band mate of Jimmyís at the University of Southern Mississippi. After one or two more songs, in from behind door number 3 appears the recognizable face of Tina Gullickson, and with Tenor Sax in hand, Tom (TC) Mitchell from the Coral Reefer horns. While waiting in the wings to go onstage, I caught Tinaís attention for a moment, and she generously signed a picture of the two of us that was taken during her appearance with Peter and Jim Mayer at the Shark Club in Centreville VA back in June. She sang backup with Peter for the last half of his set, which lasted until almost 11pm.
Macís set began after a short break, with a set list similar to his State Theatre show back in August. I began to wonder if this was the case because Jimmy joined him back in August and he was planning to again. Only time would tell, but what a great time. Staples of the Mac McAnally catalog were all performed, including Socrates, Pop Top Hip Hop, Good For Nothing, In the City, Semi-True Stories, The Ass and a Hole song, and Itís My Job (see macmcanally.com for info). Although rumors continued to fly, Jimmy did not appear. Scott and Peter returned to the stage with Mac around midnight for several encore songs. Several locals around me began discussing some new Christmas song of Peterís, called The Reindeer Song, that they wanted to hear. I was told that it wasnít played because of Radio Margaritavilleís broadcast, and that the lyrics were down the politically incorrect path. And I thought I left that behavior in DC!
One of the luckier people I met in the crowd that night was Rodney from the Palm Beach club. Before the show, he was wearing a Virginia Tech t-shirt; his duties during the show had him wearing a red home-made "Security" t-shirt and standing by the back door. For several reasons, he was the happiest guy we saw all night. Most notable among the reasons was evident when Tina Gullickson was escorted in the door where he was standing guard. Talk about hazardous work! Tina walked in dressed quite well...long black skirt, black tank top, high heels, long blond hair...you all know. Rodneyís face matched the color of his shirt for the few minutes before she took the stage. A priceless moment for him.
After the show ended, Peter, Fingers, Mac and Scott grabbed seats at their concession table to sign CDís and talk among the fans. Peterís fan club manager, Greg from the Chesapeake Club was there also. Other than Scott, who spent the weekend at the Holiday Inn also, each of the Coral Reefers was glad to not be stuck in their hotel rooms for the night. We were, also. Most of us headed back out to the pool bar after things wound down in the club, which stayed open until after 2am. Ken took in a late night swim with an attractive female; Karen and Ray joined the party until way past 3, as did Captain Jim, master of the JimmyDreamz web site (jimmydreamz.com). Jim lives and works in a metropolis called Radford, Virginia, working 2 hours a day, 3 days a week for the Federal Government, and the other 6 hours a day and 2 work days behind his office computer working on the web site. We stopped into Club 415 when security cleared us out of the pool area, and just about made it until 4am when the energy level ran out. It is much easier to deal with that happening when the room is only one flight up.
The hotel lobby was slow to gain life before 11am. A few of us did make it down for breakfast. Scott and Michelle Kirby were visiting with friends in the lobby after a morning round of tennis in a local park. I spent a few moments talking with them and learned that just like the rest of us, they were excited about going out for Jimmyís show that night. After a meal that literally doubled my cholesterol score, the day became official as Captain Tony arrived and officially opened the bar with the first beer poured for the day. The same bartender from the night before was back, and we decided not to thank her for the vodka leftovers. She did have enough for bloody marys, which she made quite a few of for those who came out. We knew she was out of sorts from a late Friday night when Lu tried to order a margarita on the rocks three times, she received a bloody mary each time. I wonder if her blondness was deeper than the roots.
After taking a quick dip in the pool, we met up with more parrotheads who were arriving for the pre-bus-trip party. Two other Virginians, non-members for not much longer who happened to make the trip, were among the day crowd. Even Bill and Monica were there...no, not those two...a couple from North Palm Beach who were around to go to the show for just the day. Once breakfast had settled, it was time to get organized for going to the show.
OFF TO THE FAIRGROUNDS
We left for the show around 1:30pm with 3 stops to make...KFC for chicken, Walgreens for beer, and a deli for Sandwiches (bread soaks up beer also). While waiting in line for over 30 minutes in the sandwich shop, we met up with a family who drove over from Sarasota for the show. They recognized our wardrobe, we recognized theirs...instant friends. We set them up with directions to the hotel so they could check in first, and once done, we were on our way, arriving around 2:45. Coral Sky Pavilion is neither coral nor sky-high. The facility has virtually the same capacity as Merriweather Post, about 18,000, with a man-made hill similar to but significantly smaller than the mound at Nissan. Parking was spread out on both the north and south sides of the facility. I rode over with Mike, Lu and Andrea, and Bob rode with Diane. After scoping the parking area for facilities, we quickly found Kenny, Alice, Anne, Karen and Ray one row away. The area around us was full of phrolicking. A group from Michigan collected enough Corona bottles through the day to spell out Jimmy Buffett on the pavement Ė the letters were each three feet long. Another group made a Christmas tree with lights, powered by their car, with Margaritaville Tequila all around it. As always, time flew by, the beer flowed, and the chicken disappeared. Not even an hour-long rain shower dampened our spirits on this day. A group from Connecticut directly in front of us brought a canvas tarp to use in case of rain...we volunteered to hold it up when they discovered that they had no poles. Diane, Bob, Mike and Lu were all able to get decent tickets buying them at the box office around 5pm when the band and promoters all had to turn in unused tickets. I bought mine from Ticketbastard in September when they went on sale, but each of them ended up with great seats. As time and images of wild parrotheads went by, the spirit of the music and Coronas took over about an hour before the show. I met a group of people from Jacksonville who were singing with one guy playing guitar using a Jimmy Buffett greatest hits songbook. After messing around for a moment, the player pulled out a second guitar and invited me to work something up with him. We messed around with Margaritaville in a minor key for a moment (as the guys do on the CD Video), I found the chords to Southern Cross. One trip through with the CD to firm up the changes, and we got through playing it, leaving the words to others. I wonít be joining Chris Gentzler on stage anytime soon, but it was a lot of fun.
Going in for the show, I must have seen at least 9 other people with the same red hawaiian shirt I own. If I came away with any objective this night, it is to fix this problem. The show launched as all others have with Cronkite and Lage Nom Ai, but quickly took a turn down the oldies path. Jimmy and the band appeared very relaxed on this night, helped by the presence of Delaney and Cameron and several of their young classmates dancing on one side of the stage. In addition to the Moon, we were treated to a trip to Ringling, Montana, a dance for the big man in Cairo (with Peter and Jim Mayer sporting turbans), Gumbo, Cheeseburgers, In The City and Southern Cross to name a few. As has been the case with each of the six shows on this leg, the second set again opened with a brief acoustic set, which on this night included Migration, Presents to Send You, Tin Cup Chalice, and Mac McAnallyís Itís My Job for the second night in a row. I sat next to a guy who brought his girlfriend to her first JB show. He told a great story about being called to work today and blowing it off. Sounds normal, but this guy is a Broward County policeman who turned down an assignment to be part of the local guard for a dignitary who was in town to play a round of golf. Bill Clinton. Now thatís loyalty. Enough about politics for now. The final song of the night brought the holiday season into focus...Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rhum was this nightís closer. There were attempts to sing Happy Birthday to Jimmy in the crowd, but nothing materialized during any of the breaks. The show was excellent again, a great one to build up hope for continuing into 2000.
Not knowing how long the party would remain in the lot afterwards, we returned to the scene to say our farewells to the friends we made over the course of the day and weekend. Our friends Ken, Kelly, Tony and Sue from Connecticut treated us to a midnight snack of chocolate chip cookies and beer. The Michigan group finished their layout of bottles. Another group we met at the hotel, from Kentucky, made it on MargaritaVision during In The City, with the real Sheriff of Louisville (and his stuffed buzzard wearing a sign that said very old parrothead) appearing prominently at the end of the video. Also after the show, Ken and Alice ran into Jackson Quigley, the author of several Parrothead chronicles, in the lot. We invited him back to the hotel, but I didnít stay around to hear his reply. By 12:30am, the local police nicely began asking us to leave, so we headed back to the hotel then. The partying resumed at the poolside bar, which was closed when we returned, but a great place to hang out. Most everyone stayed around past 3am, with one group to the side singing along with a guy on guitar and the rest of us screaming along with a CD player it until 4:30am. At this point, the reality of the fact that I had a messy room of things to pack, a shower to take, and a 7am flight back to DC to make.
Considering how much talk there has been in the media counting Jimmy closer than ever to retirement, he has given his fans a full year of fun. To close out the year, he will be performing on the Tonight show on December 30 (doing "Southern Cross") with the band before ringing in 2000 at the Universal Ampitheatre. The tour heads west in April possibly in support of a new release. From there, the year remains to be seen. With at least three months before the next show, there is time to work on breaking several healthy New Yearís resolutions, to find an original Hawaiian shirt that looks like no one elseís, making sure a trip to Atlanta for a show happens, and living crazy so we donít go insane.