So to pick up where we left off in part 1…
After a number of attempts to get through the web of people and misinformation that seemed to surround Jimmy Buffett, I was talking with my promoter friend that had been sitting next to him at the All Star Game and he said “If you really want to get something to Jimmy, call Margaritaville in Key West and ask for Sunshine”. At the time I thought, “This is cool, kind of like we have to talk in code or something to get through to the man”, so I continued sleuthing and finally got our proposal to Sunshine. It turns out Sunshine was a lady, she’d been with Jimmy Buffet from the beginning and ran all of his merchandising while keeping the wheels turning at Margaritaville. I received a surprise call one afternoon from Sunshine saying “Congratulations! It looks like you’re in!” We worked out the details with the management company and a few weeks later Wally and I were off to Richmond for rehearsals.
We had customized our show for the tour with tropical costumes, Fin hats and Parrot hats made from balloons, while the back pack was designed as a palm tree which would extend up so that fans could throw soft coconuts into it. We arrived at the amphitheater early that day, introduced ourselves around and tried to get our bearings. No one knew who we were, what we did or where to put us, the production manager had just heard that Jimmy wanted us there so showed us a quiet space on the side of the loading dock and said “Jimmy and the band will be here in a couple of hours, so just hang out and he’ll let you know what he needs when he gets here”. It was just the two of us and our traveling road case out on the side of the loading dock, so we suited up and set up while watching the crew assemble the rest of the set. It’s a whirlwind production; starting with the empty shell of an amphitheater and in a few hours installing lighting, sound, backdrops, staging, video screens and all of the technical equipment which is tied together with miles of cables. We just stood aside and made sure to stay out of the way.
We were invited back to catering for lunch where we had a chance to meet a few of the crew members while they had a break from the frantic activity of setting up. When we described what we planned on doing most of them just smiled slightly and shook their head as if to say “Another one of Jimmy’s crazy ideas, we’ll see where this one goes…” About 1:30 Jimmy Buffett arrived with the band and took a seat about 15 rows up in the center of the amphitheater; one by one he met with the director of each department to go through every detail of the show. First was Sid Strong who was the set and lighting director, he’d been responsible for the look and feel of Jimmy’s show for years and continues to do so to this day. This was followed by a lot of discussion with the band members concerning sound, staging and choreography. Then it came to video: the theme for this year was Recession Recess , but it was the first time Jimmy had added video with big screens on each side of the stage so they could broadcast not only the show but video, (known as Parrotvision), of the fans that was shot in the parking lot and throughout the crowd during the show. Jimmy pays an amazing amount of attention to all of the details and is involved in every aspect of the production.
We sat anxiously on the dock until after what seemed like hours, the stage manager came back and said “Jimmy wants to see you”. We ran out to Jimmy in our outrageously tropical outfits and Jimmy said simply “What have you got in mind?” I went into the outline of what we had planned in the parking lot and across the lawn; made a few balloon palm trees, fin and parrot hats, then Wally popped up the palm tree backpack and we played a quick round having the band members and crew take shots with the coconut, Jimmy of course got the final shot and when that one hit we shot off and covered the group with a burst of streamers. “Then right before the show kicks off I thought we could go onstage and do a T shirt launch to really get the crowd going before your entrance”. Jimmy just smiled and said “I like the look, you guys go for it and we’ll see how it plays!” So we were in! We had a few days to watch rehearsals and get a feeling for how this whole touring production thing worked, then it would be the first show where we could take it to the crowd and “see how it plays”. The production manager asked us what we required for each show, which was simple, “just a place to put our road case and a dozen T shirts per show”. The only change they made to our plan was that they didn’t want us on stage, we could use side stage under the video screen if there was one or set up a few road cases to stand on off to the side. We adapted to whatever each venue had to offer, as long as they could hit us with a spotlight and we could be seen, we could make it work.
And apparently it did work, as this was just the beginning. I spent the next 15 years touring and working with Jimmy Buffett!