Margaritaville Lives

We picnic with Parrotheads, get literary with book-minded bands and witness an old-fashioned blues royale

It's about half-past three coconut-rum Jell-O shots and a quarter till a fourth Corona, but according to the barefoot, steel-drumming James "Sunny Jim" White -- and the 200 or so pholks who've phlocked to the St. Louis Parrot Head Club's sixth annual beach party on July 9 -- it's five o'clock somewhere.

Though Lake St. Louis' Windjammer Point Pavilion isn't quite paradise, the STLPHC is sating its collective self on cheeseburgers, raising money for the Save the Manatee Club -- Parrot Heads in Paradise Inc.'s motto is "Party with a Purpose" -- and offering theories on why, for the fifth year running, their beloved Jimmy Buffett isn't playing a summer concert date at the UMB Bank Pavilion.

"I heard the previous owners wanted xpercent of sales of his merchandise, and that's where the main conflict started," says Jerry Turnbow, keyboardist for St. Louis band PHINS. "With three core members of his band from St. Louis, you'd think they could work something out."

Gatsby's American Dream
Gatsby's American Dream

White, who makes his living performing at Parrot Head gatherings and is mentioned in Buffett's 1999 memoir, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, thinks otherwise.

"I think the Howard Kaufman agency -- Jimmy's agent -- those guys control everything," he says. "Basically [Buffett] shows up and plays all the major concerts, though he still does all the smaller things he wants to do. So it's probably a management decision relating to logistics."

Still, some have a theory that Buffett has boycotted the Clear Channel-owned venue because of Maryland Heights' City Ordinance 95, which prohibits tailgating and the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the UMB parking lot for safety reasons.

But STLPHC president Dennis Arnold denies the parking lot/politics connection.

"A Jimmy Buffett concert is 20,000 of his closest friends," Arnold says. "I have never seen an argument or a fight at a Buffett concert. Even with as many margaritas as they tend to get in them, there's no friction." Arnold points out that despite a similar policy prohibiting tailgating, Buffett will play the Verizon Wireless Music Center in Indianapolis on August 31.

Eric Blockie, executive director of UMB Bank Pavilion, agrees that there's not a link.

"There's no correlation between what goes on out in the parking lots and in here," he says, noting that the ordinance also prevents the Mobil station on Riverport Drive from selling alcohol on show dates. "Jimmy Buffett has simply massively toned down his tour schedule. Financially, it's a great date for us, though. We'd love to have him."

In the meantime, the STLPHC will keep mixing the frozen concoctions that help them hang on and know that it's probably nobody's fault.

"We're just lucky to have the club and their many events," says "unofficial Southeast district representative" Dan Brown, who drove two hours from Jackson, Missouri, to attend. "We've got several bands that, even though they could never really replace Jimmy, do a decent job.

"And we roadtrip. If you're a Muslim, you go to Mecca. If you're a Parrot Head, you go to Buffett." -- Julie Seabaugh

Word Up
Don't look now, but we've reached the halfway point of summertime, and you high school students will be wrestling with summer reading lists before you know it. Luckily, many rock & roll bands have drawn inspiration from several great American novelists, taking their names -- and sometimes literary cues -- from actual writers. So, in the spirit of Cliffs Notes (and to save you kiddos the trouble of actually reading the books), we offer CritNotes, a rockin' alternative to summer reading.

Reading Assignment: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Synopsis:Playboy millionaire attempts to recapture his lost love among the charlatans and hangers-on of the East Coast

CritNotes Suggests: Emo four-piece Gatsby's American Dream, whose very name evokes a cribbed essay

Sample Literary Passage: "I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby's house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited -- they went there.... Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks."

As Translated by the Band:"Show me a swollen-headed hotshot son of a bitch/ Who licks his lips caked with glory/And ghosts in fine suits will go dance with contracts in their hands" (from "Shhhhhh! I'm Listening to Reason")

Reading Assignment: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)

Synopsis:A family's ordeal with its matriarch's death, as told by each of the family members

CritNotes Suggests: San Diego metal-hardcore Christian band (and apparent Faulkner junkies) As I Lay Dying

Sample Literary Passage: "When they told me she was dying, all that night I wrestled with Satan, and I emerged victorious. I woke to the enormity of my sin; I saw the true light at last, and I fell on my knees and confessed to God and asked His guidance and received it."

As Translated by the Band: "Through this pain I refine/Tearing me from within/ Screaming to be released but held fast by Your love" (from "Torn Within")

Reading Assignment: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

Synopsis:Bomber crews contemplate war and madness during World War II

CritNotes Suggests: New Jersey ska survivors Catch 22, who avoided potential lawsuits by dropping the hyphen

Sample Literary Passage: "'Do you know how long a year takes when it's going away?' Dunbar repeated to Clevinger. 'This long.' He snapped his fingers. 'A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you're an old man.'"

As Translated by the Band:"I still remember when we were young and fragile then/No one gave a shit about us because times were tougher then Feeling so good, cruising the 'hood/Straight into the real world rich kids never understood" (from "Keasbey Nights")

Reading Assignment: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (1948)

Synopsis:Just like it says: nine short stories dealing with suicide, imaginary friends and disfigured loners

CritNotes Suggests: Mid-'90s heartthrob (and eyeglass aficionado) Lisa Loeb and her backing band, Nine Stories

Sample Literary Passage: "He cocked the piece. The he went over and sat on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple."

As Translated by the Band:"So what is this weather, and what is this darkness/And why do I feel so alone?/When will it snow, it's been raining for hours/Why do I feel so alone?" (from "Alone")

Reading Assignment: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Synopsis:A brother and sister discover injustice and their own burgeoning maturity in their small Southern town.

CritNotes Suggests: Liverpool pop-rockers the Boo Radleys, named after the mysterious recluse in Mockingbird

Sample Literary Passage: "Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks.... There was a long jagged scar that ran along his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time."

As Translated by the Band:"I complain about my looks/I feel bad 'bout my hair/Jesus that's so sad I admit it now/Why should anyone care" (from "Melodies for the Deaf") -- Christian Schaeffer

Idol Royale
While thumping his six-string bass, Ben Smith simultaneously delivers some seriously soulful vocals as he and his bandmates in New Rising Sun work their way through a funkified version of the Albert King standard "Crosscut Saw." From across the stage, keyboard player Jerry "Fuzzy" Shelton looks at Smith and guitarist Michael Aguirre, then back over his shoulder at his brother, Dwayne Shelton, behind the drum kit. Then he grabs the mic and says, "Let's show them how we used to do it back in the day."

Without missing a beat, all four musicians snap into a verse's worth of the rumba groove so familiar from King's original recording, then back into their own funk rhythm, prompting hollers and applause from the audience.

It's the opening night of the Blues Royale at BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups, and though organizers Dave Beardsley and Larry Cowsert have jokingly referred to the competition as "an American Idol for blues bands," what's really happening here is something equally old school: a battle of the bands. Every chance to make an impression counts, because the crowd gets a collective vote that's counted along with the votes from the five judges.

In total, fifteen electric bands and five acoustic acts are expected to take part. All four nights are being recorded for possible release on a compilation CD, and the winning band and acoustic act will each get a prize package that includes studio time to record a 10-song album, 100 retail-ready CDs and the services of a publicist to promote the release.

Still, Beardsley -- whose Web site, STLBlues.net, has become a popular resource -- and Cowsert, who heads a recording studio and production company called 12 Bar Productions, aren't in it just for the money. Their mission is to raise awareness of St. Louis as a hotbed of blues music and to serve as role models. "I started 12 Bar with Sam Phillips and Sun Records as my model," says Cowsert. "We want to find talent, help incubate it and then pass it on to the national stage."

An ambitious plan, to be sure -- but as the members of New Rising Sun watch the setup for the next band, they seem satisfied with what they've accomplished tonight, no matter what happens next. The band usually plays small joints on the east side and in north St. Louis. Tonight, they've gotten stage time at the city's best-known blues club and positive attention from a whole new group of potential fans, with the possibility of more to come.

"For two days' notice, it went pretty well," says Jerry Shelton, gesturing at his NAPA Auto Parts shirt as evidence of the last-minute scheduling complications that forced him to rush straight to the show from his day job.

That's life for a working man who's also a working blues musician. But if Beardsley and Cowsert have their way, perhaps Shelton and others will get to do more of the latter. -- Dean C. Minderman

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