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Q & A with A1A: The Official and Original Jimmy Buffett Tribute Show Celebrates the Big “25”
Article and Interview by Ashton Pike
For 25 years, A1A has been acclaimed as the Official and Original Jimmy Buffett Tribute Show, and for 25 years, they have been excelling with loyal Parrot Heads in tow. From its start as a one man band in 1991 to its transformative growth over the past 25 years that has resulted from overcoming multiple changes in band members, economic recessions, and personal hardships, A1A has repeatedly proven that they are a one-of-a-kind, unparalleled Trop Rock band that is here to stay; and the residents of Margaritaville couldn’t be more thrilled.
With a few moments to spare between sound check and show time, a few of the current members of A1A – Jeff Pike, Rick Meeder, Eric Baumgartner, Chris Blackwell, and Vance Kelly – including Manager Kathy Mullen laid out the facts of what it’s like being a part of a band that’s become well-established and at the top of the Trop Rock genre by its quarter of a century birthday.
Q: Over the past 25 years, A1A has played nearly 1,000 shows worldwide. During your last 4 years as the piano, keyboard and vocals of the Trop Rock performance, what has been the most memorable show you have ever played?
A: (Eric Baumgartner, Piano, Keyboard and Vocals, 2012) Hands down, playing on stage with Jimmy Buffett at The Master’s this spring. He’s the one who created the whole genre of music, and as we came up on stage to join him during “Change in Latitude”, it was the coolest thing to hear Jimmy Buffett’s voice come out of my monitor on stage instead of Jeff’s! I didn’t expect that to be the thing that surprised me, but it was just an incredibly surreal moment that I’ll never forget.
Q: We all know that putting 7 men in a green room together before every show has most likely resulted in some interesting stories and jokes. How would you describe the charisma of the band back stage?
A: (Chris Blackwell, Lead Guitar, 2014) Hmm, well. We’re the Three’s Company of tribute bands. There’s clear defiance of one another’s ideals, misunderstandings running rampant and underpinning rage. No, no, I’m just kidding. All jokes aside, there is clearly a brotherhood between the guys back stage, before and after shows.
Q: As one of the few members of A1A who currently have been with the band for over 10 years, what is something that you notice hasn’t changed over the years even when the band’s members did?
A: (Vance Kelly, Saxophone and Production, 2004) The comedy! There’s always one thing at every show that becomes the most memorable, no matter how good or bad the show was. We always have good stories to tell regardless, and it’s like a connector for the band – something we can all talk about or relate to that builds the bond between the guys.
Q: As the founder of A1A, you’ve been a part of it all for the past 25 years. What has been the largest obstacle the band has had overcome?
A: (Jeff Pike, Lead Vocals and Acoustic Guitar, 1991) As the Parrot Head Club has grown over the years, our popularity also grew, and other bands starting popping up trying to replicate what we do. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the rising Trop Rock bands weren’t as high of quality as A1A, and in turn, their presence in the genre watered down the respect of what we do on some level. As some clients have chosen the lesser, inexpensive bands, we’ve had to constantly prove why we’re better and worth the money in comparison. We’ve had to prove why we are the true Official and Original Jimmy Buffett Tribute Band.
Q: So, A1A essentially laid the path for other Trop Rock bands who then attempted to follow in the band’s footsteps. What makes A1A unique to stand out among the newer Jimmy Buffett Tribute bands?
A: (Rick Meeder, Bass Guitar and Vocals, 2009) There are several bands out there doing Trop Rock like Jeff said, but no one is doing it how we’re doing it – or to the extent that we’re doing it. The whole concept of A1A that started 25 years ago has evolved immensely in production and material, which has given A1A the true Buffett persona throughout the years that other bands are just not able to match.
Q: Though the effect is different for everyone, what have you gained personally by being a part of a high-production, Jimmy Buffett entertainment band like A1A?
A: (Wayne Viar, Drums and Percussion, 2009) In the last 7 years as a member of A1A, I’d say I’ve gained a huge appreciation for quality production. From the planning stage and getting the gear to the logistics and all the way to the end of the show, I see the immense effort necessary to do the quality job that A1A does for every show, and it’s an insightful and humbling influence.
Q: As the 25th Anniversary year peaks at the halfway mark this summer, what would you say has been A1A’s biggest accomplishment of 2016 so far?
A: (Vance Kelly, Saxophone and Production, 2004) As Eric mentioned earlier, playing with Jimmy Buffett at the Master’s this past April was an incredible day in the history of A1A. For Jimmy Buffett to have requested A1A to be his famous Coral Reefer Band for the show, it was a huge honor.
Q: In your short two years and still counting as A1A’s Manager, the band has had nothing but incredible things to say about you and your dedication to A1A’s present and future. How have you seen the band progress?
A: (Kathy Mullen, Manager, 2014) I have the shortest tenure with A1A, but I’m in the middle of and witnessing significant changes! We have created a business model with a foundation for immense growth, and we are striving to put a fresh look into A1A by adding more shows at new venues with our overarching goal being to create a bigger and better show, aligning more with Jimmy Buffett. With a phenomenal band where each member has extraordinary talent, bringing their talent together to form A1A combined with the ongoing changes guarantees numerous performances to remember.
Q: Now we know what the woman in charge has to say about the future of A1A in terms of business, but what do you see or hope to see in the future for A1A as the man who started it all?
A: (Jeff Pike, Lead Vocalist and Acoustic Guitar, 1991) Overall, I would like to see us do more original music to break back into the market as well as make our shows bigger, production wise. However, to put it simply, I would just like to keep this band in the future. A1A has conquered numerous obstacles, made great progress and has changed frequently, but it is truly an original, and so my hope is to keep it.
With each show, A1A proves why they are the Official and Original Jimmy Buffett Tribute Show. Performing classic favorites that get the crowd off of their feet and clapping to the beat like “Cheeseburger in Paradise” or swaying on the dance floor with their loved one like “Come Monday”, each performance is truly memorable for Parrot Heads stuck on island time.
The inclusion of A1A originals into every show exposes the band’s own personality and is evidence of their hard work and dedication over the past 25 years to not just being a Jimmy Buffett Tribute Show, but also being a success in the Tropical Rock music industry. Well, leis off to this group of talented gentlemen and cheers to hopefully 25 more years of A1A’s spectacular shows. Happy 25th Birthday, fellas!
by Ashton Pike c/o TwentySomethingandFearless.wordpress.com
There may not have been cheeseburgers served, but it was most certainly paradise. This past winter (December 2015), A1A lived the high life as they packed their bags and flew to the Grand Cayman Islands in anticipation for a birthday show like no other. When A1A Manager Kathy Mullen received an email from Ellen Schwartz regarding a private party featuring A1A for her long-time significant other’s birthday, she beamed with excitement, knowing an incredible opportunity had just risen for the band, but what she nor the rest of the band could have prepared for was the astounding, once-in-a-lifetime experience they were about to witness firsthand.
Adrien Briggs is an icon on the island of Grand Cayman and was the man of the weekend as his love for Jimmy Buffett and his status as a Parrot Head brought the A1A crew to the island over 1,000 miles away from Atlanta, GA. Co-owner of the family-owned Sunset House (Grand Cayman’s Hotel for Divers, By Divers – sunsethouse.com), Rum Point Club (rumpointclub.com) and Red Sail Sports (redsailcayman.com), Adrien has brought immense success not only to himself but to the island he calls home. His businesses have endured through years of operation and continue to be a huge asset to the island’s tourism. But for the few days the crew was in town, it was all play and no work for Adrien’s big birthday!
As the Managing Director of Travel Pros (travelproscayman.com) and, according to Kathy, just about the best woman to work with, Ellen Schwartz, Adrien’s significant other, was able to plan and book flights from Atlanta to the Grand Cayman Islands for the band plus one – myself being the plus one. Between her patient back-and-forth communication prior to the trip and Adrien’s incredible hospitality by allowing us to reside at Sunset House, the two are a true dynamic duo that brighten any room (or beach!).
The day before the birthday soiree, Adrien and Ellen treated the band to a day in the life of an islander on a permanent vacation. We set sail on the Spirit Cayman with Red Sail Sports in the early morning with the sun high and the skies clear. Anchored far out in crystal blue water near the northern tip of the island, we got the unbelievable opportunity to snorkel with stingrays in a bay area that has popularly become known as Stingray City. Surprisingly, they were calm and loving creatures, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t on our toes a few times! After a day out on the water, Adrien and Ellen brought us back to Rum Point Club, one of Adrien’s top successes tucked away on the northern tip of the island, where colorful bungalows, picnic tables and decorations brought the quaint beach area to life. The band along with everyone in tow were all smiles and tanned skin at the end of the day as we sipped on beachy beverages and watched the sun sink into the ocean.
Day two on the island meant it was back to business with an eventful and exciting day ahead of us! Sound check with the band began promptly at 3:00pm, and with the band in high spirits and the sun shining bright, it was a beautiful day in paradise! As 8:00pm neared when the show began, guests arrived by boats large and small, donning their best island attire – that’s right, lots of florals! Lights were strung between palm trees and guests were treated to a variety of gourmet treats from fresh fish to delicious meats, and of course the desserts had a table of their own. The Parrot Head theme held true throughout the party as margaritas were poured, Coronas were sipped and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” began to play. It didn’t take long for the large crowd to hit the sandy dance floor as A1A lured the party-goers with the classic “Margaritaville”. Adrien and Ellen took their well-deserved spotlight in front of the stage and danced ‘til the music stopped and not a moment sooner.
From the island cuisines and themed decor to the beautiful beach backdrop and wonderfully pleased Adrien and Ellen, the night could not have gone any better. Ellen transformed Rum Point Club into a true Maragaritaville like a dream come true for Adrien, and A1A delivered seamlessly. Although it was bitter sweet to pack up and leave the beautiful island, we want to thank Adrien Briggs and Ellen Schwartz yet again for an incredible experience and a wonderful evening. A1A is honored to have been chosen to help give Adrien the birthday celebration he truly deserved. We hope to be back in the Grand Caymans very soon. After all, changes in latitude, changes in attitude!
Archived review - click here
Lead vocalist Jeff Pike, along with Eric Baumgartner, Rick Meeder, Chris Blackwell, Wayne Viar, Scotty Sells, Vance Kelly, Tom Morfoot, and Foe Davis, will be performing at the Geranium Jam 2016, following the Geranium Festival this Saturday, May 21.
The A1A band—the official and original Jimmy Buffet Tribute band—formed over their absolute love of Jimmy Buffet, his music and the laid-back lifestyle his music describes AND provides.
According to Pike, “In 1991 I asked Atlanta Parrot Head Club Founder, Scott Nickerson to join me in my already successful one-man tribute to Jimmy Buffett.”
“In 1992, we won a Jimmy Buffett Sound-Alike Contest for Margaritaville Records, and the A1A ball started rolling—a ball that is still rolling 25 years later,” he said.
As the band grew, they were instrumental in the fundamental building and growth of the International Parrot Head Club community—the official fan club of Jimmy Buffet—as well the Trop Rock Music genre as it is today. They’ve released 3 original Trop Rock albums, in addition to their tributes.
“Jimmy Buffet and other members from his band, Greg “Fingers” Taylor, Mac McAnally, Michael Utley, Robert Greenidge, Peter Mayer, Nadirah Shakoor and Tina Gullickson have all performed with us over the years,” Pike said.
In 2009 Nadirah Shakoor chose A1A to be her back up band to help promote her Mailboat Records release, ‘Nod To The Story Teller.’ Not only has the band been surfing the music scene, but the big screen as well. Jimmy Buffett was instrumental in landing A1A in the Lions Gate Major Motion Picture Release, ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting,’ where they recorded the classic “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” which was included in the movie and on the soundtrack released by Capitol Records.
A1A is so awesome, they were even asked to be Jimmy’s band for a private performance for The World Surf League at The Master’s Open. “Not surprisingly, we were very proud to be Jimmy’s ‘Coral Reefer Band’ for a day,” Pike said.
Pike said his favorite song to play is “Come Monday,” and this week he’s been listening to a lot of Al Green, Daryl Hall, Hall and Oates, George Strait and Thin Lizzy, proving that they are well-rounded musicians and are not one-trick ponies. Additionally, all the musicians in the band have a broad background in music, which attributes to them putting on one heck of a good show.
“I could write a book on the accomplishments of the esteemed members of my band,” Pike said. “They are all career musicians and have been involved in many successful projects and bands, from bars to theaters, arenas, stadiums, Broadway and back again,” he said.
“I am blessed to have some of the best musicians in the state of Georgia and I do not take it lightly. I am very blessed and humbled.”
Be sure to attend the Geranium Jam JailHouse Beach Party outdoor concert at 55 Harkins Street on May 21, from 6 p.m.–10 p.m. to check out A1A Let’s Get Tropical, The Georgia Flood, and the McDonough Rhythm Section!
If you can’t make the event, blend yourself a margarita, lay back in a beach chair and check out the A1A’s Facebook, Twitter, and music pages.
A1A performed in the Lionsgate Major Motion Picture Release, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” which was released in May of 2012. The movie stars Dennis Quaid, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock, Brooklyn Decker and more. We are happy to announce that we also have one song on the soundtrack. The movie was released in May of 2012 and the DVD and Soundtrack are now available. Pick them up and enjoy!