As advertised, the island is crawling with pirates. Amazing. Despite a reputation for pillaging and plundering and a penchant for sending victims plank walking, pirates have become quite the popular tourist ploy. There’s nothing those cavalier speed boat riding Somali’s near the Gulf of Aden can do to give these pirates of Robert Louis Stevenson and Disney ilk a bad name. We love the classic, timeless ruthlessness I suppose. And the clothes are so much fun to wear.
As the sun sets on the South Beach parking lot, where Tybrisa Street dead ends into the Atlantic Ocean, Dodd Ferrelle acknowledges the expiring day with “Goodnight Angel,” from his 2003 release Sweet Lowland (Songs Inspired by Tybee Island and Savannah) and the easy breezy Orbison-esque cadence encourages unconscious swaying throughout the crowd. My daughter asks me to dance and I oblige. The next day without provocation she sings, from memory, a little of the haunting chorus “All dressed up like a bruise in your black and blue…” The live set is broadcast simultaneously on a large projection screen backdrop and whoever’s in charge of editing and producing the visual display has opted for a decidedly psychedelic approach. At every and any angle the band shimmers and swirls. Joined by renowned fiddle player and Widespread Panic collaborator David Blackmon and his multi-instrumentalist wife Noel, longtime Tin Foil Star Tim Adams on bass and Marcus Thompson (ex-Lona) on guitar, Ferrelle plows through a set list culled mostly from a career discography more than two decades in the making. The live debut of the soon-to-be-released “Sucker Punch Town,” a hearty slab of blue collar power pop Bruce Springsteen would be proud to have in his canon, has me interested to see what lays ahead for the longtime Athens-based rocker.
Killing a little time at the elaborate petting zoo prior to Captain Jim’s side stage magic show I nearly have to explain the birds and the bees to my five year old as a donkey and a cow both attempt to mount unwilling pen mates, without regard to gender or species, on multiple occasions, which begs the question: Are special event petting zoos the equivalent of federal penitentiaries in the animal kingdom? Everyone’s behind bars, nobody wants to be there, and it’s imperative to watch your back at all times.
Captain Jim’s is a family affair as wife and sons participate in the variety show. She smiles and sings karaoke to “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” (substituting “he”) as the good Captain methodically sets up a series of illusions. The boys juggle and walk on stilts and hand out beaded necklaces (aka pirate treasure) to audience assistants. Doves appear from thin air, then disappear without a trace, then grow to twice their original size in a matter of moments thanks to a fine-tuned magic wand. How’s this for authenticity: The man sports a genuine wooden peg leg (no he didn’t amputate in the name of art—his real one was lost years ago in an unfortunate motorcycle accident).
So, how do you follow a magician? If you’re seminal Southern rockers Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ you immediately turn to your hits. Their set opens with the incomparable Dixie anthem “Honeysuckle Blues” then soon thereafter the near-riot inciting “Build a Fire,” and now the revelers on Tybee Island are completely captivated. We sneak away from the swelling crowd under the huge tent and wander down to the seashore, setting up camp a hundred feet off, stage left, waves crashing behind us—the moon a clipped fingernail hanging in the cloudless night sky. Kevn Kinney, sporting a cowboy hat pulled down low on his face, launches into a great rant: “The song title for “Whatever Happened to the Great American Bubble Factory?” hit me one afternoon when I was at the dollar store getting some bubbles for the neighborhood kids. As I was standing in line, I looked at the ‘made-in’ label and noticed that those bubbles were made in China…China! That’s a long way for a bottle of freakin’ soap to travel. Come on, maybe we can’t make TV’s or refrigerators or cars here anymore, but bubbles,” he bemoans. The diatribe was passionate, if not informative, and the song revealed a playful and light-hearted-in-the-face-of-heavy-handidness side of the band only hinted at in past efforts, but if I had to pick an absolute highlight for the evening then Bubble Factory takes a back seat to hearing thousands of pirate people sing along to the despondent (then hopeful) gem “Blues on Top of Blues,” an unintentional lullaby that sends my little girl peacefully to sleep in my arms, on the beach.