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!