Three-point-seven decades gone by. 1984 was a big year in my world, and the world in general. Apple introduced the Macintosh. Michael Jackson was burned filming a Pepsi commercial, and Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father. Prince released “Purple Rain,” Tina Turner released “Private Dancer,” Springsteen released “Born in the U.S.A.” and Van Halen released (of course) “1984.”
And February of 1984 was when I performed my first gig in the Keys at the old Compass Lounge in the old Holiday Inn.
I had already been on the road a few years at that point, working in a duo with Sallie Foster, another veteran entertainer. The Holiday Inn in Marathon was just another road gig (so we thought) on a five-week South Florida leg that included a stint on the old SeaEscape cruise ship sailing daily to Freeport and back.
Neither of us expected the warm welcome and loads of gig offers we received when we got here. As a musician, it was (and is) an amazing gift to be able to perform in one wonderful tropical island destination, and make a living playing music without having to travel. Thus began the Perpetual Island Tour!
Marathon was a bit different in 1984. U.S.1 through town was mostly two-lane and didn’t become four lanes until the Overseas Lounge. During season, traffic could be problematic. During the three years of the four-lane construction, traffic was a legitimate nightmare. Aviation Boulevard was the Marathon construction bypass. There was no McDonald’s. No Wendy’s. No Walgreens. No Publix. Winn Dixie was where Beall’s is now. And where Winn Dixie now sits was a grocery store called Pantry Pride.
Things that were here then and still are today, mostly unchanged, include the Cracked Conch, the Brass Monkey, Kmart, Island Service Auto Repair, Specialty Hardware, Marathon Lumber, Castaway Restaurant and a few other hardy establishments. Many others have changed and evolved, and more than a few were victims to storms and the passage of time. What I wouldn’t give for a burger from the old Quay Tiki bar…
Back in 1984, bars could stay open 24 hours, and many did. Late nights turned into early mornings, and I recall more than a few nights coming out of a dark club and being blinded by sunlight. The Idle Hour, the Driftwood, the Overseas, the Dog House, the Reef Bar, and the Brass Monkey all stayed open as late or as early as the clientele hung out. And there was a place called Fanny’s … you might be able to guess what happened there. The Howard Johnson’s (where the Hampton Inn is now) catered to the late-night crowd — very late dinners or very early breakfasts were quite popular at 2 a.m. and beyond.
Throughout the past 37 years, I’ve performed at nearly every venue in the Keys at one time or another (except, of course, Fanny’s). I have shared the stage with insanely talented people like Adrienne Z, Roy McAdams, Steven Miller, Terry Cassidy, Clarence Clemons, Freddie Bye, Brian Roberts, Glenn Faast, David Howell and far too many others to mention. I still enjoy taking the stage armed with nothing but a good acoustic guitar. And more than 8,000 performances later, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing music to an appreciative audience.
On that note (pun definitely intended), I’d like to invite you to my 37th Anniversary Concert this Sunday, Feb. 14, at 4 p.m. at Sunset Park in Key Colony Beach. The Key Colony Beach Community Association (www.kcbca.org) has asked me again to kick off their Concerts In The Park series, and I am honored to do so. I’ll be performing songs from my “Keys Disease” and “Live From The Florida Keys” CDs, new originals, crowd favorites, and some love songs for Valentine’s Day! Of course, we will be practicing social distancing, and the concert is outdoors.
This show is a special thank-you to all the people I’ve been lucky enough to play music for in these islands the past 37 years. I hope to see you there!
– Catch John Wednesdays at Herbie’s, Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, this Friday on Facebook Live for his Social Distancing Concert, Saturday night at the Key Colony Inn, and this Sunday at KCB’s Sunset Park, 4 p.m. Music available wherever you get your streaming. www.facebook.com/john.bartus