Just Above Sunset
Phillip Raines - Playing Saint Simons Island

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I had a couple of gigs with my main band (named Numerous Complaints, a phrase lifted from the police report) to play at St. Simons Island.


It was actually on Sea Island on the north end of St. Simons.  This is a beautiful part of Georgia known as the lowlands.  Five hours southeast from Atlanta, long views of marshes and rivers roll past the window of the van I'm riding in, behind my seat is the gear, road cases and amps.  I've been playing on St. Simons for years, some gigs lasting a week at a time, so this place is familiar to me.


The ocean off the coast is brown from the silt of the lowlands, but despite its murkiness has been a popular seaside resort since the 1920's and is still considered prestigious today, largely as a golf retreat.  To the immediate south, Jekyll Island (where the delegates from Afghanistan will be housed, or hosted) was settled by the Rockefellers as a winter community, the location chosen because it can be reached by an overnight train ride from Wall Street.  The view west towards the mainland from the houses and hotel they built is remarkable in the late afternoon with the sun shimmering on the intercoastal water way and leagues of marsh grass spreading in the vista.

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Fort Pulaski near Savannah. Another military attempt at making the region more secure.

The north end of St. Simons, Sea Island, was established later, but is the island home of Atlanta blue bloods, many of whom belong to the exclusive golf club there.  Home values start around half a million and go to four, five, even six million.  I see why the G8 chose Sea Island.  The only road there is across a long marsh, black water and saw grass as far as you can see.


The evening we arrived, there was a fierce wind blowing from the northwest.   The gust must have been 50 mph.  Trees have been hurriedly planted along this narrow two-lane road raised above the marsh.  Large old oaks, palms, trees that looked like they'd been there for fifty years, dot the shoulders.  They were propped by lumber-held stakes, or guy wires, but a few had blown down from the wind, lying with their circular shallow root balls holding the dirt where they had been plucked from forest, to serve as a prop for this one global event, this pow-wow of the powerful.


Instead of playing in a ballroom of the hotel, the stage this night was in a huge tent.  "'Musicians with intent!' Get it?" joked the guitar player.  This was the slickest tent going, though.  Huge chandeliers swayed from the steel and canvas ceiling, the walls were like stage props of a ballroom, but with tilted sconces, the tent canvas flickering behind them.  We were playing for a golf tournament awards banquet. 




Intermittent in the gig were speeches about the lousy weather but "Hey, what great food, huh"?  It was a good gig, we were making good money and they danced.


The whole evening, the roof of the tent flipped and heaved in the wind.  I felt like I was playing in a lung of a huge sea beast.  A gig in Jonah's whale.  Rumor has it that security around the island is really picking up.   Hueys lowering things into the woods.  Guys with crew cuts and sunglasses dashing around in government cars, military boats patrolling the waters.


The bridge that connects St. Simons to the mainland is also the only road on and off the island.  It is a high bridge with vast views.  It is rumored that the protestors will be on the mainland in Brunswick, a seaport and manufacturing town.  Exhaust and fluid oozing from the different mills there make it the most polluted spot in Georgia, only a half hour from the Florida border.  I theorize that the protestors will be staged in Brunswick at the old drive-in movie theatre near the turn off to the bridge, isolated by miles from the G8 leaders and their entourage.


I wondered how much trouble the waiters and cooks would have getting across that bridge the first week in June.  I hope we're not booked for that event.   I can only imagine being told to unload the van and empty the road cases for a security search.  Will there be anti-aircraft missiles camouflaged in the marsh, cameras on every chlorine tank at every swimming pool?  I should probably bring my passport and brush up on baseball trivia in case I'm grilled to prove I'm an American.  I'm concerned about my sax; the case looks like it has a shoulder-fired rocket launcher in it.  Two horn players in Ray Bans in a dreaded white van wearing a Rasta's expression.  "We're just here for the gig, man."  Sounds like trouble.

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But for a brief while, the world will be focused on this spot.  Law enforcement from nearby Savannah has been picked to "observe" the protestors in their designated area.  Just to make things even more secure there is a weapons grade nuclear plant about 40 miles away in South Carolina.  And I thought things would be bad at the '96 Olympics when soldiers with automatic weapons were chasing people around.  Well, there was a bomb that went off and disappointed a few people and killed a woman.


Why do people work so hard to get these events hosted in my neck of the woods?  Do they think it will finally show the world we should be a travel destination?  I can only imagine what the press will say about Brunswick.   "She said kiss me where it stinks, so I drove her to Brunswick and I kissed her." I look up at the paper mill smoke stack and know that the wind off the coast will push the sulfur smell away from quaint and charming St. Simons, and even further from its exclusive enclave of Sea Island.  Spanish moss will dangle from the spreading live oaks swaying over the golf courses.


Me, I always use the service entrance and try to make friends with the chefs so I can maybe get a desert slipped to me.  And I always learn the bartender's name.  These are the relevant dignitaries.  What a trip, wailing for the swells.

Copyright 2004 – Phillip Raines


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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