Michael "Beans" keeps audiences entertained with his pirate show at Leverick Bay.
Pirates, their lifestyle and lore feature prominently in the history of the Caribbean and it is this folkloric genre that is heartily celebrated by one-man-band and showman 'Beans.'
Beans started his Caribbean musical career as leader of the itinerant band the Hornswagglers. Travelling from island to island on an old island sloop, he epitomized the role of the jolly mon, a Caribbean travelling musical entertainer.
Beans' show revolves around pirates and now he is a permanent fixture at Leverick Bay's Jumbie's bar right on the beach. The setting in the BVI's North Sound is truly Caribbean with a small stage beneath the palms by the water's edge. The show begins at Happy Aaaarh!
Many of the musical renditions are Beans' own compositions with lyrics of pirates, skullduggery and the BVI. "Yo, ho, watch 'em go, Sailing down to Soper's Hole… where the pirates are in control…" one of my personal favorites. Interspersed between songs our musical maestro, always dressed in three cornered hat and swarthy attire, throws out pirate trivia questions to the audience – for free shots of rum, of course! "Who's the most famous pirate of 'em all?" he shouts out with a grin.
"Blackbeard!" comes back several responses, and several shots are dished out, with loud cheers from the audience.
"And what was his real name?"
"Edward Teach!" More shots of rum. Soon the crowd is laughing and listening expectantly for more free shots.
"And what's the first letter of the pirate alphabet?"
"Aaaarh!" roars back the crowd. Another bottle of rum is called for; the hilarity increases.
Each table is provided with a maraca, a gourd filled with hardened seeds, as a percussion instrument. "Shakers everyone," instructs Beans as he launches into another roistering nautical rendition. When the audience is off-beat he cries out, "Follow the bouncing foot," as his own foot beats out the rhythm on his home-made "stomp box" (drum). There can be no doubt that part of the magic of Beans' show is that he constantly engages his audience.
About half way through the two hour show volunteers are called for; one from each table, to compete in a conch blowing contest. After a demonstration several conch shells, already transformed into horns, are distributed amongst the audience for practice. The winner will be the one who can blow for the longest time in one breath.
When the time comes all the participants are lined up and each takes his/her turn while everyone shouts out the seconds. Each table supports its own contestant and sometimes, if the winner is doubtful, there's a "blow-off."
At a nearby table T shirts, CDs and pirate paraphernalia are on sale. A large portion of the profits from sales go to the victims of Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake. Beans is the originator and president of the Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti and a new school at Ile a Vache off Haiti's south coast is nearly complete.
The second half of the show begins with perhaps the popular song by Jimmy Buffett, Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes with the chorus enthusiastically enjoined by the audience who, by this time, are totally absorbed in the show, helped by a steady supply of the BVI's most popular libation, the Painkiller. Then, "Who's got a pirate toast to share… for a free tot of rum?"
Someone inevitably steps forward, and with raised glass exclaims, "To wives and girlfriends – and may they never meet!"
Although, Michael Beans has made his life here in the BVI in recent years, this Caribbean pirate is actually from Michigan. He was raised to the sound of jug band music, sharing his love of the genre with family and friends during hunting and fishing trips.
No stranger to water, he first performed along the towns and islands of the Great Lakes, developing a keen interest in old-time stories and traditional seafaring songs that he learned along the way.
Beans' inspiration came from the era's famed folk singers and rock heroes including, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot and Donovan. He began writing his own material in the mid-70s, and playing throughout the area's lake towns in summer, he set his sights southward, touring the Florida Keys in the winter. In 1980 he recorded his first album Driftin under the Pro Am label.
Four albums later, in 1987, he sailed his newly purchased boat Espranza to the Caribbean, where he began playing to a new audience. With two more albums to his credit, he continued to divide his time between the Virgin Islands and the US, with the BVI becoming his Caribbean base. His latest two albums were recorded with his traveling bands, The Hornswagglers and The Seafarin' Turd Whirlers. At Leverick Bay, where Beans performs January through May, the entertainer has become as popular a figure as any dashing buccaneer of yore.
Beans' musical talent seems unbounded, with guitar, harmonica on a rack and foot stomping percussion provided by an old wooden box. Sometimes he brings out a weather beaten accordion for a sea shanty or nautical ballad.
The show wraps up with a poignant announcement, "It doesn't matter how old you are or how young you are; how thin you are or how fat you are; how smart you are, how poor you are or how rich you are… God Loves ya – just the way ya…" There's a short pause, then the crowd roars, "Aaaarh!"
Go to www.goodsamaritanofhaiti.com for more information on the Good Samaritan Foundation.