Live music has always been a part of Sea Island’s past—and it’s an integral part of its present and future.
By Amber Lanier Nagle
Music inspires us all. Earbuds and our favorite playlists are now jogging necessities alongside running shoes. We stream music through the speakers of our homes, offices and cars. We listen, hum, whistle, clap to the beat and sing along.
There’s something special about melodies when you hear them live, however. Whether it’s a singer, pianist or full band, music is always a little more enchanting, the surrounding environment buzzing with energy or romance.
The charm that live music brings has always been an integral part of the Sea Island experience. It was here in 1928—months before The Cloister opened its doors to guests—that the acclaimed orchestra from the University of South Carolina performed for distinguished patrons of the Glynn Isle Casino, Sea Island’s beach pavilion at the time. And live bands entertained aboard the Amphitrite, a floating hotel that Howard Coffin, founder of the Sea Island Co., docked at the original Sea Island Yacht Club.
“There is a great old photograph that shows a band playing on the deck of the Amphitrite,” says Merry Tipton, director of marketing communications at Sea Island. The women in the group resemble flappers with white, drop-waist dresses and crimped hair. Two of them carry saxophones, one has a tuba and one holds an accordion. The festive photo depicts the era and ambience so well, any viewer can almost hear the song they played.
In the 1930s, The Cloister became the social epicenter of the region.
Gentlemen wearing white tuxedos and women in fashionable gowns gravitated to the patio outside The Cloister for alfresco dinner dances. Live bands playing popular songs of the era were front and center at these events—it made the experience more memorable.
Sea Island’s Dance Week started a festive tradition in 1979, hosting live music and a place to move to the beat. In 1980, the event turned into an annual dance party. For decades, guests would enjoy events set to the soundtrack of renowned artists. In December of 1981, the Jan Garber Orchestra, under the direction of Dick Wickman, entertained for two weeks on Sea Island. Tony Barron and his orchestra wowed guests 10 years later, along with the Russ Morgan Orchestra—known for its “wah-wah” trombone sound effect. The big bands brought big and beautiful noise, and with it, big crowds.
“Russ Morgan’s son, Jack Morgan, led the orchestra when they came to Sea Island in the 1990s,” Tipton explains. “The musical style was known as ‘Music in the Morgan Manner,’ and they continued to appear here until 2003.”
But as times have changed, so have the musical appetites of Sea Island guests.
“We felt that the music needed to evolve,” says Casey Lavin, vice president of operations at Sea Island. “So we took steps to bring creative, relevant musicians here.”
Lavin and the Sea Island staff examined each space at the resort and selected specific musical genres and performers to complement various places. They hired artist-in-residence Owen Plant, a singer and songwriter born in Jamaica, who performs folksy acoustic selections for guests at the Beach Club. Celebrated pianist Jackie Monroe brings down the house in The Cloister Colonial Lounge with broad selections that appeal to a modern, mature musical palate.
“Concert pianist Chris Smith fills The Lodge with classical hits from Frank Sinatra and artists from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” Lavin explains. “And throughout the year, the musical assignments of The Cloister Clubroom transform the space into somewhat of a speakeasy—a cool, intimate setting with a stage, chandelier and bluesy music that takes our guests back to the days of Prohibition.”
Amos Lee, a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, has performed live at Sea Island, as well as The Shadowboxers, a Nashville-based band that showcases meticulous harmonies and a fusion of unique rock and soul vocals. The live performances have punctuated the Sea Island experience for decades, and Lavin hints that the best is yet to come with newer additions to the resort’s events calendar. The Southern Grown Food, Drink, and Music Festival which highlights the regional talent and culture, will take place June 19-21. Popular musical acts will take to the resort’s grounds for an exciting weekend of concerts and culinary artistry.
“Our Southern Grown Food, Drink, and Music Festival blends the tastes and the music of the South,” Lavin says. “It’s a food, wine and music event that truly celebrates things that are Southern.”
The festivities begin with a Southern fish fry at Rainbow Island. On Saturday, attendees can learn the art of songwriting from musicians or how to make a specialty cocktail from some of the region’s top chefs. The day crescendos with Saturday night’s signature event—a concert overlooking the ocean at The Lodge.
“We are pleased to bring the Grammy-nominated Avett Brothers to Sea Island this year for the concert,” Lavin says. “Originally from North Carolina, the band is critically acclaimed across the country. Their performance will make the night one to remember.”
He expects music lovers from all over to attend hoping to hear one of their favorite melodies, whether it be “I and Love and You,” with its beautiful harmonies and sing-a-long verses, or “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” with its uplifting lyrics.
“Music just adds so much to every experience,” Lavin adds. “Everyone responds to it. It creates an instant atmosphere that makes us feel happy—makes us feel alive.”