JJ Grey wows auction winners in Captiva

Submitted by Brett Fitzgerald on April, Apr 3, 2010



  

When Brian and Deb Conley decided to donate to the Snook Foundation for a chance to win a fishing trip with Snook Foundation Board member JJ Grey (of JJ Grey & MOFRO), Brian thought he was bidding for a great day of fishing.

Little did he know, the fishing was merely an appetizer to what surely will be remembered as the highlight of an incredible weekend – a private concert by JJ Grey.

Last year, a fishing trip with JJ Grey drew a lot of attention on ouronline auction. The winner was promised a kayak/canoe trip for two with JJ, anywhere in the state of Florida, outfitted by yours truly. When Texas resident Brian Conley found out his bid was the winner, he knew right away where he wanted to spend the day.

“My wife and I were married in Captiva, and we’ve been looking for a good excuse to go back to Florida,” Brian bubbled with the excitement of a lottery winner.

Brian decided to make it a full blown vacation weekend and invited another couple – he figured the two men would spend the day fishing with JJ and I, then Brian and Deb would share the Captiva they remembered with fellow Texan and Childhood friend Brad Stewart and his wife, Sandy.

With plans made for the first weekend in March, based on the previous year’s weather and fishing patterns, we were all looking forward to some hot fishing, but spending some time with JJ certainly dominated all of our thoughts. “I don’t care if we just wade or fish the surf – I just want to hang out with JJ,” Brian repeatedly told me. Once there, his wife Deb reinforced the sentiment. “I wish I was going fishing, not that I care about fish so much. I just have so many questions for JJ – his songs are so deep, I want to know what some of it means!”

That’s the thing with JJ. Listen to him perform, really listen, and you can’t help but get drawn in to something deep and real. Like many Florida creeks, deep, dark, and slow might be the best way to describe some of the sensations his music makes you feel. Yet at the very same time, a bright sense of freedom and joy can lift you off your feet. It’s just too complicated to sort out with words, but to the growing legion of fans, it’s an experience that demands future attendance to as many shows as possible.

But fishing was the cornerstone of this trip, and as the “host,” I was getting worried as the date approached. Thanks to the well documented extreme winter weather, the fishing portion of our trip looked pretty bleak. In hopes of making the very most of the trip for our guests from Texas, SF Executive Director Rick Roberts stepped in and booked a charter with a local guide, Capt. David Dean, who works with his daughter Kristi at Family Tradition Guide Service. Good thing, too, as the whipping cold winds would have made the paddle anything but a relaxing day on the water.

Capt. Dean knew what the only game in town would be, and made sure we capitalized. Sheepshead might not be the most glamorous fish in Florida, but when conditions are tough they might be the only species that can be coaxed into a bite. Catching them, as many frustrated anglers know, is another story. But under the tutelage of our hard working captains, we caught our share.

We were very fortunate to have the services of our guides. Without them, the fishing would have been an absolute bust – instead it was one of the more memorable times for JJ himself. “I loved being tied right up to that old cracker-looking fish house. And the ospreys that were nesting right next to us were awesome. That is a beautiful area; I really had a blast on the water, seeing the left-over effects of Hurricane Charlie and hearing Capt Dean’s accounts.”

JJ showed off his skills with a rod and reel, needing no extra guidance in fooling fish after fish. Eventually, we each found our groove and had a stretch of time where the anticipated bite of the ghost-like sheepshead was mastered. Speaking of groove, our guides proved themselves fans of JJ as well when “Lochloosa” started massaging the boat speakers.  “Big fan,” Capt. Dean said. “Caught a show a few years ago and have been hooked ever since.” …join the (growing) club.

JJ might remember the fishing, but for the rest of us, the night improved beyond any expectations. Brian and Brad offered to share their cabins with us for dinner, which I was happy to agree to. I was looking forward to introducing my wife to my new friends so she could at least put faces to the stories I was sure to tell again and again. When JJ agreed to come to dinner, I brought my guitar.

Just in case.

Deb got her wish – an extended audience with JJ, no distractions, where he very politely answered every question, and shared plenty of stories. JJ also amazed everyone there with his knowledge of Florida’s ecology – not just an understanding of details, but a very sensible point of view regarding the human effects on the environment. He’s a perfect fit on our Board of Directors, and his knowledge will certainly be put to use.

After a bite to eat and hours of chewing the fat, the clock struck 12 and I was just as content as I’ve been at any time in my life. Thinking that JJ might appreciate an out, I made the ask: “What do you think, wanna play a tune or two, or should we call it a night?”

JJ grabbed his guitar, I sneaked over and picked up mine, and the rest of the party adjusted their seats for maximum absorption and comfort. “Whatcha wanna hear?” JJ asked.

Suddenly looking a bit shy, nobody spoke at first. Then with the apprehension of a youngster sitting on Santa’s lap in the mall, Brian managed, “…how about ‘Pray for Rain?’”

JJ’s fingers jumped to life, as though part of his soul that had been sleeping all day suddenly woke up. When his voice broke through his lips, the room became filled – wall to wall, floor to ceiling. You could almost see the sound take over, and we all – even JJ – gave in to the energy. Later when I discussed that very moment with my wife, her comment summed it all up: “The look of pure joy on everyone’s faces was absolutely priceless.”

For the next few hours, JJ played plenty of his well known songs, explaining the meanings of each as he rolled along. Then, another unexpected treat: he played a good handful of new songs – unheard by any audiences at the time – and talked about the meaning and recording process of each. Sometimes I played along, others I forgot I had a guitar in my hand and just watched and listened.

A few days after I got home, I called Brian to ask if he was satisfied with the weekend. “Are you kidding?? Let’s put it this way. If JJ does this again next year, we’ll be bidding with the intent to win.”

With the auction proceeds going directly towards our mission of education, conservation, and supporting research, the weekend will be remembered as a complete success. Many thanks to all involved – our new Texas friends (who continue to support the mission), Captains David and Kristi Dean, Captiva Island Inn, and of course, Mr. JJ Grey.

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