Jimmy B's and the sound of the beach

At this St. Pete Beach live-band haven, it's about the atmosphere as much as the music.


It’s Friday night on St. Pete Beach, and the music at the scattered bars pushed up against its sands — from the acoustic guitar-wielding solo players singing Jimmy Buffet tunes over pre-recorded backing tracks to full-scale bands plying sets of similarly breezy covers — is winding down. The time is inching ever closer to 10 p.m., when the city’s strict outdoor noise ordinance goes into effect.

But the stage at Jimmy B’s Beach Bar is indoors, and here the party is still gaining steam.

Freshly sun-kissed and -burned vacationers trickle into the Beachcomber Resort’s popular watering hole, primed to follow up a day of lazing and recreating with a night of drinking, dancing and cavorting. Many are still clad in swimwear, feet bare, and mingle with casually dressed characters of every type: unruly college-age revelers pounding PBRs and Kamikaze shots; dreamy-eyed couples strolling hand-in-hand down wooden walkways that extend out to the sand from Jimmy B’s sprawling deck; crusty natives nursing drinks at the bar; and the odd groups of Bay area folks who’ve abandoned their regularly scheduled drinking routine in favor of a balmier, more relaxed atmosphere. Among them on this particular night is a merry group of lesbians who’ve claimed space in front of the stage and are getting down to every old, new and Top 40 cover the band is dishing out — Johnny Cash, Bruno Mars, Van Morrison, John Mayer.

When the musicians launch into Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” the floor fills with gyrating bodies, and even though the singer isn’t even trying to hit the falsetto notes, no one really seems to mind, and belts along to the apropos refrain: “We’re up all night till the sun/We’re up all night to get some/We’re up all night for good fun/We’re up all night to get lucky.”

This melting pot of people is vital to keeping St. Pete Beach’s music scene lively, making it an appealing place for artists like Jeremy Thomas to play. He’s been kicking around here for more than a decade, supplementing his regular gigging income with shows at Jimmy B’s. “I love being able to play for people from all over the world,” he maintains. “So many travelers come through and love to enjoy live music.”

Not only are the audiences diverse, their enthusiasm is generally running high. “They’re on vacation and expect to maybe see a typical bar band,” he explains, “and then when we hit the stage it’s like a full-blown concert. The energy and atmosphere can get really crazy. Over the years we have seen many people return for their vacation just to see the band, and that is really gratifying. It feels good to know we are bringing revenue to the area in our small way. And the sunsets don’t hurt either. It sets the mood for a great night!”

Hip Abduction bassist Chris Powers played the beach scene for seven years, both as a solo performer and with his band before it graduated to bigger stages. He enjoyed similarly positive experiences — varied audiences, strange requests for songs he’d never heard of before, “meeting people from Germany or from Canada, from all over the place …interacting with people you didn’t normally interact with, and also, you’re on the beach. In those situations, those interactions lead to $20 in your tip jar, which isn’t true of other places.”

“It’s usually full of tourists and they’re always ready to party,” explains Hip Abduction drummer Matt Poynter, who also beat-keeps for beach-playing staple The Danny Brantley Band. “That makes my job fun; people are there to have a really good time, and we make that happen for them.”

Powers is a bit more pragmatic about it, however, pointing out the clichéd beach music that artists are required to play there. “It’s a cool place, but you are catering to the clientele. It’s not exactly an original music hotspot.” He continues, “There’s something soul-wrenching about playing that beach scene over and over again, seeing some of the tired musicians out there that have just been beat up by it. You’re like, ‘I do not want to be that guy.’”

The general consensus is that Jimmy B’s is the best place to play if you’re a musician, and the best place to go if you want to enjoy some live music on the beach. But ultimately, it’s not about the music, nor is it the music that brings people to Jimmy B’s and other bars of its ilk. It’s the salt-stained atmosphere, that distinctive mellow vibe and languid state of mind that washes over you once you’ve arrived.

Jimmy B’s is located at the Beachcomber Resort, 6200 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, and features live music seven days a week, from 3:30 to 11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 3:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sundays. There’s never a cover.

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