“Picking & Grinning” – A Music Lover’s Local Guide

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PickingGrinning_SmokingElvis_FloraBamaFind You Ear Candy with Local Music Diva and Cocktail Queen, Nancy McMeekin

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m no music expert.

 (Well, except for the track that plays constantly in my head with a bizarre mix-dub of Kiss, Zach Brown, Katy Perry, the Pogues and the hellish Barney theme song that rears its ugly head after time with the kiddies…)

Despite my lack of cool as a mix-dub artist, I believe I have what a visitor needs when they come to the Alabama Coast looking for live music: insider information. Yep, that hard-earned info has come from night after night of dedicated research; venue by venue, bar after bar, sip, after sip, ear-extravaganza into finding the best local music in LA (Lower Alabama).

Our mission began soon after my hubby, the Irishman, and I moved to the coast in 2014 after living in a city filled with live music. We were intent on locating the best venues and bands here, the hidden gems as well as the best well-known spots, that give this beach-laden area its vibe. We’ve found that the music scene here is hot and fluid, like ice cream left outside for hours. So when the sun goes down, and skittering crabs have been tormented with flashlights long enough, it’s time to find a cool drink and some tunes.

Just leave the 4-inch heels home! Nothing but flip-flops here.PickingGrinning_PleasureIslandView

Here are my (current) Top Spots in no particular order:

  • Start your LA Pub Crawl at Flippers Restaurant’s, where some of the best music around comes from their tiny Tiki Hut stage every evening. You’ll know you’re off the beaten path as you negotiate the quaint streets of Bear Point to the marina on Bay La Launch, a sunset destination. While the restaurant is a visitor favorite, the tiny Tiki requires insider knowledge to enjoy: Get there early for the music that starts between 6pm and 7pm (local time) if you want a good seat; know that some locals watch the last rays from the bar every night and will leave their perches at dusk. When they go at sundown, grab their spots and settle in for some lively local music, ranging from classic rock to blues to some Cajun dance tunes. After a Bushwacker or two, made with rum and owner Eddie Boy’s homemade ice cream, you’ll dance too! Be sure to look for the Scott Koehn/Lisa Zanghi/Doug Habbena trio, who play nearly every Tuesday, as well as Jon Cook, a guitar phenom.
  • From there, take your personal pub crawl to the Pleasure Island Tiki Bar, just about a mile west on Canal Road. This tiki, overlooking Terry Cove, is picture-potent! You can bring a big party here; there is plenty of seating; first-come, first-served. Band favorites include Al & Cathy whose classic rock can sound like a full band thanks to great harmonies, Al’s guitar and Cathy’s expertise on flute, mandolin and percussion.
  • Next find Tacky Jack’s and Happy Harbor on Marina Road. Park once, if you like, and enjoy both places. Tacky Jacks’ multiple locations all have live music, great views and yummy food. Happy Harbor’s basement stage is home to some great rock music by groups like Hundred Dollar Car.
  • While in Orange Beach, don’t pass up The Wharf, a tourist-friendly destination with at least five live-music venues. Ginny Lane is directly on the marina, so you can bar hop here without ever touching a street. The Ampitheatre at the Wharf hosts national entertainers, so check the schedule to see if you want to get your tickets early.
  • On Hwy 59 is Papa Rocco’s where nightly live music and a kitchen open til midnight make it a favorite of local and visitors alike. Papa’s owner Bill McGinnis is a Scotsman who leads a couple thousand of his closest friends on his personal Pub Crawl every St. Patrick’s Day, walking from bar to bar starting at 9 a.m.

PickingGrinning_Flippers Tiki HutFull disclosure: The Irishman and I are players in Dublin Down Irish Band, resident St. Paddy’s Day band at Papa Rocco’s. If you think you know Gulf Shores, come to Papa’s that day for an eye-opener!

  • Next stop is for the slightly more mature audience. Nolan’s, on Hwy. 59, next door to the Gulf Coast Zoo, is home of Midnight Confessions, who play 70s, 80s and 90s dance music five nights a week in a laid-back nightclub. On our first visit there, the man beside us at the bar danced every dance with a different partner. Ladies…just sayin’!
  • No musical tour of LA is complete without a stop at the rambling roadhouse, Flora-Bama. The Irishman jokes that after Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, they built back the beachside ‘Bama with plywood costing just three hundred and forty-two dollars. Actually, the legend-packed ‘Bama is looking great these days with two indoor stages and one tent stage, offering live music as early as noon or so and running straight through till 2 or 3 a.m. When all three stages are rocking, you can go from one to another with favorite drink in-hand and hear a range of Country to Rock. Check out a few of the best, Lea Anne Creswell, The Smokin’ Elvis’s, and Perdido Brothers, who play the ‘Bama every week. Ready to stay up late? You’ll love bands like Whyte Caps and Tyler Mac playing 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Two insider notes: (1) the Flora-Bama has the most amazing liquor vault, and you can peek in just down from the men’s room near the Main Stage. It’s worth a minute to see how your drink goes from there to your glass! (2) Keep an eye out for the kilted young man who keeps things running smooth as Irish whiskey! You can tell that manager/sound-guru Compton Smith loves his Scottish heritage: he wears one of his many kilts every day of the year; and he loves to pose for pictures!

  • Another of our area’s biggest and best music venues is LuLu’s, owned by none other than Lucy Buffett, sister of Jimmy. The siblings grew up in nearby Mobile, so this is a true, home-grown, fried-okra kind of place. Sit at one of the bars, which usually has seats available if you’re an adults-only party, or choose the picnic tables and watch the kids play in the massive sand piles while beastly barges passing silently on the Intracoastal Canal just steps away.

LuLu’s’ regular entertainer list includes a wide range of acts, but one favorite is Brent Burns, a local who performs some of the funniest songs about our area, including “Living the Life Jimmy Buffett only wrote about,” “Don’t Come Knockin’ if the Tiki Hut’s Rockin” and my personal favorite, “If It’s Snowbird Season, Why Can’t We Shoot ‘Em?” (You know who you are, you slow-driving Snowbirds!)

  • To all the regular venues, add many nationally known events: Hangout Festival, hangoutfest.com, with its nearly 100 acts in May, Gulf Coast Songwriter Shootout on Fall Mondays, the Shrimpfest with scores of bands in October, and you’ve got more music than a conductor could shake a stick at! Sleepy little fishing village no more!

It’s almost too much to keep up with. Except, you can! Thanks to a few well-organized media, you can be as in-the-know as a local. First, like Gulf Coast People’s Choice on Facebook, and every day you’ll see a post with today’s music. Click and see performers by location. Or visit GulfShores.com to see Who’s on Stage.

It’s nearly 10 a.m., and The Irishman and I need to plan our music-filled day. Try not to hate us; join us instead!