Of all the tour stories that I could tell, there is one day in May that I will never forget. We were scheduled to play two concerts on a weekend in Florida beginning with Miami on Friday night and Tampa the following night. It seemed like a full book, but there was a promoter in one of the Carolinas who was putting on an outdoor festival that Saturday afternoon. Our commitments were described to him in detail, but he would not take "no" for an answer. Our equipment had to travel directly from Miami to Tampa, so this promoter agreed to provide whatever we needed to perform. He also agreed to guarantee that we would be able to keep our prior commitment and, to that end, offered to provide all transportation as well as promise that we would be on stage by 3:00 PM. If he could not put us on stage by 3:00, he would send us to Tampa without performing and pay us anyway. What a deal!
Only a jet plane can travel that far that fast. And only a private jet would guarantee "on time" delivery. Limousines would save the time we normally spent getting and returning rental cars. It appeared that a distinct departure from reality was imminent. That Friday night before the festival there was an air of anticipation and the Miami concert was especially spirited. After the concert I could hear people humming "Carolina in the Mornin'."
Leaving Miami, we entered the airport through a back entrance near the private hangars. There is quite a difference as compared to a commercial airline terminal because there was no traffic and no crowd of travelers. When I first saw the plane it seemed very small and low to the ground. It was a Lear Jet with pontoons at the tips of the main wing about waist high. The rear wing was mounted high near the top of the stabilizer (about 10 or 12 feet off the ground). There were some guys washing it like you would wash a car except that one guy was using a long handled brush to reach the underside of the rear wing. This Lear Jet could carry eight passengers and two pilots. Since there were nine of us including our tour manager, the tour manager was immediately selected to sit on the floor. He was happy to sit there because the only floor space was just behind the pilots near the door. And since there is no significant separation between the passengers and the pilots, he had the best view out the windshield. He also got to know the pilots really well.
I'm sure there are people who take these planes for granted, but the pilots couldn't say enough about it. They said it was like a "sports car" and they called it the best performing non-military plane. And because there were so few of them they were not required to have the sound mufflers that a commercial airliner must have. That meant that this tiny plane was louder than a 727! They also told us that it cost a million dollars for the plane, but the electronic equipment added another two million to the price tag. I guess the leather seats came standard.
The trip to Carolina was very nice, but no more so than you might expect. From my seat I could see out the windshield as well as read the gauges and watch the pilots hands and feet. Just being able to look out the windshield made my day. But the day wasn't over yet.
Apparently our tour manager had indeed become friendly with the pilots because they agreed to come with us to the concert. The location was a football field and when we got there they had just begun to set up the sound system. We were there for about an hour when everyone agreed that we couldn't possibly get on stage by 3:00. While our tour manager and the promoter were talking things over, they called the pilots into the conversation. After that, the promoter seemed much too happy for someone who just paid a small fortune for nothing. We drove back to the airport and got back on the plane. It was nice to have a plane wait for us for a change. When the plane was in the air our tour manager turned around and told us that we were going to buzz the field. What? Buzz the field! Pilot number one pulled back on the throttle and the nose of the plane dipped down. My heart came up into my throat. Then I saw the football field coming up fast. I could see thousands of people gathered for the festival as the plane was getting very close to the ground. Then, when I couldn't see the crowd because they were directly under us, I saw the pilot shove the throttle all the way up like you would stomp on the accelerator pedal in a car. He turned the wheel to the right and pulled back. Now all I could see was blue sky. I turned to the right to look out the window and found myself staring into the face of a freckle-faced kid with braces. If I bumped into him today I think I would recognize him. Then the jet engines got very loud and the kid and the crowd and the festival and the city were gone.
We reached cruising altitude. Somebody produced a bottle of champagne. Even those who rarely drank were eager to get some alcohol into their blood. After several minutes our blank stares changed to smiles and everybody started talking at once. Apparently these pilots were open to suggestion, so, we started making requests. We had to stop asking for simulated weightlessness because the champagne kept wanting to leave the glass. But the barrel rolls were terrific. They were easy on the nerves and while we watched the world go 'round the champagne stayed in the glass and in our stomachs.
Some time later we learned about events at the festival. Apparently they got a microphone connected just in time to announce our low altitude arrival. It seems that we were a hit because, you see, at that time and place the kids liked it loud. And we made the loudest sound they ever heard. In fact, we shattered nearby windows and the pilots got fined. However, the promoter was more than happy to pay the fine because the buzzing of the field was the best thing that happened all day.
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