Do Savannnah

Relive Savannah’s musical past at Night Flight Café Reunion

  • The Swimming Pool Q’s stand in the Night Flight second-floor window in May 1983. Pictured are J.E. Garnett, from left, Bob Elsey, Bill Burton and Jeff Calder. (Photo by Anne Richmond Boston)
  • Randall Bramblett
  • The Swimming Pool Q’s (Photo by Glenn Bewley)
  • The Night Flight audience in May 1983. (Photo by Anne Richmond Boston)
 

Relive Savannah’s musical past at Night Flight Café Reunion

09 May 2017

After moving to Savannah in 1974, Tim Coy restored four bays in a historic cotton warehouse on River Street.

That space became the home of the Night Flight Café, a nightclub Coy founded and operated from 1975 to 1988. To this day, the nightclub is remembered fondly — and missed terribly — by musicians and audiences alike.

On May 12, the Night Flight Café Reunion will take place in the garden of Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. All profits from the event will be donated to the Savannah Music Festival.

“It’s been especially gratifying to be at the Savannah Music Festival and hear some of the artists say they used to play in Savannah at the Night Flight,” Coy says.

Performing at the reunion will be three of the most popular bands to play the venue: Randall Bramblett Band, David Olney Trio and the Swimming Pool Q’s.

‘A big family’

It’s hard to describe the impact the Night Flight had on musicians, music fans and nightclub employees.

“The Night Flight community of bartenders, waitresses, musicians and customers became sort of a big family,” Coy says. “We kept in touch.

“In 2014, people began to say it was almost the 40th anniversary of the opening,” he says. “We wanted to do something like this then, but never got it together.

“We’re two years late, but better late than never,” Coy says.

Being involved in the music business was a long-held dream of Coy’s.

“I had just gotten out of the Navy,” he says. “I decided to move back to the Georgia Lowcountry where my family is rooted.

“I moved around a lot as a child and wanted to put down roots and stay, so I came to Savannah. My cousin, Ted Coy, had already moved here.

“He said, ‘Let’s open a bar in Savannah,’” Coy says. “I’d always sort of dreamed of being involved in the music business. One thing led to another.”

As time went by, Coy began booking better and better artists.

“I started doing concert promotion and artist management and bought into Landslide Records,” he says. “We specialized in jazz and blues and rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Night Flight was a major success.

“Overall, it was the camaraderie and the spirit of the place,” Coy says. “We never had fights or thefts.

“There was a wonderful spirit of everybody loving the music and each other. It was a family.

“We had great musicians onstage, the list goes on and on,” he says. “To include some artists would be to exclude others.”

Some surprises

But not even Coy will deny that a surprise performance by Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band in 1979 was one of the most electrifying events ever at the Night Flight. Buffett had just done a concert at the Savannah Civic Center with the Amazing Rhythm Aces when he and his bandmates stopped at the Night Flight.

“They came in and got onstage with the band that was playing,” Coy says.

Many future rock stars played the Night Flight early in their careers.

“It was a great night when we had the 10,000 Maniacs,” Coy says. “John Hammond always did brilliant performances.

“We had Lyle Lovett when he was just getting started, Vince Gill when he was just getting started. We had John Hiatt, Taj Mahal, Leon Redbone, Robert Cray, Steve Earl — we had REM when no one knew who REM was,” Coy says. “Robert Cray played maybe 15 to 20 times for us one year, and the next year, he was playing at the civic center.”

Not everyone who played the Night Flight was waiting to be discovered.

“We had people who were already famous, like Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones,” Coy says. “It was a great privilege to have Roger McGuinn from The Byrds.

“… He was a hero of mine,” Coy says. “To meet him and spend time with him and see him perform on stage was a very exciting moment for me.”

And still the list goes on. Folk star Odetta and jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd also played the Night Flight.

“Another amazing performance was John Cale from The Velvet Underground,” Coy says. “His performance was sort of mystical.”

A move and closure

When the building that housed Night Flight was sold, Coy moved the venue to Congress Street.

“We took a long look at buildings,” he says. “On Congress Street, we rebuilt from the inside out and turned it into a great space.”

But, sadly, the Night Flight closed its doors in 1988.

“The move to Congress Street was tremendously financially straining,” Coy says. “I was getting into my late 30s, and it was harder and harder for me to keep the hours.

“We were open six days a week. It was getting to the point that all I could do on Sunday was sleep because I was tired.

“Then I got married,” he says. “You can’t be in that business and be married.”

To this day, people ask Coy “all the time” about the Night Flight.

“There are two things people talk about other than remembering the days it was open and asking if I want to start a new nightclub,” he says. “And no, I don’t. I’m too old.

“People come up and say they had their first drink at 14 at the Night Flight, which horrifies me. We did everything we could to card people.

“The wonderful things they say are, ‘I met my wife at Night Flight,’ or ‘I met my husband at Night Flight,’ or ‘I proposed to my wife at the Night Flight,’” Coy says. “They were actually there when they met the loves of their lives.”

Reunion concert

The three bands that will play at the reunion were always favorites at the Night Flight, Coy says. All went on to successful careers.

“David Olney is one of the top songwriters in the country music field now,” Coy says. “The Swimming Pool Q’s are coming from Atlanta.

“Randall Bramblett played for us two or three times a year,” Coy says. “He’s a fabulous musician.”

Many Night Flight regulars are returning for the reunion.

“We’ve got people coming from California, Miami, New York,” Coy says. “There’s a tremendous level of excitement. It’s going to be a wonderful musical concert, but also a great moment for everybody to get back and see each other.”

Bramblett, who is based in Athens, is looking forward to returning.

“It was a great place to play,” he says. “Tim was a great patron of music. We used to have fun times down there.

“The Night Flight had a reputation for good music. Not that there was a big music scene in Savannah, but a lot of people followed good music in Savannah.

“It was right after my first record that we played there a lot,” Bramblett says. “A lot of good stuff has happened since then and a lot of songs have been written.”

Bramblett will perform a mix of old and new music at the reunion.

“I’ve got about 10 records out now,” he says. “There will be a few old songs for old time’s sake, and I will do something from an up-and-coming album that’s not released yet.

“… In Savannah, I hope I see some of the same folks I used to see and some new people, too,” Bramblett says. “I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Today, Olney is based in Nashville. He remembers the Night Flight Café fondly.

“It was an amazing place,” he says. “Tim Coy really ran a good club.

“We had some great times in Savannah and I’ve always loved the city,” Olney says. “It’s great to go back there.

“The audiences were very hip, as far as musical trends. They were very responsive.

“It was everything you could want in an audience,” he says. “We played there probably 20 times.”

Olney has never stopped making music.

“It’s never been huge hit songs, but it was enough to justify keeping on going,” he says. “This is what I do.

“It’s not just a matter of finding something that’s convenient. When I found music and realized I had a knack for writing songs, there wasn’t any looking at something else.”

Olney’s latest album is “Don’t Try to Fight it.”

“I’ll be doing a lot of songs from that in Savannah,” he says. “I’ll try to get in some songs from the old days. I’m going to have a great time. I always do.”

Jeff Calder of the Swimming Pool Q’s always liked playing at the Night Flight.

“We were part of the original New Wave bands in the South, along with the B-52s and REM and Pylon and many other groups,” he says. “When we started playing regionally, there really weren’t many places we could play.

“They weren’t open to what it was we were doing. But we’re a determined bunch.

“We wanted to go out and play in the South,” Calder says. “The Night Flight was one of the first clubs that would book the band outside our little New Wave world.”

The Night Flight was probably the most elegant club the Swimming Pool Q’s played, Calder says.

“For some reason, they liked us and we kept coming back for many years,” he says. “To us, it was really unique. It was such a nice club and it was Savannah, such an old South town, but it was open to a New Wave, punk band.”

Calder started the Swimming Pool Q’s in Atlanta in 1978.

“Within the first year, we were opening for Devo, probably around the same time we played the Night Flight, and we toured with The Police,” he says.

In Savannah, the Swimming Pool Q’s will play songs they used to play at the Night Flight.

“… The Night Flight had an audience that would accept different things,” Calder says. “It had highbrow folk and jazz music and songwriters. People there were open to original music and it was great.

“The guys who ran it loved music,” Calder says. “They treated us like kings.

“… Savannah is a unique, giving town. All those things combined make it memorable.”

IF YOU GO

What: Night Flight Café Reunion with Randall Bramblett Band, David Olney Trio and Swimming Pool Q’s

When: 7 p.m. May 12

Where: Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum Garden, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Cost: $42

Info: tikly.co/events/1946

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