When the Tybee Post Theater was in its early stages of restoration, The Coastal Cohorts performed their popular environmental musical, “King Mackerel & the Blues are Running,” twice on Tybee Island to help raise funds for the project.
Now that the theater is complete, songwriter Jim Wann and his cohorts are finally getting a chance to perform their acclaimed show on the Tybee Post Theater stage for the first time.
Wann developed “King Mackerel” in the mid-’80s with his songwriting partner Bland Simpson and with Don Dixon, a musician and producer who has produced albums for R.E.M. and Hootie and the Blowfish. Wann had great success with his Tony-nominated Broadway production “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and was looking to create another show.
“As usual, with my shows it starts with a batch of songs and then a concept starts to get put together around it,” says Wann. “We started to think about the coast, and we have a mutual love of the Carolina coast. We started traveling down there and talking to people, old timers, about hurricanes that they’d seen back in he ’50s and early ’60s, fishermen and about what kind of methods they used, and a lot of that stuff remained as the underpinnings of the show.”
“King Mackerel” is about three buddies, played by Wann, Simpson and Dixon, who perform a benefit concert for the owner of the Corn Cake Inn, whose roof was blown off by a hurricane. The format of the show is more like a concert than a traditional musical, with The Coastal Cohorts performing songs about fishing, joy riding, getting your car stuck in the sand, hurricanes, and the coastal life.
“Our songwriting style in ‘King Mackerel’ is kind of like classic rock,” Wann explains. “It involves elements of rock ’n’ roll, folk music, and soul music, in the main. There are some pretty ballads, some spooky songs — the coast can have a kind of mystical effect on you at times.”
“King Mackerel” had several successful Off-Broadway runs, has been performed at the Kennedy Center and on a PBS special, and an original cast recording was released in the ’90s on Sugar Hill Records. Then in 2007, they recorded a whole batch of new songs that they’ve incorporated into the current form of the show. One of the songs, “I Can Hear the River,” was penned by Dixon in the ’80s and recorded by Joe Cocker, which went on to sell a million copies.
From almost the outset, Wann has partnered “King Mackerel” with nonprofits, including the North Carolina Coastal Federation and the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, to help benefit environmental causes. “We saw the coast in danger of overdevelopment, pollution, ...fishing was going away, oystering had gone away,” says Wann. “We were concerned about these things and were beginning to become environmentalists.”
For their performance at Tybee Post Theater, The Coastal Cohorts are partnering with The Dolphin Project, an organization dedicated to researching and protecting estuarine bottlenose dolphins that is celebrating its 30th year.
“It’s a very audience and family friendly show,” says Wann. “We always hear this comment from young people who were kids when they first saw the show in North Carolina or New York, they say, ‘Yeah, that 'King Mackerel' record was the only thing my parents and I could agree to listen to on the way to the beach.’ And the parents will say it, too. It does reach across generations with its own special kind of thing.”