The management works tirelessly avoiding progress

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John Vagnoni    ” The management works tirelessly avoiding progress.”

Celebrating Bill Blues 70th Birthday at the Green Parrot – July 2016.

John Vagnoni grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and graduated from Temple University in 1969. He arrived in Key West in 1972, after the Navy had closed the submarine base (now Truman Annex) and Key West’s economy was devastated. Duval Street was mostly boarded up, rents were cheap, and living was easy for a young hippie kid, just out of college, who had taken a year off after college and traveled the country mostly hitchhiking from place to place.

Probably checking out another touring band to be booked.

Vagnoni describes 1972 Key West as a cool counter-culture, “decayed elegance” scene. He got off the city bus at the side door of the Green Parrot, walked in, and had his first fifteen-cent draft beer. He rented an apartment a few blocks away and started hanging out in the Green Parrot, talking to owner Pat Sullivan. One night a bartender didn’t show up and Pat put John to work on the spot. Who knew 50 years later that John and the Green Parrot would still be together.

John also worked at the Midget Bar in the much different shrimper area of Key West. It was a tiny bar, owned by Bud and Dorothy MacArthur, with about twelve stools on Greene Street across from what is now Divers Direct. It was a funky place with a barbecue restaurant out back that was open twenty-four hours.

One night at the Midget, John found himself waiting on Peter Fonda, Truman Capote, and Tom McGuane. No one knew who they were at this funky shrimper’s bar, or for that matter, would have cared. John fell in love with Key West.

Secretary General of the Conch Republic Peter Anderson and John Vagnoni 2014.

He worked at the Green Parrot for Sullivan and his wife Judy until they sold the place. By that time, the Sullivans had already moved to Tallahassee and put John in charge as manager with an ownership stake.

Jim Bean bought into the Green Parrot in 1983 and was Vagnoni’s partner for the next 24 years until Bean passed away in 2007. Jim was from Minneapolis, home of Bob Dylan, and was a huge blues fan. He upgraded the place to make sure the beer was always cold and the bathrooms were clean. Jim Bean said, “We can be a good dive bar with great music.” According to John, “No one had more fun at the Green Parrot than Jim Bean.”

Mick Kilgos and John Vagnoni.

One of the first bands hired was Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys in 1983, lured in from the Full Moon Saloon, for Saturday nights. One afternoon, Bill and his band was tuning up their equipment for that evening’s gig. They played a couple of their songs while tuning and everything was all set. It was Happy Hour and audience in the bar loved it and wanted more. Bill and the band continued for about an hour. It was naturally called “soundcheck” and has since become a Green Parrot institution as an early set between 5:30pm and 7:00pm.

Key West is a very sophisticated music town. According to John, his audience noticed whenever they upgraded the audio equipment. “When they show up, they know what they’re there for, and they appreciate the music.” That translates well for the musicians and they seem to perform better.

The little “corner saloon” didn’t just happen, it’s been accretion over a long period. The Parrot is full of memorabilia that you’ll never see anywhere else. Everything in the Parrot is authentic, from an old calendar hanging on the wall to a mural of a hillside in Negril that is painted around the back bar. John says, “The Green Parrot is cool because the audience gets it.”

Over the years, John has lured bands to Key West from all over. His biggest stretch was booking a Yiddish dance band called “The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars”. Their first set was ancient sounding Jewish folk music, the second set was blues, and by the third set, they were playing high energy jazz. John rolled the dice, it worked, and he has continued to book and take chances.

Vagnoni found a ukulele in a case outside the Green Parrot one Saturday morning.  He put it in the lost and found for a few weeks then he took it home and started playing it with his son. They played the whole weekend, and his son said, “You’ve got to do this at the bar.”

Melody Cooper, Dan Simpson, John Vagnoni at a meeting of the Green Parrot Ukulele Society.

John had a band coming in from New Orleans and remembered the leader was teaching a ukulele class. He asked him to come in a day early, and said they would have a “Ukulele Night.” John got local impresario Tim McAlpine, Jeff Clark, and Bill Davis to lead the first “Uke Out.” It was a great success, with twenty-five people bringing their ukuleles and playing along. Thirteen years later, the first Wednesday monthly meeting is full of energy. It’s a credit to the Green Parrot and its patrons for making the “Ukulele Society” a real hoot.

After Jim Bean passed, there was a palpable fear in Key West music fans of what would happen to the Green Parrot. Would it change? Fortunately, another “Philly guy”, Pat Croce (he and John are from the same neighborhood), would step up and immediately recognized the provenance of something like the Parrot. Together, John and Pat know that they’re not just the owners of a bar but more like custodians of a part of Key West. The Florida Monthly Magazine named the Green Parrot the number one Live Music Venue in Florida. Not bad for a little corner saloon.

In John’s opinion, historically, Fats Navarro is at the top of the list of Key West musicians with Coffee Butler a very close second. But according to John, no one has had more influence on Key West music than Bill Blue.


John Vagnoni with some Philly friends.

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