Bluebeard Owner Tom Battista on His Other Job: Jimmy Buffett’s Right-Hand Man
Last summer was the first time in 25 years that Indiana wasn’t filled with Parrotheads. Jimmy Buffett skipped his annual Indy tour stop in 2015, but he won’t repeat the slight this year. On June 23, Buffett will return to Klipsch Music Center, and his longtime stage manager Tom Battista will be the guy who makes sure everything is in place.
Battista, who also owns Bluebeard in Fletcher Place, has been Buffett’s right-hand man for 24 years. In that time, he has gotten to know the son-of-a-son-of-a-sailor pretty well. And while Battista also has worked with performers such as David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, and Mariah Carey, none have been quite as fun to work with as Buffett.
Even though Battista and his crew mostly set up and take down the stage, Buffett knows each of them by name. “He’s not a prima donna,” Battista says. “When he comes out on the road, he’s with us out on the road. A lot of these big stars will just fly in, do a show, and then fly right out. The crew never really gets to know the star. Jimmy is not that way.”
Battista’s favorite memory of working with Buffett is from his 1995 tour. Around 15 of the crew members decided to hike to Sausalito from their hotel in San Francisco for lunch. Without a jacket and having skipped breakfast, Battista joined them for what would be a regrettable 10-mile walk. Battista lagged behind. Out-of-shape and older than the rest of the guys, he eventually decided he couldn’t go on and tried to hitchhike the rest of the way. The problem was, no one was stopping. With only one mile to go, a van pulled off to the side of the road. Battista rushed over to it as the side door opened. “Battista? What are you doing out here?” said none other than Jimmy Buffett.
Battista still can’t believe Buffett happened to be on the same stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. But his favorite memory also speaks to Buffett’s character. He’s the kind of guy who would pull over on the side of the road to pick up a hitchhiker, even while on his way to the petting zoo with his two kids. Buffett shows up to the sound checks on time, eats dinner with the crew and his band, takes a nap before the show, and then heads on stage around 8:10 p.m. each night. He’s predictable. He has also been touring the same 30 or so cities for his entire career. Battista says when some stars make it big, they try to do 100 or more shows, but that’s not Buffett’s style. He knows where his fans are, he has a great rapport with the Parrotheads, and so he sticks to the same selective, smaller tours. Battista says the 12 weeks each year he spends with the singer is like getting a paid vacation.
He won’t have to travel far this month. Before the hometown show, Battista sometimes has Buffett over to his restaurant for a private meal. Then it’s off to some distant city for another night of “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “A Pirate Looks at 40.” But after a quarter century, Buffett hasn’t lost the enthusiasm for performing, Battista says. The passion for what he does is still there. And Battista still has a good time on the road, so he keeps going, too.