Beaver Creek’s Good Humor man
Starting around Valentine’s Day, or any time it’s warmer than 40 degrees in Beaver Creek, he takes his guitar and heads into the sunshine of McCoy’s deck. Given the crowd that follows him, he’s a little like a six-stringed Pied Piper.
He’s a party going somewhere to happen, and these days the party’s at McCoy’s in Beaver Creek.
He also knows how lucky he is. He loves his work; it’s good to work at something you love.
Tanner is certainly a musical artist, but more than that he’s an entertainer. And he’s an entertainer because he works at it. About the time he starts wondering if there’s something better, he thinks about growing up in the coastal marshes of South Carolina, working on his stepfather’s shrimp boat. It’s brutal, backbreaking labor. The hours never end. They tied up to a pier behind a seafood restaurant, and that’s when he’d sit on the stern and play his guitar. The people waiting for their tables would wander down to the pier, gather in a semi-circle and listen to the kid sing and play. The restaurant manager heard it, too, and saw all those people down on the pier who should be up on his restaurant deck buying drinks and appetizers.
The solution was obvious, and before Tanner could say “Jimmy Buffett” he was being paid to keep restaurant customers from wandering off by singing to them. It’s a skill that has served him well all of his days.
“I play music from the soundtrack of their times,” he said.
He’ll play about anything people ask for. He also has an index card on his tip jar that says, “American Pie $100, Brown Eyed Girl $50, Margaritaville $25.” But if some penniless kid asks for them, he’ll play them anyway.
“A lot of musicians play only what they want to play, not what the crowd wants to hear. They’re artists. They’re also starving. I’m not. I’ll play about anything people want to hear. It’s a great job. Every now and then I look around the room and smile because I’m actually getting paid to do this.”
McCoy’s is a big, square cafeteria; the only atmosphere the place has is what Tanner generates.
The best atmosphere, he said, is one in which people can entertain themselves, and Tanner gets people involved.
“I engage them immediately,” he said. “We make it fun for them right away.”
It’s tough to stump that one-man band. He knows about 1,500 songs, and has the music and lyrics for about 500 more. If he gets a request he can’t fill, he extracts a promise from the customer to come back the next day. In the meantime, he finds the CD and learns the song. The next day, the customer comes back, buys more food and drinks, tips more bartenders and wait staff, and gets to hear the song. It works out well.
He plays everything from country to Motown. He plays American Pie a couple times a week; Margaritaville, a couple more. They’re good songs and the crowds love ’em.
“People are paying a lot of money to vacation in Beaver Creek and Vail,” Tanner said. “We want to make it worthwhile. I can be an integral part of their vacation.”
High on Hyatt
He’s been with the Hyatt organization in Beaver Creek for 12 years. For the past few years he’s been in McCoy’s, five or six nights a week.
“The Hyatt has been great as an organization and wonderful to work with,” Tanner said. “The food and beverage manager, Chris Draper, gives us a lot of creative freedom.”
He landed in Vail the same way most people do. He was 18 in 1984, he quit his job, loaded his truck and headed for the mountains. He went back to South Carolina at the end of the season. Not long after, Brad Quayle, owner of Quayle Productions, brought him back as a booking agent. It put him in close contact with the musicians who make their livings here, and he says it’s a special relationship.
“We have a rich history of music in this area,” he said. “There’s a fraternity among players, a close camaraderie that you don’t find many other places. We’re all supportive of each other, we sit in with each other. There’s no jealousy, and that’s rare.”
Love for a lifetime
His wife Kendall and two kids are back in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Shannon and Kendall have been in love since kindergarten. Some things are worth waiting for. They’ve been married 17 years, and are in the process of living happily ever after.
They’re both from large families in the Hilton Head area, so Tanner spends a few months out here every winter before heading home for the rest of the year. They try every trick imagineable to pile up airline miles. Everyone in the family is a turbo-charged communicator, and they reach out and touch each other every day.
“The phone bills are astronomical,” Tanner laughed.
For the past 14 years he has spent his summers home in the Hilton Head area, playing a nightly family show at Shelter Cove.
“The kids come up and sit on my knee while we sing,” he said. The kids from those first years are now out of college and some have kids of their own. It’s a powerful, powerful thing to be ingrained in people’s family memories.”