Don McLean comes back for seconds on a tour that includes Get Off the Bus Concerts’ latest gig.
Two veterans of the music industry have taken very different paths to arrive at the same spot.
Singer-songwriter Don McLean, 73, is in the midst of a globetrotting tour and enjoying a resurgence backed by his first album in eight years. He’ll stop in The Villages to perform at 7pm Friday, Feb. 1, at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center, 1051 Main St.
Joe Bamford, 72, has taken the bus, literally and figuratively, on a winding career that has included managing bands, transporting music stars, and now promoting shows for charity. His company, Get Off the Bus Concerts, is promoting McLean’s appearance.
In 2018, Don played to packed houses and received rave reviews across the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe. This year, he’s on the road again. He also released “Botanical Gardens,” an album reflecting on youth, aging, and women.
In the title song, he sings, “It’s getting late and the gates will be closing…Shall I remain in botanical gardens, surrounded by flowers and those beautiful girls.” He reminisces about “the sighs and the kisses” in “Last Night When We Were Young,” a standard from 1935. “Ain’t She a Honey” sounds like an ode to his 24-year-old model girlfriend, Paris Dylan: “Ain’t she a honey, gonna spend all the money I got—why not?”
Of course, Don is forever remembered for “American Pie,” the 8½-minute epic song from the 1971 breakthrough album of the same name that catapulted him onto the charts and into the consciousness of music fans.
“American Pie” is one of the most analyzed songs in rock history—and rightfully so, because it was a quintessential commentary on the times. Everybody wanted to decipher the song about “the day the music died,” referring to the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson, and spot references to the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, the Kennedys, Charles Manson, and others.
In hindsight, the meaning of the song seems clear. “American Pie” captured the mood after the turbulent ’60s and the end of the country’s innocence: “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie.”
Don’s PR representatives declined an interview request, but in a 2015 interview with Christie’s auction house, the singer says: “Basically in ‘American Pie,’ things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right, but it is a morality song in a sense.”
Don, who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004, has a rich catalog that extends beyond “American Pie.” “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” is a heartbreaking elegy for artist Vincent van Gogh; “And I Love You So” is a beautiful love song; and other classics include “Castles in the Air” and “Since I Don’t Have You.”
Joe Bamford’s name is less familiar, but he puts butts in the seats, too. He formerly owned Haljoe Coach, which provided bus transportation in the U.S. and Canada for performers such as Willie Nelson, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Sarah McLachlan, and Snoop Dogg. About seven years ago, Joe returned to his roots as a promoter to stage benefit concerts.
Since 2011, Get Off the Bus has promoted concerts in Canada and at Central Florida venues including the Sharon and Savannah Center in The Villages, and the Mount Dora Community Building. He estimates the concerts have raised more than $300,000 for charities, including PAWS Therapy Dogs, Best Buddies Florida, Lake Cares Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, and Cornerstone Hospice & Palliative Care.
“Basically in ‘American Pie,’ things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right, but it is a morality song in a sense.”Don McLean
Though Get Off the Bus is based in Ontario, Joe has a longstanding connection to Lake County. When he opened an American division of Haljoe more than 20 years ago, his buses were built in Leesburg and he spent half the year there.
“I know the wine bar, Two Old Hags, and several restaurants,” says Joe, who also has an office in Howey-in-the-Hills. “It’s part of my life.”
Early in his career, Joe also managed bands such as Glass Tiger, whose hits in the 1980s included “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” and “Someday.”
“When you have a band with a hit record, you get known by other agents,” Joe says. “When you have a bus company, we dealt with a lot of managers, a lot of bands, and a lot of agents.”
Those connections serve him well today in promoting concerts for big-name musicians. Joe listened to Don McLean’s music while growing up and is looking forward to meeting the singer at The Villages show. Get Off the Bus also is promoting two other upcoming shows at the Sharon: REO Speedwagon, Feb. 7, in support of Lifestream Foundation; and Travis Tritt, Feb. 8, in support of Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care. For information, go to thesharon.com.
If you go
Tickets for Don McLean’s concert cost $55-$89 ($25 for obstructed view) and are available at thesharon.com and all Villages box offices.