A Wedding in Paradise
“Nevisian String Band”
by Robert Leedy, 1992,
13 x 16 inches,
watercolor on paper,
Collection of Amy Carol Roberts,
Neptune Beach, Florida
“Just be sure that when you set a date for the wedding, make sure it is a date you can easily remember – like your birthday! The first thing you’ll learn in married life is that you don’t ever want to forget your wedding anniversary…”
David knew of our predicament and continued: “Don’t worry about all of the social obligations – just go to Nevis and get married.”
We were living in Puerto Rico and I worked for David Cimino, President of Plaza Cellars, a wholesale fine wine distributor that serves Puerto Rico & the Caribbean. We had a client on Nevis – The Nisbett Plantation – and David once witnessed a wedding on their property and said it was a pretty cool event.
Vicky & I struggled with who to invite between the two large companies we worked for, plus family and friends. Every site we looked at in Puerto Rico wanted an arm & a leg for a wedding fete. And the price always seemed to go up once they found out it was a wedding and not just a big party.
We instead decided to invite a small group of friends and family for a weekend wedding on the beautiful island of Nevis. It wasn’t cheap but at least it was more reasonable than a blowout for several hundreds of people. Vicky & I flew over to Nevis early to make all of the arrangements, the most difficulty being the legal paperwork necessary for a proper wedding.
Nevis is gorgeous. It is the smaller sister island to St. Christopher (St. Kitts) but without all of the ill effects of a larger island, crime, traffic, etc.. The downside was that it was quite isolated. There were no commercial airlines servicing the island so, we bargained with a small charter service and got a ride on a small single engine Beechcraft. The Four Seasons Hotel was recently finished and open for business on the island; they had a boat that ferried guests from St. Kitts but they weren’t too keen on hauling non-guests.
The Nisbett Plantation was the perfect setting for our wedding. It was an old coconut plantation with a great house and a smathering of cottages around a long, manicured lawn that stretched from the great house all the way to the sea. All cottages had a view to Mount Nevis – the extinct volcano that rises dramatically from the center of the island – and the ocean, of course.
I had heard a fun story about Nevis: In the 80’s, musicians Jimmy Buffett and Dan Fogelberg were sailing around the Caribbean on Buffett’s sailboat. They were writing songs and playing music together when not sailing. While in port somewhere, the boat was broken into and the duo’s guitars were stolen. Not to interrupt the creative energy, Buffet asked a local where they could immediately pick up some guitars; the guy mentioned a guitar maker on the tiny island of Nevis. Buffett set sail and he and Fogelberg ended up on Nevis where they drove up the mountain in a rental car looking for the guitar maker.
Along the way, in a little village called Butler, they stopped at a roadside bar – it was actually a small mom & pop shack that sold everything essential that a neighborhood 7-11 might – including cold beer. There was a group of locals sitting around a table playing a friendly game of dominoes. The newcomers ordered a beer and got their asses kicked playing dominoes. The place was coincidentally called Domino College and Jimmy Buffett immediately saw the irony in the name and later wrote a song about it.
We were well taken care of at Nisbett Plantation. The manager was Tim, a friendly Brit and a good customer. Tim was able to make most of the arrangements for us which made things a lot easier. The staff was very attentive, the food was excellent and the surroundings couldn’t have been prettier. One of the girls working with the dining staff – Rosalyn – immediately took to us and sort of became our personal assistant. When my father and John , my Best Man from Santa Barbara, arrived, Rosalyn saw how badly we played dominoes and coached us on domino strategy.
“So, Rosalyn,” I asked, “where is this Domino College I’ve heard about?”
“How do you know about Domino College?” She returned. Her eyes were wide open and she looked surprised – almost shocked – that outsiders had made such a discovery on her little island.
I told her the story. Of course, she had no idea who Jimmy Buffett or Dan Fogelberg were. But she did make an interesting offer to the three of us: “Would you like to go up to Domino College tomorrow night? I have the night off and it is located in the village where I’m from – Butler.”
So I spent the night before my wedding drinking Heineken beer and getting my butt kicked at dominoes under a dim light bulb in a small, open-air space immediately adjoining The Domino College store. The place was run by a nice old fellow named Sarge. He laughed every time one of us cried out in defeat right after the moment our opponents slammed down the winning domino. The noise was almost deafening and certainly humiliating. I was so bad that it was embarrassing to be sitting there playing any longer. I felt my place in this party was better suited as the one who passed out the winning beers to our opponents. This kept me very busy. Sarge probably did record beer business that night!
My dad & I watched as John clinged to the hope that he just might win a game. I started chatting with Sarge and asked if he remembered a guy name Buffett in search of a guitar. He vaguely remembered two white guys looking for the guitar maker when they stopped at Domino College for beer. Sarge pointed to one of the guys playing dominoes and told me he was the son of the guitar maker. I believe he also mentioned that the son was also an heir to the guitar-making.
Rosalyn overheard Sarge and turned to me: “Robert, most of these guys will be in the band playing at your wedding tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah?” Shit! I really felt humiliated now…
There were no real problems leading up to the wedding day. We all explored the island. There was sunbathing, wind surfing, afternoon teas, games of croquet and wonderful dinners together. Vicky’s main worry was getting her hair done and mine was finishing the small watercolors I was to give as gifts. Vicky & I were able to get all of the paperwork completed with the local barrister, Mr. Byron, a wonderful old soul who also performed our wedding ceremony. The morning of the wedding, Tim came up to me after breakfast with a worried look:
“Robert, it seems we have a bit of a problem…”
My heart sunk and I mentally ran over all of the possibilities. I listened as a frown on my face seemed to draw the blinds on an otherwise gloriously sunny Caribbean morning.
“We have looked all over the island and we cannot locate any white figures for your wedding cake. Do you mind if the figures are black?”
“Tim, it’s not a problem at all!” I threw a sigh of relief and a small chuckle as the sun came out from behind the clouds. It was indeed a beautiful day in Paradise.
The wedding was a beautiful event that afternoon on the lawn of the estate. Before the ceremony – in front of everybody – Vicky & I had our first marital disagreement over which way we were to face during the ceremony. She wanted to face the ocean; I wanted our friends & family to see the ocean behind us. I think we compromised and positioned ourselves sideways…
The great thing about it all was how unrehearsed and impromptu everything was. We weren’t worried about anything in the least and the most important thing was having a great time with friends & family. Vicky & I were married in a beautiful place with our small, happy crowd to witness. It was a great moment.
Now, in all of this non-planning, we had no idea that the band was going to come out immediately after the vows and serenade us back up to the Great House. We had no clue as to which songs they would play and I figured there was going to be a steel drum or two in there somewhere. In other words, neither one of us had heard the band play a single note before.
I was told by Rosalyn that they were a string band. This meant nothing to me – in fact, I was beginning to think there were violins and cellos involved.
Instead, these guys appeared out of nowhere and began playing. No steel drums. No calypso-limbo stuff either (thank God!) What they were playing was a sound I had not heard in the Caribbean before: it was a sort of acoustical folk music – definitely indigenous stuff with a touch of blues and hints of reggae here and there. It was wonderful to listen (and dance) to! There were several guys on guitar, a mandolin (or something similar like a quatro), a fife player, several drummers and percussionists of varied sorts – I think there were some neighborhood kids tagging along for the ride. Oh! And I cannot forget the guy – in absence of a bass guitar player – who was blowing on a long piece of PVC pipe disguised as a woodwind!
It was a blast! They followed Vicky & I – and our guests – as we slowly strode up to the party waiting for us. The songs I remembered on the lawn were “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and “Stir It Up”. There were several singers but the lead vocalist had a distinct, strong voice like a cross between Olu Dara (I discovered his music years afterwards – check it out if you don’t know him) and a singing Samuel L. Jackson.
The crowd loved these guys and they certainly added to the festive atmosphere. We danced and danced. It was a wedding party to die for…
OK, so here is where I am supposed to tie in the image above and this story: The band eventually whittled down to combo size (I think it was past a lot of the child percussionists’ bed times) and continued to play. I obviously didn’t stop during my wedding celebration to sit down and paint these guys, so I later relied on some photographs I took to complete the painting. My friend, Amy Roberts, later bought the painting on a visit to Puerto Rico. Every time I am at Amy’s house, that painting brings back the fondest of memories. Vicky & I always say we need to go back to Nevis for a little anniversary but we haven’t done it yet. Maybe this year we will…
You know, and I always wondered what happened to those little black wedding cake figurines.