Four days and 50 versions of "Margaritaville'' later, talent scouts for the Jimmy Buffett-themed restaurant, music and gambling complex that will open next month have a pretty good idea which acts they'll hire to perform there.
Bands, duos and solo artists traveled from hours away to audition last week for a prized entertainment slot at the $35 million complex scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend at Resorts Casino Hotel.
Requirements include being able to play a wide variety of music, to accommodate audience requests, and yes, to know at least a few Buffett tunes.
Not surprisingly, most of the acts that tried out in a 13th floor ballroom last week opted for his tropical ode to frozen drinks and that mythical lost shaker of salt. Joe Ginel, entertainment director for the nationwide Margaritaville chain, swears he never gets sick of hearing it, no matter how many earnest applicants succeed with it or butcher it.
"'Margaritaville' is our national anthem,'' he said. "When that song comes on at one of our places, it's special. The whole brand started with that song.''
Mike Engle and Tony Caggiano, acoustic guitarists and singers from Caldwell, N.J., lean more toward classic rock. But during their audition, they mixed in obscure pop hits like Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Knock Three Times'' among more modern tunes.
"How `bout a Jimmy Buffett song?'' Ginel called out from a sound board at the back of the room.
"OK,'' Engle said, launching into, well, you know.
Ginel said he'd let the duo know within two weeks whether they were hired. The pair was encouraged by their tryout.
"I think it went fantastic,'' Caggiano said. "It's a great opportunity. I've been wanting to break in and start playing at the shore.''
Engle said it would be great to get a steady gig at Margaritaville.
"I'm into classic rock, but I'm as into James Taylor as I am Led Zeppelin,'' he said. "You really need to branch out.''
And that's pretty much what Ginel said before the pair even took the stage.
"We're looking for talent that can play well-recognizable covers that can appeal to many different age groups, all the way from 15-year-olds to 70-year-olds,'' he said. "The style of music we need is anything from classic rock, beach rock, country, reggae and today's music. And they have to take requests.''
That may have tripped up The Clamdiggers, a four-piece band from Howell that played along with pre-recorded backing tracks from a tablet computer that included things like xylophone parts for the inevitable "Margaritaville'' performance.
The band did well with its predetermined set list, which included Eric Clapton's "Forever Man'' and Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home?'' But when Ginel asked for a tune from a country artist that wasn't on their rehearsed set list, lead singer Steve Hodgin countered by saying, "How about some Bruce Springsteen, since this is the shore?''
Then they played "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,'' with nary a country twang to be heard.
Afterward, Hodgin said the band was not prepared to take requests, noting its lead guitar player had just joined the band.
"When they throw you a curveball, sometimes it throws you off,'' he said.
Margaritaville will open its doors May 24th. It features a Margaritaville restaurant, the LandShark Bar & Grill, Margaritaville-themed casino space, the Five O'Clock Somewhere Bar, a retail store and a coffee shop. A giant blender will welcome guests at its front entrance.
Twelve Margaritaville-themed table games and 160 similarly themed slot machines will be part of the casino.
The project is seen as an integral part of Resorts' plan to jump-start its fortunes in Atlantic City's cutthroat market. The casino has struggled financially for the past few years, although it has been inching closer toward profitability lately.
The franchise has expanded to 25 U.S. and international resort destinations.