CAROLINA BEACH --- Hundreds gathered in the the open-aired bungalow bar of Lazy Pirate on Wednesday night to pay their respects to Danny Joe Swinson.
Signs out front and on TV screens over the bar read things like "Danny Thank You For Loving Us," "An island legend gone too soon, and "The biggest kid there ever was" next to a picture of Swinson with a white beard and yellow aviators. One showed a favorite saying of Swinson's: "Have I told you how good you look today?"
Lazy Pirate co-owner Jamie Aiken was on the stage telling the crowd a poem he had written for his old friend and business partner, who had passed away over the weekend.
"You sought colors of music that defined your sweet wonderful world. You are large, you are local, you are legend. You are our Guardian of the Vibe," Aiken said.
With that he asked for a salute to Danny, and the crowd lifted their glasses and gave Swinson a loud cheer.
"I just wish he had better taste than PBR," Aiken said.
Bobby McConville describes how he decided to move to Carolina Beach after a weekend of partying with Danny Swinson.
"He helped us build this"
Next on the stage was Bobby McConville, who said he moved to the area right after Hurricane Fran and crashed with his cousin, "New York Teddy." After a weekend of partying on the island, Danny Swinson showed up at his front door early Sunday morning with a group of friends.
"Next thing I know I'm cruising North End in the back of Danny's pick-up truck. We partied all Sunday, and that was the day I decided to move to Carolina Beach. Because of Danny," McConville told the crowd.
As local reggae band D.H.I.M. began singing "I'll fly away", Aiken walked out to the bar's sand volleyball courts and tried to describe Swinson's larger-than-life influence on the island, both musically and socially.
"I don’t know even know how you would describe Danny except to look around and see – in January on a Wednesday night," Aiken said pointing to the packed bar inside, "they said there was traffic coming over the bridge, backed up, just to get here to celebrate his life. I mean that’s Field of Dreams right there. 'If you build it they will come,' and that’s Danny Jo. He helped us build this."
"I don’t know even know how you would describe Danny except to look around and see, in January on a Wednesday night," Jamie Aiken said, pointing to the crowd.
Near the stage local radio personality Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith, also known as the Night Nurse on Modern Rock 98.7, described how she and Swinson had together started a Reggae concert series eight years ago and watched it flourish.
"I had been a long-term reggae ambassador and radio personality in the area, and he knew that I could help him build it," McLaughlin-Smith said. "I see this as one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made in my life as a businesswoman, and as a spirit who believes in this music. It has grown over the last years to be something that is respected in the city, the region, the state, the country."
Local radio personality Kimberly McLaughlin Smith, also known as the Night Nurse on Modern Rock 98.7, hugs a friend as they remember Danny Swinson.
Formally, Swinson served as Lazy Pirate's Director of Marketing, but Aiken said he was a defacto partner, creator, and the face of the bar.
"Everybody knew him. You couldn’t live in Carolina Beach and not know Danny Swinson. Or you really weren’t a member of the community," Aiken said. "Music was what drove him. People being together was his inspiration. And charity was his toolbox. Nobody on this island has hosted or supported more charity events over the last decade on this island."
Ultimately, Aiken said it was Swinson's oversized heart and love of Carolina Beach and Lazy Pirate that people will remember him for.
"The man did what he was supposed to do," Aiken said, pointing at the crowd.
D.H.I.M. – Disciples of His Imperial Majesty" – sing a reggae version of "I'll fly away".
A cake reads "Til We Meet Again" with an illustration of Danny Swinson on its front.
An old photograph of Danny Swinson.
Usually slow on a mid-week January night, hundreds had packed the bar for Swinson's memorial.
Lazy Pirate co-owner Jamie Aiken shares a moment with a friend as they remember Danny Swinson.
The crowd salutes the life of Danny Swinson after Lazy Pirate co-owner Jamie Aiken read a poem.
Local radio personality Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith holds a painting dedicated by Cammeron Batanides, left, to the life of their friend Danny Swinson.
Reggae fans packed the Lazy Pirate on Wednesday night.
D.H.I.M. – Disciples of His Imperial Majesty" – performs at the memorial fundraiser for Danny Swinson.
A woman signs a memory book in honor of Danny Swinson Wednesday night.
A cake for Danny Swinson at the Lazy Pirate Wednesday night.
A sign shows one of Danny Swinson's favorite expressions: "Have I told you how good you look today?"
Tears were shed throughout the night, but the atmosphere at Lazy Pirate was far from somber.
A young woman drinks a can of PBR, Swinson's favorite brand of beer.
Friends gather outside the Lazy Pirate during the memorial fundraiser for Danny Swinson.