October 21, 2014

The Night Clint Black Came to Dinner

Cocktails and country: Denise Cobb, Kirsten Ferrara, Natalie Watson, Barrett Farmer, Ann Wamser and Jean Ackerman (top). Martha Fligg and Paul Hills (above).The days of country star Clint Black singing for his supper are long gone, thanks to his numerous No.1 singles, best-selling albums and film and television appearances. But there are still moments when, if the cause is right, he might be willing to grab a guitar and ask for an appetizer.

Such was the case recently when the award-winning singer-songwriter found himself with guitar in hand at the modest (16,000-square-foot) Bay Colony home of Martha and Jim Fligg. Twenty-five of Naples’ well-heeled pooled their resources at the 2011 Naples Winter Wine Festival (NWWF) and decided $320,000 seemed like a reasonable amount for a vintner dinner from Napa Valley winery Silver Oak Cellars featuring its chef, Dominic Orsini, and a few songs from Black. All in all, a wonderful way to help the children of Collier County.

“I’ve been around charitable organizations and events for a long time, but what you folks have done here is really something amazing,” said Black during his intimate performance. Just a man and his guitar. And, of course, his hat.

David Duncan, president and CEO of Silver Oak winery, had created the auction lot thanks to a lucky gig that found his own band opening for Black a few years back. The two hit it off, and Duncan figured pairing his wine and chef with the musical stylings of Black would make for a sought-after lot in Naples. He was right. During the NWWF V.I.P. party, a group made up of the Fliggs, former CNN Headline News anchor Denise Cobb, her husband, Brian, and others conspired to bid. But when another group ended up with the winning bid, Duncan and Black decided to double the lot, thereby raising $640,000 in an instant.

And while that money will help an untold number of local children, on this night it was only going to feed 25 adults. But bless their hearts, they were hungry for not only food, but some amazing country music. Black, who had celebrated his 50th birthday just weeks before, arrived early to check the space and figure out where would be the best place for his performance. It turned out he was recovering from a bronchial infection that flared up while touring Europe and decided to stay inside, rather than fight the humidity by the pool area. The next thing you know he’s placed his chair in the makeshift dining room—the Fliggs soaring marble-encased living room.

“It’s a nice little place they’ve got here,” said Black, with his familiar smirk, as we stood in the home’s actual dining room, which was filled with wine from Silver Oak. “You know, I don’t do a lot of preparation for events like this. Normally they’re pretty casual and expectations are adjusted accordingly,” he added with a trademark wink. As the guests arrived, he graciously mingled and got his photo taken, ever mindful of keeping his voice unstressed until his performance. Luckily, that wasn’t a worry for anyone else as Silver Oak flowed freely in anticipation of the concert.

“You know, I’ve got to be honest, I’m not that familiar with him,” said one guest of Black while discussing her husband’s multiple recent surgeries. “I know he’s big in country music, but I didn’t really know who he was.”

“We went out and bought a CD,” replied another guest who just had two of his own surgeries. (It should be noted that neither of these people were doctors.)

A little bit country: Black shares a story during his set at the Bay Colony home of Martha and Jim Fligg. The dinner raised $320,000 at the 2011 Naples Winter Wine Festival auction.That unfamiliarity made for some uncomfortable moments when Black encouraged the group to sing along. Initially, it could have been chalked up to a level of reserve, but the entire room turned into a choir when Black decided to cover a James Taylor tune. Luckily guests Barrett Farmer and Natalie Watson—the only two wearing cowboy boots—chimed in, requesting Black’s biggest hit, Killin’ Time, and all seemed right with the world. Farmer and Watson, two Naples Winter Wine Festival coordinators, were there as guests of Bob and Joan Clifford, the chairs of the 2012 Winter Wine Festival, who were unable to attend.

“(Bob) was ice driving in the Arctic this weekend,” said one of the evening’s attendees matter-of-factly.

While Black was mesmerizing the crowd with a dozen songs (from Code of the West to Like the Rain to One More Payment), Silver Oak’s chef Dominic Orsini and his team were busy transforming the kitchen into a Napa Valley market, having brought virtually all of the dinner’s ingredients with them from California.

“You have all these chefs from Europe always saying their stuff is the best, so I thought, ‘How about we feature the cuisine of Northern Californa for the dinner?’” said Orsini. To that end, the menu opened with California black bass paired with Twomey Pinot Noir Russian River 2009. But Orsini really hit his stride with a fantastic second round featuring Northern California foraged mushrooms prepared three ways: quail-egged hedgehogs over crispy polenta, black trumpet cappuccino and yellow foot cassoulet.

“They paired that with a 1986 Silver Oak, Napa Valley that was really special,” said Denise Cobb. “That was a great year in Napa Valley. He has only one or two more in his library so for him to bring that and pour it for everyone was really great.”

Killin’ time: Cheryl Copham, Brian Cobb, Pat Gibbons and Tom Wamser wait for the concert to begin (above). Black shares a laugh with David Duncan, president and owner of Silver Oak Cellars of Napa Valley. “HE’S OBVIOUSLY VERY PHILANTHROPIC TO RAISE MONEY FOR CHILDREN… THAT JUST MADE HIM EVEN MORE ENDEARING.“ —Denise CobbNot surprisingly, Black stayed for dinner. And at each of the four tables an empty chair was left so after each course, Black would switch tables so he got a chance to chat with everyone.

“We talked a little bit about Celebrity Apprentice and we talked about charity work,” said Cobb. “He’s obviously very philanthropic to raise money for children. On Celebrity Apprentice, the money he raised was for Rett syndrome. He lost his niece to that disease. That just made him even more
endearing.”

At the end of the night an extra guitar Black brought was raffled off. He planned to autograph it for whoever won it and have their picture taken together, but as luck would have it it went to the Cliffords. That’ll teach them for ice driving in the Arctic.

 

The Guest List
Jim and Martha Fligg
Denise and Brian Cobb
Dave and Cheryl Copham
Dave and Pat Gibbons
Sandy and Charlie Denny
Jean Ackerman
Al Rupp and Kirsten Ferrara
Jan and Bob Di Romualdo
Barbara and Paul Hills
Jim and Paula McDonald
Ann and Tom Wamser
Barrett Farmer and Natalie Watson 

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