By: Carlos Hayslinger – Associated Press
I met singer/songwriter Matt Hoggatt at exactly 9 p.m as he instructed. I came alone. The bar was a dimly lit dive on the edge of Ocean Springs called “The Julep Room.” It was the kind of place where the bartender asks if you are carrying a gun or knife at the door, then gives you one so you have a chance. Matt was dressed in blue jeans, a “Wu-Tang Clan” T-shirt and a ball-cap that said “Frank Brown Songwriter Festival.” Sitting in a corner table alone, he pegged me for a reporter as soon as I walked in the door. Tricks of the trade I suppose. He didn’t look like a guy that carried a badge, or sang with Jimmy Buffett. I pulled up a chair. Matt asked me if I had been followed, or if I was secretly recording our conversation. He already knew the license tag number on my car and room number at my hotel. I got the immediate sense that what he was about to say, would eventually change my life. He was right.
We began to order wine and appetizers. Matt said not to worry about the bill and to order whatever I wanted. “Everybody knows me here. I’m good for it.” Sixteen years as a police officer along the gulf coast had left him suspicious of people, jaded even. He trusted very few, but felt comfortable in places where he could hide in a crowd. He had worked as a musician in the years prior to fame to supplement his policeman’s salary and keep food on the table. It was a part-time job that took a drastic turn when he started to win songwriting contests. “I won a year’s supply of canned chili one time, it was because of a little jingle I wrote. The UPS man was worn out delivering all that chili to my door. It was a sight to see.” Matt went on to win contests with the Nashville Songwriter Association and American Songwriter Magazine. It was the magazine contest that brought Jimmy Buffett into the story.
“I had written a song about Jimmy Buffett that asks him for a record deal. It won a contest in American Songwriter Magazine and Jimmy found out about it. The song is called “Dear Jimmy Buffett” The rest is history.” History is a mild way to put it. Jimmy’s people reached out to Matt, and he was invited to Birmingham to a Jimmy Buffett concert. When he arrived, things began to unfold. “They told me I was going to be playing my song for Jimmy in his dressing room. I didn’t know Jimmy was going to play a song for me as well.” The song that Jimmy played was a response to Matt’s song. In Jimmy’s lyrics, he offers advice about never giving up on a music career and hints at a possible record deal. “They asked me if I wanted to perform on stage with Jimmy, and I said absolutely! Then I went and found a bottle of wine and called everyone I knew.”
That was in 2012. Since then, he’s been a traveling performer and a regular radio host on Jimmy Buffett’s Sirius XM radio channel “Radio Margaritaville.” Its a margarita fairy-tale that has taken him all over the country from Bourbon Street to Boston. “I’ve been able to travel the country and work with some great folks because of the break that Jimmy Gave me. Folks like Mac McAnally, Paul Thorn, Keith Sykes and Will Kimbrough. I’ve even opened for bands like Shenandoah, Confederate Railroad and Ronnie McDowell.”
As the night grew later, wine glasses and food plates began to pile up on our table. The sound of a local singer/songwriter playing in the background brought up the topic of concert venues and where Matt liked to perform. “Imagine a person turning their house into a concert party. You hire me to come play, everybody brings a bottle of wine or a food dish, and at the end of the night….I help clean up. That’s what I call a house concert. Anybody can host one.” Matt said he performs tons of house concerts every year.
At 11:05 p.m., Matt finished a glass of wine and briefly excused himself to use the men’s room. He never returned. Feeling dejected, I got up to leave when the bartender asked if I was ready to pay the bill. I told her there must be some mistake and that Matt Hoggatt said, “He was good for it.” The bartender just laughed and said, “Honey, if he’s good for anything, its leaving folks holding the bag. Will that be cash or credit?” You can catch Matt on Sundays at 4-10 p.m CST on Radio Margaritaville Sirius XM, Channel 24.