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South Carolina native Mick Ayres, 62, has spent a third of his life performing and making friends at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort. On Nov. 3, his 22-year-long career at the resort ended with a five-minute phone call.
“We became like family to each other, and they really meant it,” Ayres said. “What I think is the real tragedy about everything that happened is it’s not that Disney wanted to move on and do something different. I can understand that, but the choice was being made by people that had never come and seen anything I did.”
Ayres, known as B’Lou Crabbe to his loyal fans, and his dog, Shadow, a golden retriever, have been fixtures at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort for nearly two decades. Ayres declined to reveal Shadow’s age because “the last time I asked a girl how old she was, I nearly got bit,” he said.
When the pandemic hit, Ayres said, he and Shadow were sent home. He said he was told over the course of 20 months by the resort that they “couldn’t wait” to have him back. The resort continued to pay for Shadow’s veterinary visits, food and grooming, according to Ayres, and he honored his contract by not taking nearby gigs in anticipation of his return. This, he said, was especially hard because the pandemic nearly “obliterated” the entertainment industry, and him along with it.
“I’m not saying I’m all that and a bag of chips, that makes me feel like I’m vain about this,” Ayres said. “I’m not. I just think we were doing something very wonderful that they couldn’t get in Orlando.”
Grace Stepp, general manager of the resort, did not respond to a request for comment. Disney’s public relations team did not respond to calls from The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. The Walt Disney World Guest Services team’s automatic response system said the team is beginning the “process of researching.”
In his time at the resort, Ayres met 6-year-olds he watched “grow up, go to school, go to proms and get their hearts broken” who now bring their own children back.
“That’s the part I really miss,” Ayres said. “I was on stage all the time performing for people and ... I got to know them.”
He sang, played the fiddle, banjo-ukulele and the tin whistle in 15 to 24 shows a week at the resort. Sundays were typically big check-in days, he said, and he was often on the porch with Shadow to greet guests with music and stories about the Lowcountry, most of which were adapted from real stories compiled by his historian grandmother, Genevieve Wilcox Chandler.
“People were coming here mostly for the beach and the golf, but I wanted to be the one to say, ‘hey there is this whole underbelly of culture in the South that is beautiful,’” Ayres said. “It has to do with the Gullah folk and the richness of the history around here and everything else.”
Through his magic, music and storytelling, Ayres has made friends all across the country. He inspired a former guest from North Carolina who lost several fingers in an accident when he was younger to take up playing the banjo and the mandolin.
“I tell him, ‘I can’t do what you do, I’d have to lose some fingers to play as well as you,’” Ayres said with a boisterous laugh.
Before Disney, Ayres was in the Coast Guard from 1977 until 1981 and worked as a photojournalist. From there, he went into advertising and even had his own illustration and design company at one point, he said. He left it all behind in 1989 because he could not shake this “creative bone,” he said.
In 1999, Ayres said, he was trying out for a role as a magician in Orlando when Disney decided he would “fit like a glove” at the resort on Hilton Head.
“I remember looking at them and saying, ‘wait, you want me to perform for you guys (in) what I think of as my own backyard? Send me home!’” he said.
Since news broke that he would not be coming back, longtime guests at the resort and fans have flooded social media, heartbroken and angry that their beloved character and his dog would not be returning.
Steve Kulick, a paramedic from Pennsylvania who has been vacationing at the resort over the past 13 years, said he first started the B’Lou Crabbe and Shadow fan page nine years ago so that guests would have a place to share photos and memories. In the weeks since Ayres’ phone call, the “sleepy” fan page went from 150 members to over 1,100 members, Kulick said.
“They are the heart and soul of that resort,” Kulick said. “Now that magic has been rubbed out, and we cannot figure out what in God’s name they (Disney) are doing.”
The fans, Kulick said, have flooded both the resort and Disney Parks executives with emails and phone calls, demanding answers. They haven’t gotten any, Kulick said. Danielle Perry, of Grimsby, Canada, an administrator of the fan page, created a Change.org petition three weeks ago to get the Disney people to change their minds. As of Thursday, the petition has 4,729 signatures and counting.
If asked, Ayres would love to come back to the resort, where he “doesn’t regret a second” of the time he spent, he said.
“I’m not done,” he said. “Still a lot of magic, got a lot of stories and music in me.”