Jimmy Buffett is a songwriting savior for generations. Admittedly, as a youth my only connection with him was to the two radio standards I often heard growing up “Margaritaville” and “Come Monday”. That all changed in college when I was first getting heavy into Texas Music and diving back into all things Jerry Jeff Walker. Upon reading Jerry Jeff’s memoir, I was regaled with tales of 70’s debauchery from Walker and Buffett that would make Motley Crue blush. The Louisiana governors mansion comes to mind. It was also, allegedly, Walker who tipped Buffett off to the wonderment and enchantment of the Florida Keys as they busked down US 1 one scruffy beer joint at a time. Buffett found his mecca on that journey and hasn’t stopped paying homage since.
As a 20something with a burning desire to know everything about my songwriting heroes, I devoured what I could find. I had a Buffett’s greatest hits cd. You know the one. The yellow one with the red script writing. Doug Moreland used to cover “Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit”. I was familiar, but not overly so. Then the occasion came for a roadtrip to South Padre. Well, despite my limited Buffett knowlege, one thing I was certain of was that he was the perfect soundtrack for such an expedition. Luckily, one of my closest friends and companions for this adventure was on the same wavelength and had recently purchased a Jimmy Buffett box set from a used record store. Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads was the title. Summed up the canon mighty fine. 4 discs of everything you can imagine. And it was really the only music we brought with us on that trip. On that trip, I became sold on the Buffett dream. Paradise…if only for 3 minutes a time. The cleansing nature of the ocean water…even if it was dirt brown Gulf water. The magic of a cheeseburger and an ice cold beer. I bought in to an idea and mantra that has made Buffett one of the richest musicians on the planet. It has spawned restaurants, resorts, casinos, an entire subgenre of music and a legendary legion of fans known as Parrottheads.
As the years have rolled on since that fateful trip to Padre, I’ve kept up with Buffett. My closest interactions with him have been tithing at one of his casinos, tracing his steps in Key West, jamming some deep tracks and doing my best impersonation of the life he advertises when the time is right. Friends and family have hit his concert experience several times but the timing was never right for me. Until this past weekend.
I made my inaugural trip to see Jimmy Buffett perform. I was stoked to take in the entire experience. Tailgating, dressing like a tourist, drinking things I would normally scoff at. All of it. So I did.
We arrived at Starplex (sorry Dos Equis…it will always be Starplex) around 2pm. The show wasn’t set to start until around 8 and many folks had been there since 9am when they opened the parking lot. Just like at LJT, the rigs were impressive. Blenders running on generators. Ice sculptures. Karaoke machines. Prevosts, Winnebagos, Chevys and Fords. Pop up shade tents and concrete jungles. 9 to 90. Male. Female. Steel drums and steel guitars. The wife and I were immediately pointed out as “Buffett Virgins” and coerced into doing a plethora of rumchata laced shots that was best left in my college daze. Moments later, I was handed a styrofoam cup of an “Official Jimmy Buffett Hurricane”. It tasted like Hawaiian Punch had a $1 bottle of Everclear poured into it.
Most of the people were very warm and friendly. But, like at LJT and other events of this size there are a few bad apples. One person from our group asked a neighbor to borrow a couple paper towels before being handed exactly two sheets from a roll with the punctuation of a death glare and the comment “come prepared next time”. Neighborly indeed. Another gentleman with a Scarface level coke pinky fingernail and mullet referred to me as a “Waco Virgin (Cat)” one too many times. The first time was good humor…by the 3rd time I had to let him know I was actually from Elm Mott. There was also one group blasting Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” on a loop as their preparty music.
But, folks like those were the minority. Like I say, 99% of the people were good times and good vibes. The oddest thing about all of it, to me, as someone who was there mostly for the music was how far in the minority I was on that. I knew most people were there for the party…hell, I was too. But, I also wanted to see the Coral Reefer band rip up the Big 8 and then some. Around 5pm, some of the tailgaters around us began disassembling their setups and packing it up. “We’ve been to about 25 Buffett shows…we’ve only gone in twice,” I was told by a nice man in his early 60’s sporting some wickedly cool hearing aids. They weren’t alone. One security official told me he expected a couple thousand people to stay out in the parking lot or leave before the show started. As a music fan, this was incomprehensible to me.
By this point, I was a tad conflicted. Could the music live up to the preparty? If people that had seen this 20 times didn’t want to stay, would it be any good? By the chorus of the first song, “License To Chill”, I realized that the people who only came to tailgate or immerse themselves in a fantasy world were wrong. The music was the reason we were all there in the first place and it is still the centerpiece. Mac McAnally and crew kept the grooves tight while their frontman played the loose character that has made him millions. Affable, funny, talented and quick, Buffett wasted little time ingratiating himself to a DFW audience by covering Rodney Crowell’s “Stars on the Water” and lauding the songwriting legacy and history of our state. Soon enough we had landed at “Son of a Sailor”, “Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit”, “Come Monday”, “Pencil Thin Mustache”…and so on. The man of the hour ripped through all of them with a smile and verve that belied a guy selling t-shirts for $40. The guy that busked with Jerry Jeff almost 50 years ago still resides within him. And at certain moments, the twinkle in his eye let that guy out.
After experiencing my first Jimmy Buffett show from tailgating to encore, I’m confident in saying I don’t want to go back. The version of him and the dream that is most dear to me was one I couldn’t quite find at Starplex. It exists in the recorded output found on Boats, Beaches, Bars, and Ballads. It exists anytime I’m in the mood for it. Putting some tacky clothes on and jumping into a crowded parking lot of people who seem like they may get one night out of the house once every five years wasn’t as enjoyable as cranking up Buffett next to a swimming pool. For me. For thousands of others he represents the name on top of their parking lot party and nothing more. Alas, Jimmy Buffett long ago transitioned from being merely a songwriter. He’s an enigma, a brand, a lifestyle, a dream. But, living with those who idolize that version of him for a few hours Saturday, made me realize I really just want to know the one that writes songs.
There’s a line of thinking that goes, don’t meet your heroes…they might disappoint you. My hero didn’t disappoint me at all Saturday night. But, those that love him the most did. And that’s okay. They’ll go back 25 more times. But, as for me. I’ll hold on to the music and the escapism that resides in my mind.
He went to Buffett…
Looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so