Life As We Know It: November 18, 2013

         On the back of our little RV, I have a bumper sticker that reads: “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Jimmy Buffett.” Everywhere we go we get appreciative thumbs up from fellow Parrotheads who look at the mess we’re in and no doubt ask themselves, “Hey, what could it hurt?”

          Well, I am not here to nominate Jimmy Buffett for president. I’m here for the party.

          I’ve been to rock concerts, country concerts, and music festivals, and I’ve never seen any thing like a Buffett show. People who for most of the year are button-downed professionals somehow morph into completely wacky and off-the-wall alter egos at a Buffett concert. I’m not talking necessarily about the effects of the alcohol, although there is a good deal of it. As Jimmy sings in his signature song, “Margaritaville,” there’s lots of “booze in the blender.”

          But even the fans who eschew the hootch undergo a personality transplant. If you have a problem with bashfulness, forget it. They confiscate it at the front gate. You’ll see older folks in their 70s and 80s and youngsters just 5 or 6, and nearly all of them are dressed in outfits they keep hidden the rest of the year. Hardly anybody sits down, and everybody knows all the words to all the songs. Buffett’s greatest-hits album, in fact, is called “Songs You Know By Heart.”

         A Buffett concert can be an overwhelming and unnerving experience for first-timers. Parrotheads cavort in grass skirts and coconut bras. And those are just the men. Some wear hats that would have made Carmen Miranda proud. Others affix shark fins to their backs.

         To fully appreciate the Margaritaville experience, you have to get to the venue early, set up your lawn chairs, drape a lei around your neck (don’t forget to wear the gaudiest Hawaiian shirt you’ve got), and watch the spectacle around you while you tailgate.

         We’ve seen Buffett in concert 26 times now. Oh, the stories we could tell about the party in the parking lot. Okay, maybe a couple:

         One imaginative Parrothead somehow turned himself into a palm tree, and his head was the monkey up on top eating a banana. We once saw a fan set up a mini-Tiki Bar and mix his margaritas with the help of a weed-whacker. And at every show, without fail, several devoted Parrotheads (maybe “committed” is a better word) arrive in pickup trucks full of sand. Up go the inflatable palm trees and out come the Coronas.

         Not surprisingly, we’ve seen some fans enjoy the parking lot extravaganza and their Mexican cerveza so much they never make it inside the arena for the show. Maybe they didn’t even have tickets. That would be understandable because the best seats at a Buffett concert can go for thousands of dollars each.

          A good friend of mine, John Ansberg, is a fellow Parrothead and an undertaker. Now there’s a job that requires an occasional escape. Apparently people are dying in sufficient numbers to compensate him handsomely, because he remembers sitting on a dock once in St. Bart’s, one of the Caribbean’s most expensive islands, and there was Buffett, hosing down his boat in Gustavia harbor. Jimmy invited him aboard for a quick tour. I’ve never managed to actually meet Buffett, but a review I wrote of a concert many years ago at Blossom Music Center near Akron made it into a Buffett biography.

          And, of course, I’ve been to the restaurant that inspired Jimmy to write the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Maybe you have too, since nearly every burger joint south of the Mason-Dixon line makes the same claim. True believers think he wrote it at Le Select, an upscale place on St. Bart’s. I prefer to think it was that funky joint on Cabbage Key off Sanibel-Captiva in Florida.

          Fins up, Parrotheads!