The Parrot Head mystique Buffett fans find common ground in margaritas and manatees

September 30, 1994|By Dave Ferman | Dave Ferman,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jimmy Buffett's success does not compute.

He does not have a hit CD. He's not on the radio much (unless you count the occasional spin on stations specializing in soft rock from the '70s). He's not hip, he's not weird, he's not making a comeback, he's not changing his sound, and he's not emerging from a much-publicized stint in rehab. He supports the same environmental causes (conservation and saving the wonderfully cuddly and sweet manatee) that he did years ago.

Yet in a summer when attendance was down for even the most successful shed-rockers (Lollapalooza, Bonnie Raitt, Yes and Steve Miller) and reborn super groups, such as Traffic, were playing to three-quarters-empty venues, Mr. Margaritaville did sellout business throughout the country.

The success lies in Pamela Garges, and folks like her, who make up the vast and highly vocal legion of Buffett-watchers known by all as Parrot Heads. They are the ones who pack the sheds to drink beer after beer and sing along lustily with "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and "Margaritaville." They wear those ridiculous hats and bask in fond remembrances of the hedonistic 1970s, when they and Jimmy were both a lot younger and wilder. They turn the evening into a tailgate-party/backyard barbecue/sing-along of epic scale.

Fans of most performers listen to the CDs and go to the shows, and that's it. But for a growing number of Buffett fans, the love affair with their performer and respect for his environmental concerns have led to the formation of Buffett fan clubs around the country. There are around 40 at last count, Ms. Garges says, up from five only four years ago.

Many of the clubs, she says, do good works in their respective communities: In the case of the Parrot Head Club of Dallas and North Texas, which Ms. Garges formed four years ago, members cook a meal one night per month at the Ronald McDonald House . . . with a boom box blasting Buffett songs in the background.

"You meet another Parrot Head and automatically there's a bond between the two of you," says Ms. Garges, 33, a Dallas legal secretary. "A lot of it is, he's real music. He has a great attitude toward his audience, and his music comes from real life. They're true stories.

"He's kicked-back and laid-back and he's able to express what's happening; as he grows up, his songs grow up. And it's a little escapism; you can go for a day and be a Parrot Head. It's like, 'Yeah, I could be on a beach sipping a margarita.' "

Laura Goodman, 30, a Dallas legal assistant, says she joined "as a way to get involved in things.

"You get to meet a lot of people," she says. "He projects a nice way of life everybody would like to attain -- hanging out in Key West -- and a different state of mind. I'd like to live like that. I think he's really clever, and he's never afraid to say what he wants to say. He always cheers me up."

In return for working at Ronald McDonald House and participating in club functions, members earn activity credits. Those with the most credits get first crack at a block of tickets that clubs receive from Mr. Buffett's management.

Club members pay a surcharge for the tickets. That money is donated to a charity of Mr. Buffett's choice.

"We don't live our lives to follow him around," says Bob Allen, 45, owner of Dallas' West End Pub. "It's a philosophy of the way he lived and what he lived through. Jimmy's been involved in doing things for years and that's where the civic part comes from. And we have one thing that ties us together, so it's a social organization. It's a fun time."

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