Buffett fans see reason to squawk

Singer's dropping of show seen as snub to Merriweather

Buffett's dropping of show at Merriweather riles fans


April 06, 2001|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

The Parrot Heads' feathers are ruffled.

The announcement last month that Jimmy Buffett will not make his annual summer trek to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia has more than a few of his fans riled up. And some are wondering if the scheduling of Buffett at the newer Nissan Pavilion in Virginia is a sign that the older Columbia venue is no longer able to draw big acts.

"I've heard from people who are rather upset," said Deb Daly, president and founder of the 300-member Chesapeake Parrot Head Club, which is based in Arnold. "It was rumored for months that this was going to happen."

For some, being a Jimmy Buffett fan - or Parrot Head - is a religion, and his concert tours are sacred. There are Parrot Head clubs across the country, and Buffett has carved out an entertainment empire based on his laid-back tunes that has grown to include books, clothing and a brand of Margaritaville Tequila.

According to Pollstar, a company that tracks ticket sales and concert tour schedules, Buffett ranked sixth this week in the Internet's most requested tour schedules - right behind toy-boy band N'Sync and legend Eric Clapton. His 2000 tours grossed $24.1 million and ranked No. 18 in Pollstar magazine's list of the top-grossing tours last year.

Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar magazine, said Buffett fans take his touring very seriously.

"Jimmy Buffett really is one of the staples of the concert industry," Bongiovanni said. "He's one of those rare artists who doesn't need a hit record or constant air play to draw crowds to a show. His legion of fans are just that, a legion."

Bongiovanni said the key to touring is to select a venue that is going to generate strong ticket sales. "It really depends on the confidence in whether they can sell out or not," he said. "An artist doesn't want to book a venue where there are going to be several thousand seats left vacant."

Management for Buffett declined to comment, but Merriweather officials said his show is one that has sold out from year to year.

Thomas Ponton of Columbia, a longtime Buffett fan, said that for many Buffett followers, the Merriweather concert is a rite of summer.

"Last year, they had signs all over Route 29 warning people of the heavy traffic," Ponton said. "The Buffett concert is one of Merriweather's biggest every year."

He said that while he is more laid back about the lack of a local concert than some of his fellow Parrot Heads, he understands the disappointment at having Buffett's closest appearance at the Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Va.

"To me, [Virginia] is not what I call a local performance," Ponton said. "It might as well be the other side of the universe as far as I am concerned."

There also have been rumblings on Internet message boards and among fans that the 34-year-old Merriweather is being neglected by the company that manages it, SFX Entertainment Inc. But concerns that the open-air theater is being shunned in favor of the newer, glossier Nissan - which SFX also manages - are unfounded, said Merriweather's general manager, Jean Parker.

"You can see very clearly that over the last few years, Mr. Buffett has cut back on his touring schedule," Parker said. "I'm sure the other venues are disappointed also."

Parker pointed out that SFX invested $750,000 in renovations at Merriweather last year, adding covered box seats, new lighting, additional parking for the elderly and an expanded main plaza area. With the success of last year's corporate box program, there are plans this year to add additional boxes, which offer seating at all the shows, wait staff service and access to the VIP deck, Parker said.

Parker said that Nissan has double the number of covered seats that Merriweather does, making it a natural choice of venue for Buffett's show.

"With just their gross potential, [Buffett] can take in more," Parker said. "If he's only doing one date in the region, you do the math."

Jack Boyle, chairman of SFX Music Group, said Buffett is cutting back on his tour dates because of family obligations. The decision to play Nissan and not Merriweather is not a reflection on the Columbia venue, he said."[Buffett] likes Merriweather," Boyle said. "As sorry as I am that Merriweather is losing their show this year, I'm even sorrier that we have lost 50 percent of our booking dates [from Buffett] from last year."

But the scheduling of the concert in Virginia has done little to salve the bruised feelings of some Buffett fans. Daly, whose club won the "Golden Coconut Award" in 1997 for outstanding community service from Buffett's organization, said many of her members are disappointed.

"For most people to go to Nissan, you've got to spend the night, and that's an extra added expense," Daly said. "We're a close community. What brought us together was the love of Buffett's music, but we do a lot of things like community service and holding events."

Dave Burgess, marketing director for Mix 106.5 radio in Baltimore, said a few fans have called the station about the absence of Buffett from Merriweather this year. No concert in Maryland this year, he said, means no promotional tie-ins such as last year's Lucky Charms cereal giveaway, in which listeners tried to win prizes that included Buffett concert tickets.

"We filled a big pool with Lucky Charms, milk and potatoes, and participants had to dive for potatoes in order to win things like movie tickets, a gold necklace, Buffett tickets and station promotional items," Burgess said. "The Jimmy Buffett tickets were actually more popular than the gold necklace, and the necklace cost $500."

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