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Jimmy Buffett’s Southern California shows were intoxicating scenes

Indoctrination as a Parrothead – junior member level – started with umbrella drinks, a steel drum tribute band and a lot of laughter at a pre-show party around the pool at, appropriately, the Flamingo in Las Vegas.

We were on the wrong side of sold out for the actual show that time, but that party – the closest they could get to the tailgating scene we later found at Southern California Jimmy Buffett shows – revealed so much pure Parrothead joy that we knew we needed the full experience soon.

Buffett, who died Friday, Sept. 1 at 76, mastered the art of making others experience the low-pressure bliss found in his intoxicating songs. He was a hall of famer at lifting Parrotheads and even first-time dabblers out of their daily doldrums whenever he glided into town or they played his catalog that was so much more than just “Margaritaville.”

While he played in San Diego twice in the past year and in Palm Desert early in 2023, he most recently played locally on Oct. 12, 2019 at Honda Center, an Orange County switch for him after regular appearances at Irvine Meadows – and its various names – over the years, including one of the final shows at the venue in 2016.

Quick aside for my top three places I’ve listed to Buffett music:

3. Any of his Orange County tailgates, where seemingly a third of the people had no intention – and, after some time, no faculties – to enter the concert but just wanted to be among their own;

2. The deck of a house in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, looking at the Southern Cross constellation while listening to, yes, “Southern Cross.”

1. The lawn atop Irvine Meadows with my wife, our friends and some of the drunkest, highest adults in aloha shirts and parrot headwear you’ll ever see.

A Buffett extravaganza – starting hours before he took the stage – was the sort of escape he sang about in “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and “Fins,” the latter of which inspired anyone who arrived with a sliver of maturity to throw their hands over their heads, bring them together to form a shark fin and dance with abandon.

Tailgaters filled parking lots with RVs and portable grills, libation-filled coolers and speakers that blasted the king of the Florida Keys for all who passed by to enjoy. The revelry could’ve passed for a Southeastern Conference football bash except that face paint and ‘Bama jerseys were replaced by leis and coconut-shell bikini tops that knew no gender boundaries.

A stroll through the crowd turned strangers into old pirate-loving pals who shared beers, hugs and tales of past shows before they eventually moved the party into the venue to hear the same songs that permeated the parking lot, only this time performed live by Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band.

Another quick aside for my three favorite Buffett songs:

3. “Come Monday,” his tale of life on the road, a Labor Day weekend show and L.A. smog. Oddly, it has nothing to do with the beach or ocean.

2. “Margaritaville” is his biggest hit for good reasons: It’s incredibly catchy and takes listeners on a journey they need.

1. “A Pirate Looks at Forty” explores the life of someone who understands he arrived on the scene at the wrong time but still will do what he loves as long as he can.

All of the above were a part of every Buffett show. Sure, he had deeper cuts, but he knew what Parrotheads wanted and always delivered. No one ever was going to walk out of his only appearance in their town without hearing “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

Buffett took the stage to hang out with thousands of his buddies at whatever venue he turned into a laid-back beach bar that night. Yes, he made hundreds of millions along the way – including with product lines and restaurants (there are worse places to spend an afternoon than Margaritaville Ocho Rios) – but his legions of fans didn’t begrudge him the wealth they helped him achieve.

They aspired to the life he lived.

When he covered Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Southern Cross” in concert, they pictured themselves on a sailboat on that “downhill run to Papeete.” They certainly heeded the shark warning in “Fins,” especially when they were “the only girl in town.” And, of course, they dreamed of a vacation so full of bliss and booze that they wake up with a strange tattoo they kinda love.

At least this is what I learned in four Buffett concert nights and one additional pre-show party; I never went all out in my pursuit of full-fledged Parrothead status because my first allegiance was to a far younger performer – Bruce Springsteen is only turning 74 this month.

Still, every visit to Buffett’s tropical paradise invigorated my wanderlust, and I looked forward to his next time in town. As he bemoans in “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” however, those concert experiences were “never meant to last.”

Fortunately, Buffett’s music, the great feelings it created and the passion of his Parrotheads aren’t going away anytime soon.

Source: Orange County Register

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