Dec 31, 2023


Jimmy Buffett's human zoo arrived in town Sunday, complete with fish, fowl and a reptile or two in attendance.

People wore paper parrot beaks, foam parrot wings and gift-shop cloth parrots. Others sported shark fins attached like party hats on top of their heads. Still others brought inflatable plastic lizards.

The cages were opened onto Cary Field in Williamsburg, a place normally inhabited by a college football team called The Tribe. Out poured a tribe of a different origin, a strangely touched clan that called itself followers of Floridian folk hero Buffett.

Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band, which performed Sunday with Little Feat at The College of William and Mary, inspired more than tribal devotion. They triggered an entire state of mind, celebrating the virtues of drinking a lot (before entering the stadium), wearing funny costumes and believing that a good party with friends is the essence of life.

It was like a 20,000-person frat party, featuring Buffett's famed followers, the Parrot Heads and Shark Heads. The bash started in the stadium parking lot of his car. "It's like a Grateful Dead concert without the hippies."

Concertgoers had come to the sold-out show from as far away as Portland, Maine, and Morgantown, W.Va. Some wore the tie-dye T-shirts that are the Deadheads’ trademark garb.

But this show had a decidedly tropical flavor. It was more than the floral print shirts worn by many devotees. It was more than the people getting wasted away again on Corona beer and margaritas, bringing their own electric generators to power blenders.

It was the feeling that reality could be suspended for a day and that people could be transported to a fantasy island far away.

"I don't even know if I’ll still have a job Monday after I call in sick," said Kevin Gibson, who had driven from Albany, N.Y., to spend the weekend drinking beer and listening to Buffett tapes.

Buffett, the balding, 43-year-old singer, is a cottage industry. The songwriter of such laid-back feel-good tunes as "Margaritaville," "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and "Off to See the Lizard," has his own newsletter, The Coconut Telegraph (circulation 20,000), and a $2 million annual gross mail-order business of Margaritaville souvenirs.

Buffett has admitted that his music is sometimes secondary to the attitude. The man who seldom gets radio play recently told Entertainment Weekly magazine: "I figured if I couldn't have my music career anymore, I could still capitalize on my audience."

The audience also capitalized on Buffett. Amy Robertson and Greg Brinkley of Williamsburg didn't pay the $25 ticket price. Instead, they spread a blanket on the other side of the wire stadium fence and listened while cracking open their cooler.

"These are the best seats in the house," Brinkley said. "There's a keg of beer behind us and a shady spot to sit in."

The tropical paradise was too tropical for some. With temperatures reaching above 90 degrees, several concertgoers passed out. "Someone threw up on my shoes," said one college student to her date.

The college turned on a 15-foot-tall sprinkler, and many Parrot Heads conquered dehydration by running through it.

Big jugs of water in Gatorade containers were available for people to pour into cups. Concert T-shirts were sold with the slogan "Jimmy Buffett's 2nd annual Steam Bath and Show."

It wasn't the most comfortable way to see a concert, not when portable restroom facilities had long lines and people crowded together near seats like a school of sharks circling for dinner.

"We can't control them," said usher Mac Partlow, a beefy W&M; football player who had tried and failed to attach a rope around part of the field. "There's too many of them and too few of us."

Buffett looked his cool self, with such props as a surfboard and mounted columns of tropical grass behind him. "It's good to see you brought your pets," he said to the crowd between songs. "What do you do the other 364 days of the year?"

Signs of the Buffett state of mind were everywhere. A large trash container outside the gate overflowed with crushed beer cans, packets of drink mixes, cardboard beer cases, empty bottles of rum and tequila and a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket.

Many in the audience that wore T-shirts that took a line from Buffett's song,"Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes." The line goes, "If we weren't all crazy, we’d all go insane."

"It's a religion, and Jimmy's our prophet," said Jeff Bush of Alexandria. "There are no yuppies in our church. Just lots of beer."

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