Clinging onto those wistful college memories, her pink fingernails slipping as the years pass, Pam lifted her black tank top high enough for two stoic tits fighting the force of gravity to be revealed. This is the car park outside Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, the venue Jimmy Buffet is scheduled to perform at in around three hours.
The woman’s husband, now some 30 yards ahead, looked back to see five college kids smiling politely to his wife, all adhering to her finger-to-lip request to keep a secret. The atmosphere of shameless breast exposure reflects the time-warped nature of Buffet’s surreal world of shark-fins, parrots and tropical drinks. As Pamela trotted back to marital bliss, ahead stands a hundred younger “Parrotheads,” kicking up mud in a grass square walled by school-come-party busses. They are listening to dub-step, lost and happy.
Jimmy Buffett, a crooning 60-something famous for his own style of tropical country music, is about as far from dub-step as Nick Clegg is from substance but his concerts are so legendary for their pre-game parties that the music hardly matters. Only a few of the younger “fans” have tickets, with the majority planning to drink heavily and dance in the surrounding parking fields all night, listening to Jimmy from afar but surely there in spirit.
The real spirit, though, is personified by an army of fans that arrive with shells around their necks, in cars with five-foot shark fins atop the roof and palm trees in the windows.
Buffett’s army of “Parrotheads” have been following him since the 1970’s and, as other generations catch the wave, it is this crowd of revelers, now approaching their 50’s, that primarily fill the 15,000 capacity outdoor arena. These are the teenagers of the Vietnam War and Watergate desperately trying to re-live those years of anarchy, freedom and discovery. They appear to have been mass-dressed by Tommy Bahama himself, a trend that just might have influenced Buffett to release his own line of tropical clothing.
Earning an estimated $100 million annually from business ventures including a restaurant chain, clothing line and “Landshark” beer, Buffet is a commercial institution in America. In a way he represents the big business capitalism his fans protested against during the 1960s and 70s. However, it is perhaps his rise from nothing to something that allows for a little leniency. The Mississippi native used to busk on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, and gigged beneath the smoke in the bars of Nashville, Tennessee, the spiritual home of American country music.
His beach-bum lullabies helped to create a persona that Buffett worked hard on in the 1970’s while living on modest terms. Four decades later and the creator of “Margaritaville,” a tropical-fantasy world that lends its name to Buffet’s Florida-based restaurants, has entertained a president on the White House lawn, written three New York Times bestsellers and become a certified pilot.
On June 25th, 2011, Buffett was in Elkorn, Wisconsin, just an hour and a half from Chicago, ready to welcome the followers back into his world.
Along with a ticket, “Parrotheads” are inclined to purchase marijuana before Jimmy’s big show, “roast a bowl,” and let brazen THC amplify the canvas of absurdness that covers the steep grass hill at Alpine.
“Cheeseburger in Paradise” is the most famous song within Buffet’s overflowing stock of sing-a-longs and, on June 25th he played the song just as a blanket of smoke goaded the crowd into the colorful universe of “Margaritaville.” They were ready to “Shark Fin,” a dance that involves making a triangle with your arms, shaping them into a pyramid high in the air, and methodically pulsating from left to right. They were ready to flash their breasts in what appeared to be a strange sign of loyalty to the carefree ideals of Buffet’s imaginary paradise. And they were ready to talk strangers in the way people do at festivals, places where the outside world feels distant.
At Jimmy Buffet concerts they are ready to forget, to “waste away in Margaritaville,” the song goes. Balding but still holding onto a few grey follicles with as much vigor as he magnetizes the Wisconsin crowd, Buffet enhances the “Shark Fin” with the chorus of his equally ridiculous marquee song.
“Cheeseburger in paradise. Heaven on earth with an onion slice. Not too particular not too precise. I’m just a cheeseburger in paradise.”
The set-list would continue with “A Pirates Look at Forty,” “Fins,” and “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” After two hours the $13 beers failed to become reasonable and the young girls and boys listening outside seemed wiser. For them, the young ones, Jimmy Buffett has created a world with his music that no longer requires him, just a willingness to escape.