There are few things in the world that we live in that move a person like music does. Music has the power to transport you to times and places that you have never been to before. It can touch so deeply as well as just serve as a way to mentally transport yourself back to a specific era or type of lifestyle.
All musicians, well the good ones, have made a mark on life that cannot be erased. They speak of as well as talk about our past, present, and future selves and they can do this whether the ear listening to the music belongs to a die-hard fan or to someone who merely listens to music.
For this reason, the better musicians amongst them, like Jimmy Buffett, have massive and loyal fan bases who not only listen to the music of their chosen idol, but these fans buy the albums and singles, they attend concerts, and join fan clubs.
The more die-hard amongst these fans will have a collective group name and will strive to emulate the musician’s lifestyle and live by the message they placed in their music. These groups will usually assign themselves a nickname to set themselves apart from other communities of fans.
These nicknames are sometimes created by the fans themselves but are on some occasions made up and given by the artist. One of the earliest of these large and devoted fan clubs if you will, is the “Beatlemaniacs,” fans of the Beatles. More modern examples are the “Modies” who are fans of Depeche Mode and the “Bobby Soxers” who are die-hard fans of the great Frank Sinatra of course.
The most interesting group is that of the “Parrot Head.” The long-running and beyond the dedicated group of Jimmy Buffett fans that lead what has to be one of the most interesting music-based lifestyles around. These “Parrot Heads” are not just avid listeners of their idolized Jimmy Buffett, no; they aim to live by an unspoken code. It is written in the songs of the man himself; Jimmy Buffett.
What Exactly Is A “Parrot Head”?
As mentioned above, “Parrot Heads” is the loyal and dedicated fan base of James William Buffett. James Buffett is an American guitarist and vocalist from Alabama. He is amongst other things a businessman, an actor, a musician, a songwriter and a best-selling author.
Jimmy is also in the restaurant business, but he is best known for his music. Playing alongside the Coral Reefer Band, songs like their hit “Margaritaville” stormed the charts as well as listeners’ hearts and minds. It is currently ranked at number 234 in a list of ‘The songs of the century.’ His younger fans are known as “Keets” which is a shortened version of “Parakeets.” This name is also given to the children of a “Parrot Head.”
Where did the name “Parrot Head” come from and when did the movement begin?
Well, the movement began long before the name was coined. Most “Parrot Heads” would state that the movement began when Jimmy Buffett first picked up a guitar and played a lick, or when he first sang a note.
There are even those who would claim that in essence the movement or lifestyle of a “Parrot Head” began long before even that and pre-dated Jimmy’s music in spirit, needing only Jimmy and his music to give it shape and substance. This is heavily debated.
The truth of the matter is that in 1985 during a Jimmy Buffett concert at Cincinnati’s Timberwolf Amphitheatre in Ohio, he had been very vocal as to how much of his fame and success he owed to the area. He went on to speak to the audience about how many of them were wearing parrot hats and Hawaiian shirts. He compared them to the fans of the Grateful Dead or “Deadheads” as they were known. He had made this comparison as at the time the fans of the Grateful Dead were known for attempting to go to as many tour dates as possible. These fans it would seem were doing the same for Jimmy.
While making this comparison, the Coral Reefer Band’s bassist, one Timothy Bruce Smith coined the term “Parrot Head” to describe them saying “They look like Deadheads in parrot suits, they are Parrot Heads”. It stuck.
The “Parrot Head” lifestyle
The lifestyle of the “Parrot Head” is one of a devout musical follower. Back in the ’70s and ’80s is when most of his fans found his music. This Caribbean influenced country music with its somewhat nonchalant nature and offbeat poetics about cheeseburgers in paradise islands and chocolate milk.
Here is a man who speaks to the nomad inside all of us that never returned home from spring break. The songs in his catalog which all champion a lifestyle of relaxed beach life and lounge living serve as a blueprint from which your average “Parrot Head” has built a lifestyle. These are true followers, real fans. Not just of the man himself or even the music.
There is something bigger at work here. It would seem to me that Jimmy has managed to collect a mindset with his music.
To show a large group of people what it is that is special or important in life, i.e., relaxing and living in a carefree manner, and has given them a home. The movement is strong, and it is one of the worldwide proportions.
A large amount of the power found in Jimmy’s music would have to be put down to his poetry laced and laid back comments on how we live, and how we should live. His music often described as having an air of “Island Escapism” to it means that as one “Parrot Head” puts it “you can have a tropical vacation in your backyard whenever you want to.”
The song Margaritaville gives this context. Margaritaville is not a place; it is a state of mind or can even be a state of being. It has been described as being everywhere and nowhere, everything and nothing at the same time. It is a feeling, an understanding and is why this is such a fast-growing and tightly knit community.
What does “Parrot Heads” do?
The Parrot Head community is built out of love and longing for the lifestyle laid out in the tropical rock music of Jimmy Buffett. The almost ‘castaway adrift on a palm tree island’ type life that they look for binds this group, although some members deny that there is escapism to it claiming that their very own Margaritaville is just able to go someplace inside and chill.
It is in actuality more along the lines of drinking and being relaxed and of course following Jimmy Buffett on tour, with some members having gone to watch him perform over a hundred times. The idea of a group of older rock fans does not ready you for the experience.
Here is a group of people that are strangers but make new friends. An environment where love is in the air and friendliness is already wrapping you tightly. It is a community of like-minded music fans who live by the code of inoffensive fun and good times for all. It isn’t hard to see why this caught on.
Though it is often referred to as a “Funstyle” as opposed to a lifestyle, it is not all fun and games. Having over the years built up a community numbering in the tens of thousands, the “Parrot Head” community have put their collective weight to work.
The group does this work in the form of community service, charitable contributions, and a wealth of other fun yet community-based ventures. Between 2002 and 2010 alone, the international “Parrot Head” organization managed to raise over $26 Million towards charitable causes, and together they managed to work nearly 3 Million hours of unpaid community service.
Here is a group that while laid back and very fond of a drink, are also environmentally and culturally aware and do their utmost to give back to society. Alzheimer’s research and March of Dimes have been amongst the charitable organizations that received large donations from “Parrot Head” chapters.
There were a few years back at least 240 chapters of “Parrot Heads, ” and that was in the US, Canada, and Australia alone. With a total membership back then of 28,000 members, you can see that the movement is a powerful one.
What does a “Parrot Head” wear?
The look of your average “Parrot Head” has not changed much over the years as the uniform is quite particular. Dressed for the never-ending party that is their life, “Parrot Heads” are found wearing bright floral Hawaiian tee-shirts and the namesake “Parrot Head” hats, i.e., hats with parrots on them.
The term ‘It’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ which is a heavily used slogan amongst this group means that a margarita is often considered part of the required ensemble as well. More intense workings of the term have resulted in hats with large floral arrangements and feathers sometimes being worn alongside flower necklaces from Hawaii. It doesn’t, however, stop there, in the most outgoing of “Parrot Head” circles, your devotion to the cause can be displayed with the outlandishness of your costume.
What do “Parrot Heads” eat or drink, and where?
Well, the simplest place to start is Margaritaville. It answers two of the three questions set above. What they drink and where. A Margarita is a favorite cocktail consisting of Tequila, Lime juice, and Triple Sec. It is a regular on any tropical or Tiki-style cocktail menu, served on every Caribbean island you travel to. It is a mainstay of the “Parrot Head” masses.
Margaritaville, on the other hand, was, when he first sang of it, a mythical place within us all where one can go to find the rest, not to mention the fun that is missing in wider life. Here is a place that you can go anytime like as it is everywhere. Now though there are several “Parrot Head” themed drinking holes and restaurants all over the world.
Jimmy Buffett owns or co-owns a number of these, such as; Cheeseburger in Paradise and Margaritaville. They are both named after famous songs that did well to propagate the following. At his restaurants, he serves the cheeseburgers that he sang about and attempts to bring to life the inert party atmosphere that his fans live for.
Drinking margaritas and eating cheeseburgers do not sound like a particularly health-conscious lifestyle; however, the focus is on something very different here, it is on not caring that this way of life isn’t health conscious. It is about living rather than agonizing over how best to do so. It is about that which Jimmy Buffett sang about all those years ago and is still singing about today; it is about the spray of the sea, the breeze that carries it, and the sun rays that warm it on its way to your face.
Being a “Parrot Head” at any level of devotion is to give yourself to a fun-loving, warm, friendly, and socially conscious mind-state. One built on the love for Jimmy Buffett, his music, and the laid back ideals to be found within his slightly left-field poeticism. It is living as others do but keeping in your heart a frosted glass full of margarita that is rimmed with salt to remind you to take the bitter with the sweet and that it is always 5 o’clock somewhere.
So if you want the best of Caribbean carnival, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and a beach party, head to a ‘Parrot Head’ meet but be sure to brush up on your Jimmy Buffet knowledge and shake off any stresses and struggles before you do so as these are real fans. Not just of music but of an entire way of living and being.