Saturday was my favorite day of the year – the day of the Jimmy Buffett show. I’ve been going to shows since 1997, once or twice a year on the East Coast, and one year out of six in Seattle, because he only played there once during our stay. I’ve seen him in Vegas; I’ve seen him in New York, Virginia; and I’ve seen him up close and personal in Key West.
I don’t talk about it much (or ever) here, but being a Parrot Head (for that’s what we official fans are) is a big part of my life. My husband and I met in part because of Jimmy Buffett – he found a girl on Match.com who was into Buffett and 80s hair bands and just had to meet her. Most of our closest friends come from the Parrot Head clubs that we’ve joined wherever we’ve lived. Our social life revolves around the Parrot Heads. Our kids know scores of Buffett songs and we always make sure they’ve got at least one Hawaiian shirt to wear to club gatherings (phlockings). They go to parties and charity events with us and those experiences, in part, are why they’re so good around adults.
So Saturday was the Buffett show. Normally we’d spend all day tailgating, and that, my friends, was always the best part of the Buffett shows. But in our absence, the venue had cracked down on tailgaiting and we were under the impression it was forbidden. So my husband and I went to the pre-party at a bar with the D.C. club. We caught up with some old friends we hadn’t seen in seven years and celebrated with more old friends. We drove to the show and found that people were tailgaiting, albeit in a much-subdued capacity – no tents, no tiki bars, no vibrator races. We met some more old friends and hung out at their tailgate for a while. Just like ours, these friends were a family with kids who had grown up with Buffett – the only difference was that the kids were more grown up – the youngest was fifteen.
We left our friends when the gates opened so we could find a real bathroom, and after that, we wandered around, got a beer and did some people watching. We saw so many families with kids like ours. My husband talked about how he’d like to bring the kids next time. Our son would make life hell at a show right now, but next year he should be fine, we agreed.
My husband wanted a shirt. I said I was over concert shirts, so we agreed to come back to the T-shirt stand later. We went into the show and found our seats under the pavilion. Members of Parrot Head clubs can buy tickets for local shows and the cool part about that is that all local clubs sit in the same section. We sat next to another family in our club who’d grown up with Buffett, chatted with them and some people we’d just met.
Usually the show starts with Buster Poindexter’s “Hot, Hot, Hot” blasting from the speakers, and the Coral Reefers (Jimmy’s band) running onto the stage. (Over the years, we’ve taught the kids to respond to, “How you feelin’?” with “Hot, Hot, Hot!”)
Well, they didn’t play “Hot, Hot, Hot” this time. After a video of Don Johnson pouring ice over Jimmy for the ALS challenge, the jumbotrons scrolled a long list of the cities that Buffett’s played, to an instrumental version of his “Lovely Cruise” – a song about the end of a good time. And then it hit me. The tour was called “This One’s for You” – a toast in “Lovely Cruise.” This was it. The opening screamed “Last Tour.” Tears filled my eyes as I said to my husband, “We’ve got to get shirts.” I saw the tears in his eyes as he nodded. When the band played “Brown-Eyed Girl” — all Parrot Heads are tired of that one – we went out to get shirts.
“I just wish we the kids could’ve seen this,” my husband said through watery eyes.
I looked down, “Me too.” Shook my head, “But there’s no way that (our three-year-old son) would have been able to do this.”
“Just one more year, though,” he said.
“I know, Honey. I know.”
We perused the shirts, picked some out for ourselves and the kids, and went back into the pavilion. Although they’re really not tear-jerkers, Buffett’s songs affect me in different ways, and when the band played “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” I cried. I always cry during that song but this time was different. To me, the song was always about doing what you were meant to do, and so many times I’d stood in that same arena and wondered, when would I be able to do what I really wanted? And this time, I was finally there. Fitting, but this would be the last time that I’d have that moment. I cried even harder.
I steeled myself to enjoy the concert, and a few times, my husband said, “That doesn’t sound like it’s over,” but at the end, the band members left the stage one by one, each spotlighted, waving goodbye, until Jimmy was the only one left, singing “Lovely Cruise.” THAT sure as hell seemed like an ending.
I could be wrong. I’d like to be wrong. Maybe Jimmy Buffett will tour another ten years. Maybe next year we can take the kids. The majority of our lives will be unaffected. Although they’re Buffett-inspired, the clubs are independent of Buffett, based on philanthropy, so they’ll likely go on forever. Our kids will grow up with the Parrot Heads, going to club events, but they’ll never experience the Mecca of the Parrot Head Nation. To them, Jimmy Buffett will be Mom and Dad’s music and some guy whose picture on the wall above the bar. They’ll never get why they say “Hot, Hot, Hot.” We’ll miss the shows, but we can at least say we saw them. The kids won’t know what they’re missing.
Thank you for everything, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers. We’re sure gonna miss you. It’s been a lovely cruise.