Life on Grand Turk Island in the British West Indies was as close to normal as humanly possible until one night in January 1986 when Gerry Benny walked in the door of Frenchy’s Restaurant on Front Street in Cockburn Town.
Gerry was a crazed and often inebriated Toronto banker who had been hired by a group of people (including Gordon Lightfoot), who owned a condo development on Grand Turk. The terms of his employment were made very clear. He was to watch over the condos and make sure that people who came to stay there had a good time. Gerry Benny had a Ph.D in having a good time.
He told me one day that as long as he lived on Grand Turk island the only music he would listen to was Jimmy Buffett music. The only food he would eat was food mentioned in songs sung by Jimmy Buffett and the only entertainment he wanted to take part in was anything Buffett sang about. Often, it seemed, his entertainment was taken directly out of a verse in a Buffett song. Who could ever forget the night after the three female Canadian doctors arrived on the island and Gerry threw a party in their honor. The theme of the party was from the song Gypsies in the Palace and right on cue, as required by the song, at 3 o’clock in the morning when Jimmy sang “Let’s all take our clothes off and form a conga line,” all 20 or so of us did just and then later jumped in the pool to cool off.
Several months after I moved from Grand Turk back to the mainland there came a knock on my door at 9:00 in the evening. It was June 10, 1986, and the person knocking on my door was Gerry Benny. He had flown, unannounced, from Grand Turk to Atlanta and then driven to Athens to find me. Shocked to see him I asked what he was doing in Georgia. “I’m going to the Jimmy Buffett concert tomorrow night in Atlanta and you’re coming along” he proclaimed.
Gerry didn’t have tickets to the show but that didn’t temper his enthusiasm. After way too many beers and after my fourth phone call to Pan Am Airlines’ 800 number during which I allegedly demanded that Pan Am stop off in Athens and pick me and Gerry up and take us back to Grand Turk, Gerry called a friend in the Canadian embassy in Moscow, Russia. He explained our dilemma to his friend who said he’d take care of it. Several hours later my phone rang and the Canadian embassy in Moscow was calling. Gerry’s friend instructed us to be at a certain intersection in Atlanta at 6:00 p.m. the following night and there we would meet a contact of his who had tickets for us. At 6:00 p.m. on June 11, 1986 we drove to that location and a guy got out of his car and handed Gerry the tickets and we sped off to Chastain Park in the heavily yuppified Buckhead area of Atlanta.
I was expecting a scene like Key West Florida when we arrived however we were surrounded by yuppies in the epicenter of the yuppie community in the South and there was no way the place was going to look like Key West. My first indication was the people sitting at tables in Chastain Park where their dinner had been catered by local yuppie catering companies. Candelabra adorned some of the tables and table cloths hung from all of them. Gallons of fine French wine flowed like nectar and pounds of obscenely expensive foie gras was spread across yuppified tongues. Others had beluga caviar and the entire scene made me want to up chuck the cheeseburger and beer I’d had for dinner. The last thing I ever expected at a Jimmy Buffett concert was this sort of pretentiousness.
After watching the yuppie parade for half an hour Jimmy Buffett finally took the stage. Standing before us still with a full head of hair, Jimmy looked out across the audience and said “Looking at you people I’ll bet there are a lot of BMW keys in the audience.”
The yuppies all clapped their hands in unison but only after ensuring that the foie gras remained foied as they did so.
When the applause died down Jimmy replied saying “Well Fuck You!!! I drive a Ford Falcon!!!!!”
Chastain Park erupted, the music began, and 2 ½ hours later the concert ended with him playing “One Particular Harbour.” Had there been any doubt beforehand I was hooked.
There have been 39 more Buffett concerts after that first one in Chastain Park long ago and last night in Tampa, April 18, 2016, I enjoyed my 40th Jimmy Buffett concert.
There is nothing pretentious about the Parrotheads at a Jimmy Buffett concert in Tampa
Venues have extended from The Shell on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu east to Great Woods near Boston and south to the American Airlines Arena in the bowels of downtown Miami. Having lived 14 years in Washington DC my most frequently visited venue was Nissan Amphitheater near Bartow, about 30 miles west of DC. There were also several venues in Raleigh North Carolina that I visited more than once.
The record for back-to-back concerts was set in Denver when I went to five concerts five nights in a row at Red Rocks Amphitheater. The set list was the same each night and the stories were the same each night and everything was a repeat of the night before but nobody cared. It was a Jimmy Buffett concert and we were all in the presence of greatness and for 2 ½ hours we all got to play in a giant adult sandbox and pretend we were kids again.
She's growing older but not up.
Something memorable has occurred at every concert like in Fort Lauderdale in April 1992 when Jimmy held a benefit show to kick off an effort to protect the West Indian manatee. Through some extremely good luck, and because we knew Jimmy’s business manager at the time, my friend Jon Andrew and I were given back stage passes to hang out with Jimmy before the show. Sunshine Smith accompanied us into the concert area where we saw Jimmy on stage tuning his guitar. Sunshine walked up and interrupted Jimmy telling him “You’re ornithologist is here.” Jimmy put down his guitar, walked up to us (both Jon and I were dressed in appropriate Parrothead regalia), stuck out his hand and said “Hi, I’m Jimmy Buffett.”
Totally awestruck I shook his hand and said “Jimmy this is the first time in my life I’ve ever been speechless.”
“Speechless,” he said. “The way you write letters how in hell can you be speechless?” He then added, “Let’s go have a beer.” He led us backstage where he opened a bottle of Corona for each of us (I still have my bottle) and He and Jon and I sat around for half an hour talking about environmental issues, and traveling in the West Indies and bone fishing in the Bahamas. The nicest thing about it all was that despite his fame, talking to Jimmy Buffett was like talking to anyone you’d meet in the parking lot before any concert you’ll ever attend. He was nothing at all like the pretentious foie gras eaters at Chastain Park six years earlier.
A small segment of the 30,000 or so Parrotheads dancing to "Fins" last night at the Buffett concert in Tampa
Then there was the concert in Raleigh where I was told I couldn’t dance in the aisles because it was a safety hazard and I told the rent-a-cop, “This is a Jimmy Buffett concert and I’m going to dance. Now either join me or get the hell out of the way!” At another concert in Raleigh he opened the show with Fins but not before a large balloon shaped like a huge shark rose up from the floor (with the theme song to Jaws playing in the background) and when the shark was fully extended Jimmy leaped out from inside it and started to play.
Even though I was able to be backstage with him and drink a beer (actually 2 beers) with him in Fort Lauderdale, and even though he verbally attacked then House Speaker Newt Gingrich for his obscene environmental policies at the 1996 show in Washington DC, and even though a year later at the same venue a tornado roared by a mile away as Jimmy kept playing, my most memorable concert was at The Shell in Honolulu. Part of the uniqueness of this show was the location – it was a perfect spot for a Buffett concert because 1) it was on an island, 2) in the tropics, 3) at the base of a volcano (Diamond Head), 4) on a stage fringed with palm trees from which 5) parrots and parakeets regularly flew. It was 6) near a beach (Waikiki) and offshore there were 7) great white sharks. That was all great but the best part of it was I went to this concert with my youngest daughter Dana. For 2 ½ hours she got to watch her dad be a kid and not a dad, and the show ended with One Particular Harbour, and I hated seeing the entire night come to an end.
I used to keep lists of the songs he performed at each concert and did so until I discovered a database of them on www.buffettnews.com where someone else summarizes the songs and I don’t have to worry about writing them down. Suffice it to say that without fail he plays what he calls “The Big 8” at every show. This includes Margaritaville, Changes in Latitudes, Fins, Come Monday (his first top 40 song), A Pirate Looks at 40, Volcano, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and One Particular Harbour.
Last night in Tampa was no different and we were all able to enjoy the Big 8. But last night we also enjoyed classics (“real” Buffett music as some purists would call it) that aren’t played very often in concerts – songs like Floridays (he did the raggae version from the movie "Hoot" not the original version that you can hear here) , My Head Hurts My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus, He Went to Paris, Havana Daydreamin’, Growing Older But Not Up, and Tin Cup Chalice (probably my least liked of all his songs) among several others.
Buffett is now 68 years old and you can tell he is slowing down a little bit but at 63 years old so am I! Every year he reminds us that he’s not going to quit any time soon and I hope he doesn’t. In 2010 at the Tampa show I remember seeing an 80-something year old grandma being pushed in her wheel chair toward the entrance gates. As she was being pushed along she was toking on a joint as she sang Margaritaville. I watched her as she got wasted away and told myself that when I’m in my 80s that was how I wanted to act at the Buffett concerts I attend.
If I keep going to at least one concert a year between now and then I’ll be at my 60th show by the time I am the same age as that grandma. When I reach that goal I’ll just change it to wanting to see him 100 times. Until I reach that 100th Buffett concert I think I'll just keep living my life according to that important verse in Growing Older But Not Up that goes:
"I'm growing older but not up, my metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck. Let those winds of time blow over my head, I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead." And I will.