Above: Decatur Parrot Head Leslie Maske shows souvenirs she’s collected as a fan of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett. All photos SPECIAL
By Tiffany Griffith
They’re the Jimmy Buffett fans called Parrot Heads. They’re fans of chilled cocktails and Hawaiian shirts. You find them by the ocean and in landlocked states, getting lost in Buffett’s music. You find them in Canada, France, Australia, Mexico and Belize — just about anywhere. Including, of course, metro Atlanta.
“I have friends who traveled to Ireland and London to see Buffett,” Leslie Maske said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time you’ve met other Parrot Heads, you all become friends.”
The main desire of this multicultural and multigenerational fan base is escapism. With so many people stressed and uncertain, there couldn’t be a better time to find your piece of paradise.
“After ‘Margaritaville’ exploded, everyone liked that idea of escapism,” said Maske. “Going to a tropical isle, having a margarita, having your toes in the sand, not worrying about anything.”
She added that surgeons routinely listen to the septuagenarian Buffett’s brand of soft rock to relax themselves during stressful operations.
Buffett’s music has also provided calm for Eliza Peake during an especially worrisome time in 2020.
“My family came in contact with someone who was COVID-positive,” she said. “I had Radio Margaritaville on the whole time. It helped me forget while we waited for our test results.” Fortunately, everyone in her family is okay.
So, what does it take to join this colorful cocktailed club? Does it require indulging in a margarita from your Official Jimmy Buffett blender? Does it require wasting away on a Margaritaville Booze Cruise or at his branded restaurants, resorts and retirement communities?
“You just have to know more than ‘Margaritaville,’ ‘Fins,’ and ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise,” Maske said with a chuckle. “If you enjoy Buffett’s music, if you enjoy the lifestyle, then you can be a Parrot Head.”
Maske has true fan credentials. She met the musician twice and traveled from Atlanta to Orlando, where she was featured in his 1994 music video for “Fruitcakes.” Her devotion to Buffett goes beyond being hypnotized by the songs. Since 1990, she’s been a member of the Atlanta Parrot Head Club. Founded as a joke on April Fool’s Day 1989, the local club holds the distinction of being the original Buffett fan club.
She also calls her fellow Parrot Heads a second family.
“I’m still friends with all of those people I met back in 1990,” Maske said. “We’ve watched people get married, and have kids and have grandkids. We all stay in contact, even if we move. We love each other very much.”
Peake found her love for Buffett through her “party girl” aunt. Her best memories involve poolside barbeques and dancing to the singer’s tropical tunes. It was difficult for Peake to enjoy the laid-back music after her aunt’s death five years ago, but the good memories came back when she introduced her teenaged daughter to the Parrot Head lifestyle.
“It was the best experience,” she said about taking the teen to a Buffett concert. “My daughter was also close to my aunt. We had a really good time and it meant a lot to share the experience.”
Parrot Heads love the music, love each other and they love their communities. Clubs around the world are dedicated to philanthropic work, which is also important to Buffett. Fans are most passionate about fighting Alzheimer’s Disease, following the diagnosis and death of Buffett’s father. The musician also contributes in cities where he plays, including a donation to Atlanta’s efforts against spina bifida.
And, sometimes, Parrot Head fundraisers can be hilarious.
“We played an underwater Monopoly game for charity!” said Maske.
The pandemic has downsized the Atlanta Club’s gatherings to Zoom Meeting Happy Hours, but the group remains committed to cleaning the Chattahoochee River and a 2021 Parrot Head Cruise to fight breast cancer.
So, when will anxious Parrot Heads see their savior again? Buffett tells Rolling Stone, “I’m waiting for that day…whenever it is and wherever it is, it’s gonna be a hell of a show.” In the meantime, Parrot Heads are enjoying Buffett’s latest album, “Life on the Flip Side.”
In her closing argument for becoming a Parrot Head, Peake said, “We all have lives we’re trying to live and children we’re trying to raise and making it through without depression or anxiety or whatever we’re dealing with,” she said. “But when you listen to Buffett, it makes you remember fun.”