Here’s to you, Jimmy: A salute to Buffett’s enduring appeal

Indianapolis Star — For many years my mom hung a framed towel that Jimmy Buffett threw at her in her living room.

This is actually not that big of a deal. Jimmy Buffett has also signed autographs for my mom, indirectly fulfilled a song request for my cousin, joked with us backstage at “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” about the showers at Deer Creek (“You should see the Port-A-Potties,” my brother shot back, brilliantly) and graciously played for us more than 30 times. (The towel, incidentally, was thrown at us in a 1998 Detroit concert and actually caught by said brother, who basically Spider-Manned himself across three seats to make sure he caught it, lest we suffer the indignity of going home without a towel full of Coral Reefer sweat.)

It goes on like this, the stories and memories and inside jokes about a man whose arguably biggest hit, “Margaritaville,” was released 34 years ago. If I have to choose, if there’s only time and budget for one trip home a year, I will without hesitation pick the Buffett show over relative silliness like “Christmas” or “Thanksgiving.” I know it, my family knows it, and everyone is extremely cool with this arrangement.

Click here for the article at the Indianapolis Star.

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And when I say “everyone,” I mean, quite literally, everyone. For the the past 15 or so years, the crowd of old friends and family we tote to this grass-skirted mess has numbered usually in the 30s or 40s — less now that there are so many babies about — and includes any or all of the following: close family, distant family, close friends, strangers, mom, mom’s boyfriend-who’s-like-70-but-we-still-call-him-boyfriend, college rooomates, at least one new lifelong fan of peppermint schnapps, high school friends, DJs, cousins, converts, haters, confused hangers-on, hip-hop heads, workmates, etc. When planning this piece, my editor asked if I had any pictures to accompany, which was a little like asking if I owned pants. (“Probably should have taken some of those,” my cousin texted, dryly, as my phone evidently contains 780.)

Now, in the unlikely event you are still reading, you could be forgiven for shaking your head at all this. But in this bizarro context, it makes sense. The Buffett show basically feels like the holidays, everyone’s birthday and three months of summer in one day. Actually, it’s better than the holidays because the holidays are stressful and filled with travel and plane rides and latent family issues. Now in its 300-and-somethingth year of selling out whatever Deer Creek is called now, the Buffett show is the opposite of stressful; it’s a massive mobile circus of brightly slurred singsongs, alcoholic squishes, the year’s most reliable collection of family and friends and an irrationally good time. Buffett, it goes without saying, anchors our summer. When he toppled offstage in Sydney earlier this year and wound up in the hospital, I probably got six emails like, “Dude, are you OK?”

A few years ago Buffett called his tour “The Year Of Still Here,” a name that was designed to denote a bemused disbelief and was, needless to say, profoundly insane: Notwithstanding a catastrophic crash in the blow-up pool industry, what possible reason could there be to call off this show? It should be noted too, especially in the summer of Economic Hell, that while pavilion tickets could qualify for their own payment plans, Buffett has held lawn seats to a ridiculously reasonable $30-$40 for all the years we’ve been doing this.

Yet this is something I struggle to explain to my cool friends, the beardy kids in childrens’-sized brown sweaters, the Uninitiated who roll their eyes slow enough that you can hear it, people who repeat nonsensical foolishness like “The King Of Limbs” as if they’re reading the Emancipation Proclamation. What possible reason, they argue, could compel someone to travel thousands of miles at preposterous gas expense to stand in a lawn singing 26 of the same 28 songs he sang last year, and the year before that, and the year before that?

Apart from the camaraderie and guaranteed good time with 40 of the people I care most about in the world, I suppose the answer lies buried on the temporary and entirely fictitious islandworld Buffett creates, the one ruled by a cheerfully hedonistic tropics-and-pirates vibe that is, needless to say, total invention; a man with as many this many restaurants, planes and casinos does not actually  while away his days eating beignets in hammocks. But even a brief, temporary version of it sounds pretty good months later when you’re walking from the parking lot to the office in gray 40-degree drizzle, or when you’re scraping half-inch-thick ice off your car’s windshield and kicking the oatmeal-brown slush out of its wheel wells. It’s an entirely fictional construct, but one that most of us can’t call off the search for.

Incidentally, the song we requested at “Fallon” for my cousin was a reasonably obscure track called “The Wino And I Know.” He didn’t come through for us that year — apparently he, you know, already *had* a setlist — but for the 2011 show, it’s the first song. I’m just saying.

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About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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