My friend Scott is Canadian. This gives him a secret power: he’s nice. It is therefore impossible to refuse him, because it would be like having a slapdown with a kitten. So, when Scott asked if my husband and I would go with him to a Jimmy Buffett concert at Fenway, of course we said yes.
I’d heard of Jimmy Buffett. It’s pretty hard to grow up in the U.S. without knowing some of the words to “Margaritaville,” Buffett’s trademark anthem. But I’d never had any desire to see the guy–I’m more of a World Music fan—and I had no idea what to expect.
Scott drove down from Quebec prepared with appropriate concert attire for all of us: giant Hawaiian shirts and, for himself, a hat with an actual stuffed parrot on it.
“Are you sure this looks okay?” my husband asked, modeling his shirt for me.
He looked like a cruise ship refugee. “Scott’s Canadian, honey,” I reminded him. “We have to do whatever he says.”
In my case, the Hawaiian shirt hung down to my knees, so I thought I could beg off looking like a Parrothead, which is what you call a Buffett groupie. But Scott had thoughtfully brought a backup: my very own Margaritaville t-shirt. I dug a bird purse out of somewhere deep in my closet and off we went.
Apparently the highlight of Parrothead life is tailgating, but since tailgating isn’t permitted at Fenway Park, Scott suggested that we pre-game at one of the bars offering a Jimmy Buffett party before the show. “Really?” I said. “They do that?”
They do. We ended up at The Summer Shack, which had gone all-out with blow-up tropical accessories like parrots and palm trees, and offered special deals on—what else?–margaritas and cheeseburgers. There was even a Jimmy Buffett imitator. The place was packed with people in Hawaiian shirts and leis; the guy next to me at the bar cheerfully confessed that this was his ninth Parrothead experience.
The music didn’t stop when we left the Shack, either. Walking to Fenway with small herds of other people in Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts, and coconut bras—yes, even the men–we were passed by dozens of pedicabs blaring Buffett tunes as fit college kids pedaled Parrotheads to the concert, many of them hefty from too many cheeseburgers in paradise.
Fenway Park was solidly booked. We were funneled up the stairs to our seats with all of the other Parrotheads, many of whom were guys in their twenties and thirties—Buffett must play big in frat houses and at spring break parties—and I began noticing shark hats as a feisty alternative to parrot hats, though I had no idea why. The Fenway crowd was warmed up by the always energetic, entertaining Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers, and then it was time for “Sweet Caroline” and the crowd shouting “So good! So good!”
Finally, Buffett took the stage with his Coral Reefer Band. The crowd went wild, with beach balls and blow-up sharks and parrots being tossed around as the backdrop screens showed beach scenes with guys surfing, hula girls, hammocks, and sailboats. Buffett appeared, barefoot and in shorts, and my first thought was that he looked a lot like my dad, with his monk’s fringe of white hair. My second thought was, “Wow. Nice tan.”
The meaning of the shark hats became clear halfway through the night, when Buffett played “Fins,” a song I’d never heard, and one that has lyrics that probably wouldn’t fly in this #MeToo day and age. The crowd didn’t care. They embraced the opportunity to joyfully dance like sharks, putting their outstretched arms over their heads and clasping their hands in a move we do in yoga, though less vigorously.
In fact, the crowd embraced everything: Buffett’s songs, his dad jokes, his cheesy backdrops of sailboats and beaches. It was like being at an adult Disney park, a separate, candy-colored universe where everyone just wants to hang out on the beach and eat cheeseburgers, get drunk, and screw after finding that long lost shaker of salt. Buffett himself is like Disney, with his own $550 million empire of restaurants, merchandise, retirement condos, and now a Broadway show.
I should have hated the concert. I am not a wannabe beach bum. But, as we walked back to the car from Fenway with our nice Canadian, I felt oddly peaceful in the humid dark. It was almost as if I’d spent the day at the beach.