Jimmy Buffett's Parrotheads party — but with a purpose - Omaha.com
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A colorful hat beats an umbrella for Jimmy Buffett fan Chris Wade of Omaha. He was among those partying downtown on a stormy Saturday before the concert.(REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD)
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An injured knee couldn't keep Kathy Frost of Bellevue from tailgating with other Parrotheads outside the CenturyLink Center Omaha on Saturday. She is pulled by Kathy Kane, left, and Julie Monaco, both of Omaha.(REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD)
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Saturday was a family affair for members of the Drahota family, many of whom hail from the Omaha metropolitan area. They are, from left, Mary, Val, Miranda, Tia (partially obscured) and Colleen.

Jimmy Buffett's Parrotheads party — but with a purpose
By Kevin Coffey
only in the WORLD-HERALD

Think Jimmy Buffett fan. Think Parrothead. Think "Margaritaville."

What springs to mind? Probably a middle-age guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt, board shorts and a floppy hat, with his toes dug into a sandy beach while he sips on a "frozen concoction." Or maybe he — yes, "he" — is in a grass skirt and coconut bra, chewing a cheeseburger.

Perfect, no?

As Buffett's songs of island escapism appeal to his fans — you may have seen thousands of those fans milling about town Saturday — you'd think a Parrothead is all about booze, beaches, boat shoes, boat drinks, board shorts, Key West, crustaceans, pirates and one particularly notorious song about getting drunk and ... well, you get the idea.

They do like to party, but the life of a Parrothead isn't only about drinking and dancing.

Parrotheads have a motto, "Party with a purpose," and chapters of Parrot Heads in Paradise — the official organization of Buffett's fans — are required to participate in a certain amount of community service.

Even as Parrotheads gathered in and around the CenturyLink Center Omaha ahead of Buffett's concert there Saturday night, they were focused on giving. Proceeds from a raffle and donations at a party at the Old Mattress Factory went to Susan G. Komen for the Cure Nebraska. A party in Lincoln on Friday raised money for the Lincoln Children's Zoo.

"We do way more than we're required to," said Terry Oldenburg, president of the Omaha Parrot Head Club.

She said the organization typically does eight to 10 fundraising or community service events each year — including a cruise, with part of every reservation going to charity.

Among the organizations that have benefited are Ronald McDonald House, Alzheimer's Association, Deaf Missions and Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging. The group also is responsible for highway cleanup on a mile of Interstate 680 east of the Mormon Bridge.

"If you're a true Parrothead, there's a lot more to it than going out, having a few beers and partying," Oldenburg said. "There's a lot of camaraderie in it, and we do a lot of good for our local communities."

They'll still be having fun with oddball competitions, including a vibrator race: Turn on the device, set it on a table and see whose can vibrate its way across the finish line first.

Saturday was a gloomy, rainy day in Omaha, but inside the tent at the Old Mattress Factory, it may as well have been the Bahamas.

As cover band Too Drunk to Fish played Buffett songs and other similarly styled tunes by Alan Jackson and the Zac Brown Band, fans formed a conga line, tipped back cocktails and danced with friends.

Lynne Hawk showed off a picture of herself with Buffett that she took the night before at the Hilton Omaha bar. Buffett was very gracious but quiet, she said, and took pictures with a few others.

Over at the CenturyLink Center parking lots, rain kept away some tailgaters in the early afternoon. Some smaller lots were empty and none were full, though dozens of RVs and cars were in the lots. When a little rain came down, some stuffed games and grills back into their cars and others took shelter under tents they had set up.

Charcoal grill fires could be smelled blocks away, and despite a gloomy day, the party went on, with fans dressed as pirates and parrots. Some flew an American flag and others a Jolly Roger, and others brought sand and palm trees, but almost all of them were blasting Buffett music from car stereos or big speakers.

Decked out in grass skirts, leis and rainbow-color hats shaped like parrots, Lisa Strasheim and her friends sipped cocktails, grilled hamburgers and waited for 10 to 20 more to join them. They were worried about the weather but figured they'd relocate to the Old Mattress Factory, where they could get more food and booze, if the weather got bad enough.

"We do have an evacuation plan in place," Strasheim said with a laugh.

She and her friends work at Alegent Health in neonatal care and they run an organization called Parrotheads for Preemies. Almost all of them had seen Buffett in concert before, some as many as nine times.

"But the tailgating is the real experience," said Peg Baker.

Later in the day, downpours pushed almost everyone out of the parking lots and indoors. The party kept pumping, however, as Parrotheads packed into spots such as the Old Mattress Factory, DJ's Dugout and the Hilton Omaha lobby bar.

The lifestyle is an interesting culture possibly in need of an anthropological study, but it's certainly appealing. Nebraska has two official Parrothead clubs — the Omaha group and the Corn Republic Parrot Head Club in Lincoln — with more than 300 members between the two.

It's a great way to meet people, build friendships and forget about everyday life, Oldenburg said.

"People need an outlet where they don't have to worry about mowing the yard or doing laundry or taking care of their kids," she said. "This is a place where they can go and meet like-minded people who enjoy that laid-back Caribbean lifestyle."

Parrotheads have their origins in the late '70s and early '80s, when Buffett's star was rising. Fans followed him all over the world, and in 1989, Scott Nickerson formed the first official Parrothead group, in Atlanta.

Timothy B. Schmit, a member of the Eagles and a former player in Buffett's Coral Reefer Band, coined the word "Parrothead" at a concert in 1985. Upon looking at the crowd, Buffett observed that his fans attended many shows, similar to Deadheads — the faithful followers of the Grateful Dead.

Seeing Buffett fans in their bright colors, Schmit referred to them as "Parrotheads."

Fans still follow Buffett around — especially Omaha fans, because he hasn't performed publicly here since 1985.

Omahan Mark Maneman has seen Buffett at least 17 times (eight in Alpine Valley, Wis., twice in Chicago, three times in Kansas City and once each in various places including Key West).

"My first time was down at Sandstone in Kansas City in '94," he said. "My very first album of his was 'You Had to Be There,' which was a live album. That hooked me right there."

Maneman used to plan his summer vacations around Buffett's tour schedule. He was attracted to the music first, but one of the main reasons he joined Omaha's Parrothead club in 1994 was the service aspect.

Don't worry — he enjoys the party atmosphere too. For Saturday's concert, Maneman rented a hotel room and planned to attend every party — though not in a coconut bra.

He sticks to a Hawaiian shirt.

"The ones in grass skirts and coconut bras are usually guys," he said with a laugh. "I've always been an observer. I love sitting back and watching a lot of these people almost making fools of themselves."

Parrotheads also stay in tune with Buffett's books and especially his music. Maneman has enjoyed watching him grow as an artist.

"He was best friends with Jerry Jeff Walker, and you can tell on those early albums that he's trying to sound like Jerry Jeff Walker," he said. "I got (Walker's) last album, where he's trying to sound like Jimmy now."

Contact the writer: kevin.coffey@owh.com

402-444-1557, twitter.com/owhmusicguy

Contact the writer: Kevin Coffey

kevin.coffey@owh.com    |   402-444-1557    |  

Kevin covers music, whether it's pop, indie or punk, through artist interviews, reviews and trend stories. He also occasionally covers other entertainment, including video games and comic books.

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