Project Parrothead: A failed experiment in Jimmy Buffett extremism
Some actual Parrotheads at this week's Jimmy Buffett show.
Photo by Tony Nelson
Beginning the night of December 2, 2013, I embarked upon a foolhardy and ill-fated mission to spend 24 hours straight converting myself into the biggest Jimmy Buffett fan in the Twin Cities metro area.
For the uninitiated, Jimmy Buffett is the undisputed champion of wearing Hawaiian shirts and celebrating drunk, bacchanalian behavior, and his tribe is known as the Parrotheads. For more on his musical exploits, read my review of Tuesday's show at the Xcel. As a pop culture figure, he sits on a throne of golden calamari, and his Margaritaville brand produces clothing, frozen food, and alcoholic beverages.
As I knew stability would be needed, I recruited the help of my co-worker Grant Richardson -- a stable and happy-go-lucky character from the Minneapolis underground noise/punk/metal scene. It was a challenge of the mind, body, and spirit, and I regretfully admit to the world that we were overtaken by margaritas, rum, cheeseburgers, and coconut shrimp. My esophagus still stings from heartburn, a cruel reminder of the madness induced by an overexposure of paradise.
To mirror what Buffett fans consume on a regular basis, the cheapest rum and 100 percent agave tequila was purchased at Surdyk's along with a standard-issue bottle of pineapple juice. An hour later, I found myself at a friend's house where I consumed my first sugary mistake: an unconventional margarita made using cinnamon, sugar, and lime juice. The creator of the beverage, a stout IT recruiter named Dennis, put Jimmy Buffett on his laptop as I sucked down the beverage.
I bet you can guess which one is me and which one is Grant.
Photo courtesy of Drew Ailes
"This sounds like Raffi for adults. I'm going to lose my mind at this show, right?" I asked.
"Parrotheads are pretty hardcore, man. I'm serious," Dennis replied.
Feeling uneasy, I embarked upon the next quest in my adventure and went out to purchase Margaritaville brand foods. A quick glance of the clear-blue watery website revealed that products were available at Wal-Mart. I shrugged and purchased the most comparable foods at the Wedge co-op. On my way out, I placed a demand for Jimmy Buffett's culinary creations using a printed form off of the Margaritaville website.
What followed was a restless night of sleep involving the headphone digestion of the Mississippi native's first six albums' worth of beach-bum anthems. I woke up the next day and immediately began consuming margaritas and cooking cheeseburgers for breakfast -- after I threw a 20-minute fit over losing an entire block of cheese. One could easily draw a parallel to Jimmy Buffett's most famous plight of losing a salt shaker; surely it was a sign that the transformation into a tried-and-true Parrothead had begun.
Wearing an outfit acquired the night before, consisting of a terrycloth hat, Hawaiian shirt, and khaki shorts, I attended classes at MCTC reeking of beef and rum. After a short nap at home while listening to Buffett's Volcano album, another cheeseburger was cooked while a mixture of panko, shredded coconut, salt, and Chinese five-spice was blended together to prep for the ultimate island treat: coconut shrimp. The mix along with the alcohol was brought to the local degenerate freak house where my co-workers Grant and Max reside.
I pulled up and saw my concert companion, Grant, standing outside in the cold wearing khakis and a Hawaiian shirt.
When questioned about his day at work of listening only to Jimmy Buffett, Grant stated, "I would equate my education on Mr. Buffett today to walking in on my parents having sex. What's that noise? Is Daddy hurting Mommy? Oh wait, they seem to like this."
I fried up coconut shrimp as Grant created new margarita combinations -- Margareetos (Margarita with Cheetos dust on the rim), Margaritos (Margarita with Doritos dust on the rim), and MargaRambos, which is simply a margarita with an egg yolk mixed inside [Ed note: Should be MargaRockys]. After a sufficient level of heartburn was obtained, there came another unconventional craft cocktail known as the "Margarolaids" featuring Rolaids ground up and floated on the top of a margarita.
Photo courtesy of Drew Ailes
We rushed out the door at 7:34 p.m., Grant chugging the remaining tequila and rum before we hopped into our friend Max's car and started speeding to the Xcel Energy Center. As we finally approached our destination, we noticed a huge crowd of white people aged 30 to 70. Waves of fans were already cackling and howling as they stormed the streets. Ticket scalpers yelled into the streets as the self-assured Parrotheads ignored them or made facetious comments like, "You don't think we got our tickets in advance to see Jimmy fuckin' Buffett?"
Inside, hundreds of tropical shirt-clad weirdos giggled and hassled security. Some were wearing shark fin hats while others were dressed fully as parrots, stopping to create irresistible photo-ops with St. Paul police.
Soon after, the object of our affection took the stage to a roar of applause. In yellow swim trunks and a blue shirt, tanned and healthy Jimmy Buffett swayed back and forth to the island rhythm and began the Parrothead ritual that has played out thousands of times by now.
Grant leaned to me and asked, "This is him, right?" This clueless question was perhaps the first sign of the troubled waters ahead. I nodded affirmatively as I glanced at a couple wearing shirts that read "Chameleon Caravan." They embraced as I furrowed my brow in confusion.
Photos by Tony Nelson
After Buffett performed "Boat Drinks," he asked the crowd, "Can you say International Falls?" The crowd responded with a cascade of applause and Grant began to yell, "YOU LOOK LIKE LARRY DAVID," and "THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID." As his heckles began to degenerate into chants of, "GOOD FOR YOU, SHIT FOR ME," I noticed the nearby attendees were beginning to turn on us, taking notice that the two of us were clearly seasick outcasts in an ocean of reality-denying equatorial devotees. Meanwhile, I became transfixed by the shifting background screen, which had changed to some sort of harbor containing scattered boats before I tuned back into Buffett's yammering about New Orleans.
Experiencing profound dehydration and newly festering anxiety, I darted my eyes back and forth as I gulped a glob of regurgitated shrimp back down. Bile hung in the back of my mouth as an impeccable and powerful trumpet rang out, beaming through the blue lights and begging the audience to sing along to the Leon Redbone-sounding tune "Pencil Thin Mustache." The backdrop changed to a picture of the French Quarter as thousands swaggered back and forth, barking in approval.
I diverted my attention from the stage just in time to watch a man nearly impale his genitals on a handrail that was dividing the stairs. It was a symbolic image as to how I was feeling inside. Once the song ended, the backdrop changed to "Greetings from St. Paul." Everyone cheered and danced. Except for me and Grant. We stared vacantly as we realized how unprepared we were for this kind of madness.
As the show continued, Grant kept getting more and more drunk despite the fact that he had not consumed more booze since our arrival. It was certainly a tropical miracle. His spirits steadily improved and he began high-fiving fans standing near us. A silver-haired man in a linen shirt appeared to know someone in the row in front of us, his face lighting up as he was greeted. Excited to talk to the woman he knew, he hardly paid any attention to the fact that my grungy associate was intensely groping his face and then stole his beer.
"Dude, switch seats with me. I will get us so much beer," Grant demanded with hostility, his long shaggy dreadlocks trembling as he spoke. I could sense the beach was getting hotter and I began questioning my ability to contain the slobbering hobgoblin about to tear out of my friend's chest.
Around this time, a friend named Kathleen who was attending the show with her parents and fiancé appeared in front of me and dragged the leather jacket-clad maniac away by his collar. We walked through the hectic halls and I halted momentarily to purchase a novelty-sized margarita for $14. As I hurriedly slugged down the overly sweet treat, I noticed Grant was attempting to steal a bunch of ornamental bananas. Although Kathleen pried the starchy fruits from his crude hands, he somehow managed to abscond with one of them. He grunted as he ate it.
We transferred seats upstairs and the beast continued unleashing his anger, yelling "YOU PEOPLE HAVE NO DIGNITY" as he dumped water on a group of fans below him. Occasionally he became distracted from tormenting the section and paused to yell, "PROVE IT, YOU ASSHOLE" at Jimmy Buffett between songs. After becoming infuriated over Buffett's bare feet on stage, Grant showed his feelings with manic screaming into the shifting void of people as he smashed his fists on the rail in front of him. Sensing my distress and concern, Kathleen passed me a flask filled with rum as she eyed our mutual friend. We moved seats again to try to contain our little problem child.
As the show had triggered some sort of subhumanoid meltdown within Grant, I departed the arena to find another drink to help me cope with the stressful spectacle.
Photo courtesy of Drew Ailes
I witnessed many strange sights in the gate area by the bar. I saw a man wearing a coconut bra lecturing his young son to stay close and 10 men who could've been James Belushi walking past. Someone paired a "Lake Minnetonka" ski-jacket with a plush cheeseburger hat. Volcano sounds rumbled in the distance.
I felt isolated and afraid -- marooned on a deserted island. Lacking intellectual nourishment and rattled by my worry, I was forced to admit to myself that my only comrade in Project Parrothead had severely deteriorated into complete uselessness. I would have to embrace the show alone. The distant sound of steel drums sharply cut through my psyche.
Dejected and clutching an $8 beer, I plodded back to our seats to assist our savior, Kathleen. In my absence, she had decided the only way to tame Grant was to completely immobilize him by sitting on his lap. I held his arms down while he gnashed his teeth and screamed raging obscenities at Jimmy Buffett and anyone nearby. At one point, he got loose and began dancing with four very happy men before I grabbed him under the armpits and dragged him two rows back, throwing him into a chair. He remained there for the rest of the concert with a look of torture in his eyes -- like his legs were being pecked off by toucans.
Grant finally reached his breaking point.
Photo courtesy of Drew Ailes
After the final chords of a Bob Dylan cover rang through the arena, the lights came on and Grant screamed, "THAT MOTHERFUCKER SELLS FAKE COCAINE." The remaining members of the crowd quickly scattered after getting a clear look at the source of the noise. We reconvened with Kathleen's family and her fiancé, Scott, and began our walk to their vehicle as Grant snarled at passersby and gnawed on a parrot figure he had somehow acquired. To pacify the startled herd, I shrugged my shoulders and loudly exclaimed things like, "Anything can happen in Margaritaville, you know?" This and other not-so-clever lines seemed to smooth things over with even the most intimidated onlookers as they warmly smiled and laughed in response.
Our feet passed over the shining wet concrete outside the Xcel center as we wove through a shockingly subdued and quiet crowd. We made it into the car and Grant's psychosis immediately diminished, and although he was loud and cumbersome with his speech, his mind had somehow reformed. His final thoughts: "I'm okay, I just had to get the fuck away from those people."
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