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Parrot Heads reflect on carefree Buffett concert culture

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Kathy Karelitz
Steel City Fins fan club member Kathy Karelitz took this photo of Jimmy Buffett at a previous concert at First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown.

His annual tours are as regular as migration, but that doesn't make them routine. After decades on the road, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band still pack venues around the world, and Pittsburgh is no exception. He and the band will be at First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, on July 23.

We turned to the area experts on the Buffett phenomenon, the Steel City Fins fan club, to see why they show up year after year. Fitting their casual attitude, they only go by one name on their chat board:

“For me,” Karat says, “it is the annual reunion with friends both near and far. It's not only about the margaritas, cheeseburgers and the music, but the escape and enjoying a fun-filled day with friends.”

“A Jimmy Buffett concert allows people to turn a parking lot into a tropical paradise,” George says. “Beaches with sand and palm trees appear where gravel had been the only feature. Attractive young people may be scantily clad for the enjoyment of any who care to ogle. People who shouldn't be scantily clad may wander about in grass skirts and coconut bras and find attractive young people posing with them for pictures. Mini-concerts pop up all around the parking lot. What I call ‘familiar strangers' greet one another like long-lost friends. New friendships form. A Buffett tailgate isn't about small cliques sharing a few parking spaces; it's about ‘our space is your space — let's share it, let's see it all and let's visit everyone.' ”

“It's an escape from a busy life; we sail, we fly, we break the rules,” Randy says. “We become the ‘people our parents warned us about' (a Buffett lyric), and cash in our fun tickets. We are characters straight out of one of Jimmy's songs or books. If you've not yet experienced a Jimmy Buffett concert, perhaps you should. You will see, it's more than margaritas and coconut bras.”

And maybe Kathy sums it up best. “There are, as I like to call them, ‘Buffettisms' for almost every occasion. These are just lyrics from Jimmy's songs, but, at times, they can relate to current life situations. One of my favorites that helps me get through the loss of my husband is ‘Yesterdays are over my shoulder, so I can't look back for too long. There's just too much to see waiting in front of me, and I know that I just can't go wrong.' Watching Jimmy perform live and hearing the words to my favorite songs just puts me in a tropical state of mind and takes me to the island for a few hours, away from whatever is happening in my life. And to be able to share these precious moments with fellow Parrot Heads is all a major part of it.”

The Steel City Fins are the local chapter of Parrot Heads in Paradise, the club with the motto “Party with a purpose,” that, over the past 12 years, worldwide has raised $33.9 million and given more than 3 million volunteer hours to charity.

A more specific description, from the phip.com website, describes the group's purpose as, “to assist in community and environmental concerns and provide a variety of social activities for people who are interested in the music of Jimmy Buffett and the tropical lifestyle he personifies.”

The Fins begin to swarm at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month (excluding holidays) at Bella Notte in the Strip District, with the business meeting starting at 7 p.m.

Vaunda Bonnett is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7917 or vbonnett@tribweb.com.

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