Hanging with Jimmy Buffet down at Margaritaville

Note: This column appears in the 4/17 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 4/18 issue of the Peoria Times

When my editor handed me two tickets to go see Jimmy Buffet perform live at Margaritaville, I asked her if I could write about it, since ya’ know, I usually write about sports (poorly). She joked with me that I should try and find a sports angle for the column. At least, I hope she was joking, because after much contemplation -- I think I may have heard “Cheeseburger in Paradise” during halftime of a Nets game back in the ‘90’s! -- I have decided this is too much of a stretch.

So, screw it. I’m writing about Jimmy Buffet this week. Not sports. You’re welcome.

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I should preface this by saying I am not a Jimmy Buffet fan per say, which is to say I do not consider myself a Parrothead. (This should thoroughly annoy all of the die-hard Buffet fans who couldn’t make this show, as tickets could only be won, not purchased. Or, in my case, handed to me by an editor.) In fact, because I didn’t know until the day of that I was going to this event, I showed up in my work clothes while also talking on my cell phone, which is pretty much, by my own estimation, the antithesis of everything Jimmy Buffet stands for. In an attempt to fit in, I immediately downed a 16-oz beer. Then another. See, I can relax, darn it! It worked. I think.

The event served as the official grand opening -- though it’s been up and running for a few months now -- of Margaritaville in Westgate. And who better to kick things off than Buffet himself, the sole reason a place like Margaritaville even exists. My friend Ryan met me there, a real estate agent in need of a break. We figured, as the Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet duet goes, “it’s five o’clock somewhere.” In our case, it was five o’clock here. We got another beer.

The stage was set up in the center of Westgate, outside and in front of the fountains, but the party started inside Margaritaville. I had never been there before, but I really have to say, the whole environment just forces you to leave all your cares behind. It’s impossible to think about work when you’re standing next to someone with a balloon animal on top of his head, and a guy on stilts is bringing you a plate of nachos.

The crowd was amazing. For starters, tailgating for the show began at noon – the actual showtime was 5:30 – so virtually everyone inside of Margaritaville was, well, wasted away again. (Thank you, thank you.) It was tough to spot anyone not wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a shark hat, a parrot hat, or all of the above. You could sense the anticipation. The TVs inside Margaritaville showed the stage outside, and when Jimmy Buffet walked out onto it, five minutes earlier than expected, the woman behind me grabbed a hold of her friend, and said, “No {bleeping} way,” as if she just happened to be there, and had no idea Jimmy Buffet was performing. The crowd subsequently rushed outside as if the place was on fire. We followed.

There he was, Jimmy Buffet, with his guitar, a microphone, a beach-themed background, and one other guy that served as his band. He played his songs while everyone in the crowd sang along, and we stood there, beer in hand, feeling pretty content. We marveled at the life this guy has forged, a life defined by relaxing and having a good time. Pretty darn cool. He finished with, of course, “Margaritaville,” and right after that I said to Ryan, “Man, not many people can say they saw Jimmy Buffet play ‘Margaritaville’ in front of Margaritaville!” Then we both looked out onto the crowd, and Ryan said, “Yeah, except for the thousands of people right here, right now.” What a jerk.

It should also be mentioned that Jimmy Buffet loves sports. I have no evidence to back this claim, but really -- who doesn’t love sports? Speaking of sports, stay tuned for next week’s column, where I will discuss, in detail, the nachos at Margaritaville.