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What Jimmy Buffett Can Teach Us About Social Networking

by Emily O'Shaughnessy

I came across this article in the Dallas Morning News about how Jimmy Buffett “was social networking long before the Internet” and smiled. I’d never thought of it that way before, but he made a good point. Buffett has a loyal, extremely dedicated group of followers (aka “Parrot Heads”) that have been with him since the beginning. Their demographics, backgrounds and lifestyles vary greatly, but they all have one thing in common — a passion for Buffett’s music and laid-back style.

I’ve been a Parrot Head for as long as I can remember. First by default, then later by choice. I have my stepdad, Mike, to thank for that. When he married my mom in the early eighties he brought his collection of Buffett tapes (yes, tapes — and even a few records) into the marriage. She brought us kids. The jury is still out as to who go the better deal…

Mike grew up in Florida listening to Buffett in the 70’s, back before Buffett was the megastar he is today. Before his only top 10 hit “Margaritaville” was released in 1977, Buffett spent his nights playing at bars and smaller venues throughout the south, no doubt with the same laid-back, Caribbean vibe he’s known for today. Still the same loveable Jimmy and the Coral Reefers, just on a smaller and less main-stream scale.

Buffett has that easy-going, island music that makes you feel like you’re on vacation. Somehow it was the only music on which our entire family could agree, and his albums were our go-to music of choice on many family road trips.

It was overdue, but I finally made it to my first Buffett concert in Denver in 1996. I was hooked. Before that I thought state fairs were good for people-watching. Let me tell you, they’ve got nothing on a Buffett concert!

The first thing you’ll notice about the crowd is the diversity. There are kids, college coeds, business professionals and retirees all doing the hand motions to “Fins to the Left.”  The demographics are all over the board.

The second thing you’ll notice is the crowd’s attire. What a spectacle! You’ll see plenty of Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops, but that’s just the beginning. There are people wearing cheeseburger hats, hula skirts, coconut bras, you name it. Last year I even saw a guy in a full parrot costume. Sheer comedy.

The third thing you’ll notice is that everyone is just so damn happy. It’s truly as if everyone checked their worries at the door (or parking lot, because the party definitely starts hours earlier with the tailgating). It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re belting out the words to “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” with 20,000 of your closest friends. I’m not sure how, but somehow Buffett even gets vegetarians to sing along to “Cheeseburger In Paradise.”

It truly is the “social network” of fans that got Jimmy to where he is today. He has a huge group of loyal followers that support him, his music and his brand. He’s been good to them over the years by consistently producing good music, delivering spectacular shows and staying true to himself. There are Parrot Head chapters all over the country, where like-minded people come together to bond over a common theme. When you think about it, it’s a similar concept to thousands of Facebook groups (one example: “I Don’t Care How Comfortable Your Crocs Are, You Look Like Dumb@ss,” where 1,194 different members bonded over a mutual theme). Social networking brings like-minded people together, which Buffett has been doing for years.

The thing about Jimmy Buffett is it seems he genuinely likes what he’s doing. I’m sure there are plenty of things that are strictly for show, but I get the feeling he’d be happy strumming his six string at a local beach dive, wearing flip flops and drinking cold beers with his “network.” He built his name slowly over time by doing what he loves, being true to himself and true to his fans. People are drawn to him and he knows that – but doesn’t take advantage of it either.

I was thrilled to hear Buffet is coming back to The Woodlands in June, and even happier when I learned my parents, sister, brother and sister-in-law are coming in from out of town for the occasion. We’ve all seen Buffett separately – but never all together for the same concert. Can’t think of a better family bonding experience. Fins to the Right!

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