They eat “Cheeseburgers in Paradise,” drink margaritas, and regard Key West as their spiritual home port. They are Parrot Heads, ardent fans of internationally renowned singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett — and from Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, an estimated 3,500 of them will descend on the island credited with being the inspiration for Jimmy’s famed “Margaritaville” for their annual convention.
When Jimmy discovered Key West in the early 1970s, he couldn’t have known that he would inspire millions of people to share his love for the easygoing subtropical island.
He summed up his passion for his new surroundings by writing “I Have Found Me a Home” about Key West, describing riding his old red bike to “the bars and the beaches of my town.”
As well as being Jimmy’s home during some of his most productive years, Key West — and its people, attractions and ambiance — became the subject of some of his most enduring tunes. Many of them appear on the album “A1A,” named for the roadway leading through the Florida Keys to the island city, and “Havana Daydreamin’.”
His songs memorialize Key West characters like Captain Tony Tarracino, an offbeat former mayor featured in “Last Mango in Paris,” and the late Phil Clark, whose real-life exploits unfold in “A Pirate Looks at 40.”
In fact, Jimmy’s fondness for Key West as a subject, and the many renegade references in his tunes, made him the island’s unofficial “pirate laureate.”
A Mecca for his fans, the store is now located beside his original Margaritaville Café on the island’s iconic Duval Street. His unmarked yet renowned recording studio, Shrimp Boat Sound, overlooks the former shrimp docks.
Jimmy’s portrayal of Key West in song led it to become the geographical focus of the “Margaritaville mystique” embraced by his Parrot Head fans, who flock to visit the island that inspired their musical hero.
Activities at their annual conventions usually include waterfront musical performances by regional and Parrot Head favorites, charity auctions and raffles, a rollicking street festival and concert outside the Margaritaville Store, and performances by some (or all) of Jimmy’s Coral Reefer Band members.
Sometimes the man himself makes a surprise appearance — as he did for an unforgettable 70-minute Duval Street concert during the 2011 gathering.
So how exactly did the Parrot Head phenomenon begin? According to Buffett legend, the fans earned their name for the offbeat tropical parrot caps and other headgear they often wear to concerts.
And according to convention organizers, the first Parrot Heads in Paradise Club was formed in 1989 in Atlanta. There are now more than 200 clubs around the U.S., plus international clubs in the Caribbean, Australia, Canada and Europe.
While Parrot Heads undeniably love a party, they do far more than have a good time. As well as enjoying Jimmy Buffett’s music and the lifestyle it depicts, they support charitable, environmental, educational and humanitarian activities.
In fact, since 2002, members of the national and international chapters have contributed a total of $33.9 million and nearly 3.2 million volunteer hours to local and national charities.