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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: August 12, 2016

Parrot Heads party with a purpose

Written by: Ray Routhier
Members of the Parrot Head Club of Maine - a Jimmy Buffett fan club - tailgate in style at Buffett's concerts. Photo courtesy of Sherry Paul/Parrot Head Club of Maine

Members of the Parrot Head Club of Maine – a Jimmy Buffett fan club – tailgate in style at Buffett’s concerts.
Photo courtesy of Sherry Paul/Parrot Head Club of Maine

You can spot the Parrot Heads by searching first for their unusual environs.

These can include campers tricked out to look like pirate ships, giant inflatable cheeseburgers and make-shift swimming pools loaded into the backs of pick-up trucks. Basically any of the crazy contraptions you’ll find at the tailgate parties before a Jimmy Buffett concert.

Parrot Heads, the name for Buffett’s hard-core fans, are definitely among us. There are at least three official Parrot Head clubs serving parts of Maine. And hundreds of Parrot Heads will likely be flocking to Bangor Thursday, where Buffett is set to do his first Maine concert in years at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion. But who are these Hawaiian shirt- and straw hat-wearing folks? Do they just get together and drink margaritas while listening to Buffett’s anthem, “Margaritaville”? Do they spend days looking for that lost shaker of salt, as Buffett so famously sang about?

Maine parrot heads at a costume party at a recent New England Parrothead Convention. Photo courtesy of Fred Quistgard

Maine parrot heads at a costume party at a recent New England Parrothead Convention. Photo courtesy of Fred Quistgard

Members of Maine’s three Parrot Head clubs – Parrothead Club of Maine, Club Finz and Parrot Head Club of the Northern Tropics – will tell you that, yes, they like to party and knock back a tropical drink once in a while. But going to concerts and having a few cocktails is just part of what they do together. They participate in walk-a-thons and blood drives, they raise money to fight cancer and multiple sclerosis, and they’ve built houses for Habitat for Humanity. They think of their Parrot Head clubs as social clubs and volunteer organizations combined.

“We call it partying with a purpose,” said Sherry Paul, 51, of West Gardiner, of the Parrothead Club of Maine. “We do our jobs, for a good cause, then we celebrate.”

Paul and others say that they joined Parrot Head clubs not only because they love Buffett’s music, but also because they meet easy-going, like-minded folks who like to have fun and also do good work. There are some 200 clubs around the country, according to Parrot Heads in Paradise Inc., the national group that oversees the local Parrot Head clubs. The Parrothead Club of Maine has members in central and southern Maine, while the Parrot Head Club of the Northern Tropics has members in the western part of the state. Club Finz has members in York County and coastal New Hampshire.

Jimmy Buffett Photo courtesy of Waterfront Concerts

Jimmy Buffett
Photo courtesy of Waterfront Concerts

Buffett, 69, is not just a musician; he’s a brand-name and lifestyle icon. He’s been recording for more than 45 years, with his biggest hits coming in the ’70s. Songs like “Margaritaville,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Volcano” helped establish him as the rock star for the folks who love a tropical, laid-back vibe. He’s started restaurants under the Margaritaville name, as well as a beer brand, Landshark. He also donates time to charitable causes, which is partly why parrot heads do too.

Local Parrot Heads regularly travel to see Buffett all over New England. Maine Parrot Heads say he hasn’t done a show in the state since the late 1980s when he played The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach and the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. But he regularly plays the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts, just a couple hours from Portland.

When Parrot Heads go to a Buffett show, they tailgate in a way that make football fans “seem mellow,” said Paul. People set up swimming pools and bring lawn games like corn hole to play, as well as lots of food and drink. Paul is well-known among Parrot Heads for her “schnappy balls,” little confections that are sort of like rum balls, but made with peppermint schnapps.

Sometimes a Parrot Head sets up a deejay station and plays tunes. Other times, Parrot Head musicians play some tropical rock tunes to dance to. Yes, tropical rock is a genre, and it basically started with Buffett. Local tropical rock bands, some playing Buffett’s music, have sprung up all over the country. There are also internet radio stations that focus on tropical rock.

Fred Quistgard of Old Orchard Beach, a member of the Parrothead Club of Maine who has played in tropical rock bands, said that the genre of music and parrot head clubs are mostly about attitude.

“It’s that no matter where you live, how cold or landlocked you are, you have a tropical soul,” said Quistgard, 56. “You love the palm trees and the sound of the steel drum.”

And partying with a purpose.

Now let’s sing along with “Margaritaville”

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, 1 Railroad St., Bangor
HOW MUCH: $36 to $136

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