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Buffett Backers

Soundbites searches for intelligent life in Margaritaville.


Cheryl works for the City of Canton Water Department. She doesn't drink regularly or see many rock shows. But when Jimmy Buffett comes to town, she turns into a Parrothead, one of Buffett's crazed fans. Twirling and singing, she's enjoying his August 27 Blossom show with some 17,000 other Parrotheads. She doesn't even mind when one inebriated young man exposes his bare butt. "You don't see that every day in Canton," she laughs, drink in hand.

Dressed in a grass skirt and white tank top, Cheryl has attached glowing red lights to her breasts. It's fashionable attire in the beach-bum culture that surrounds the singer, whose tropical music is as fake as plastic palm trees.

"The music is relaxing. It's festive. It's fun," Cheryl says. "I love to watch the people. I tell everybody that even if they don't like Jimmy Buffett's music, they should come to the show, because it's amazing."

What's truly amazing is how Buffett, who hadn't played in Northeast Ohio in 3 years and hasn't had a hit in 25, has such a rabid following. Initially, he tried to make it as a country singer in Nashville. Rejected, he moved to Key West in the '70s and embraced a lifestyle of "boats, beaches, bars, and ballads." Now, he's a Fortune 500 millionaire with a chain of nightclubs and his own clothing line. He's fashioned a franchise by bringing out the wild side in middle-aged yuppies. Bouncing beach balls in the air and singing along to songs like "Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude," the audience behaves like college kids on spring break.

Buffett sends mixed messages to his fans, many of whom had brought their young children. One moment, he dedicates a song to the kids; the next, he returns to lewd subject matter. He admits parents wouldn't want their kids taking his songs to show-and-tell. As he closes the show with "Margaritaville," patrons stumble toward the exits, kicking their way through a field of plastic cups. You can bet the clean-up crew hopes it's another three years before Buffett returns.

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