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Sad song: Local Parrotheads mourn loss of Buffett

Top, Jimmy Buffett in concert in Key West, Florida (City of Key West photo); Bottom, sibling Parrotheads Michael Buhrmaster and Michelle Compton heading to and at a Buffett concert.

Siblings Michael Buhrmaster and Michelle Buhrmaster Compton said an old pirate – who was younger then – got them through the worst of times.

When their father passed away when the two were teenagers, the Jimmy Buffett tunes their father strummed on his own guitar and listened to on vinyl every weekend were solace.

And now some of those same songs and others are helping flocks of “Parrotheads,” the most ardent of Buffett fans, mourn the singer’s death, near and far. The singer-songwriter known best to casual fans for long ago hits “Margaritaville” and “Come Monday” died Friday at the age of 76 following a battle with cancer.

“His music was something that gives us a great memory of dad,” Buhrmaster said. “I can’t tell you the times we’ve been through together. Anytime we’re at the beach, Buffett is playing. Anytime we’re together on a boat, Buffett is playing. There’s never a bad time to hear a Buffett tune.”

Buhrmaster and Compton said they’ve seen Buffett in concert over 10 times, most of those together with other Parrotheads, who are often organized into local groups or just count themselves as loyal fans who attended Buffett’s feel-good concert events. Those happenings included tailgating, singalongs and choreography among the fans to songs like “Fins.”

“Part of it is the music, but maybe the bigger part is the camaraderie of the Parrotheads who are in the audience and sing every word to every song and tailgate. . . . People are always so happy. There are people you have never met before but you have a bond with them that you all share.”

As her father passed the love of Buffett’s music to her, Compton has passed it on to the next generation with her own children.

Lee Atkinson, who said he was introduced to Buffett’s south-Florida sound by his college roommate while a freshman at Erskine, passed more than the music to his daughter, Delaney.

Delaney was named after the Buffett song, “Delaney Talks to Statues,” which was written for the singer’s own daughter.

Atkinson, who has attended around a dozen Buffett concerts since 1992, called the news of Buffett’s death “devastating.”

“I know where I was when I found out about Elvis dying and Michael Jackson and even Prince, but they just didn’t have the same impact for me when I think about his philosophy,” he said. “What’s really cool id he was told time and again – like the song – that you’ll never work in this business again because nobody wants to hear that kind of music. He proved everyone wrong and created his own lane.”

Hunter Holmes, a local musician, music historian and audiophile, counts himself among the Parrotheads and said Buffett is underappreciated as a songwriter by many who didn’t connect with him.

“There are writers who take you to a different time and place – Springsteen does a really great job of it – and some literary writers were lured to Key West like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams,” Holmes said. “Those kind of writers just kind of put you somewhere, and that kind of escapism is what people loved.”

As a songwriter, Holmes said he puts Buffett in the pantheon of rockers like Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

“And Bob Dylan will tell you that,” Holmes said. “He’s been vocal about it.”

Buhrmaster agrees.

“I know someone asked him one time about his ability to write songs and as a guitar player, and he said, ‘You know, I’m not the best-selling writer, and I’m not the best guitar player, but every morning I wake up, I can be the best Jimmy Buffett.’ That kind of speaks volumes. If we all treated mankind the way he talked about, it might be a better place.”

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