BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) – The recent passing of Jimmy Buffett has resurfaced memories for people of Buffett’s early days as a budding artist, including him living and performing in Brookings during the summer of 1969.
Ken Bollinger was 14-years-old at the time and worked as a busboy and dishwasher for The Townhouse, a super club that would bring in musicians on the weekends. He said when nights were slow, the workers and performers hung out in the kitchens together. One of those performers was a 22-year-old Jimmy Buffett, trying to make a name for himself in the Midwest as an artist.
“None of us knew who Jimmy Buffett was and what this small lounge entertainer would become,” Bollinger told KELOLAND News. “To me, that singer-songwriter that was entertaining, was just like the hundred other singer-songwriters that had been entertaining and sharing stories with us back in the kitchen.”
Bollinger didn’t realize the performer was actually Buffett until 2012, when Bollinger’s old boss at The Townhouse, Frank Larson, reminded him of their “brush with greatness.” Larson referenced a 2008 South Dakota Magazine article written by Tom Lawrence, who met Buffett at a 1987 concert where the two bonded over living in Brookings. In the article, Lawrence mentions Buffett working at The Townhouse.
Bollinger has remained a Buffett fan and followed him throughout Buffett’s five-decade career. In July 1978, Bollinger drove to Minneapolis with his childhood friend, Dan, to see Buffett in concert.
“It doesn’t get any more patriotic than a Jimmy Buffett concert on the Fourth of July,” he said.
Dan’s mother, Margaret Kjellsen, remembers watching the then-unknown Buffett at The Townhouse with her husband and friends on the weekends.
“He was very young and I didn’t have any idea that he would become so popular and well known,” Kjellsen said. “He was so good. We enjoyed him so much when he was there and we were sorry to see him leave.”
Buffett’s time in the Midwest came to an end after a tornado rolled through the area, Buffett writes in his 1998 memoir, “A Pirate Looks at Fifty.” Buffett was living in a trailer park at the time, which didn’t hold up in the storm.
“It’s no secret how God feels about trailer parks, and these storms were no different,” he wrote. “Like heat-seeking missiles looking for a tailpipe, they smelled out the cluster of aluminum trailers on the edge of town. We hightailed it out of there and watched the whole thing from the road as the stingraylike tail whipped along the edge of the trailers, turning several of them into chunks of aluminum the size of beer cans.”
Kjellsen, 89, said she eventually figured out The Townhouse performer was Buffett somewhere along the line and was surprised.
“I just followed him because I kind of liked his music and it just dawned on me that he was the person in Brookings,” she said. “When he became popular, I was like, ‘Oh, I think he was the guy that was in The Townhouse.’”
Kjellsen was able to see Buffett perform once again, in a stadium filled with thousands this time, ten years ago in Boise, Idaho with her daughter.
For Bollinger, his young age at the time of Buffett’s Brookings residency makes it hard to remember specific details about the singer, but he still took to Facebook to share his short encounter. His story, which he shared on three different pages, has been read over 10,000 times in the past four days.
“It’s just crazy to me the scope of it all,” he said. “Jimmy must have been a really popular guy.”