SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – On September 1, iconic musician Jimmy Buffett passed away at the age of 76, leaving behind millions of fans and a decades-long legacy of songwriting and taking it easy on the beach.
Buffett, known for hits like “Margaritaville” and “Come Monday,” battled skin cancer for four years before passing away at his home in New York. Buffett’s career spans across decades, with his final public performance in May of this year.
KELOLAND News reached out to local fans of Buffett’s music who remember the singer and the community he created fondly.
“He’s quite an accomplished man, all the songwriting and the lyrics,” fan Scott Sletten from Sioux Falls said. “For those who are fans, just listening and reading the lyrics to his songs, some of his word-play is just so good. He was a poet as much as he was a songwriter and singer.”
Sletten and his wife, Ronna, have been to 25 Jimmy Buffett concerts all over the world. Their most recent concert was a private performance at Nashville’s Margaritaville in April 2023.
In December 2022, Buffett had planned multiple concerts on a cruise ship in Antarctica, the only continent he hadn’t played on. The Sletten’s went on the cruise with hundreds of other Buffett fans to see his performance. However, Buffett’s health began to decline so he was unable to make it to Antarctica.
Buffett vowed to make up for his absence to the 150 people on the Antarctic cruise with a private concert and meet and greet in Nashville, which the Sletten’s attended. Sletten said it was surreal seeing Buffett after listening to his music for years.
“You always kind of think in advance of what you want to say to Jimmy, all the impact he’s had on our life,” Sletten said about his time meeting Buffett.
Sletten said the conversation was brief and they thanked Buffett for all the memories they’ve made through him and his music. Five months later, and the Sletten’s, along with the rest of the world, are now celebrating and remembering the legacy of Buffett’s life.
“That morning he passed, my wife and I’s phones were blowing up with messages from friends around the world sharing memories. We have a place out at Lake Poinsett and we jammed to Jimmy Buffett for half the day,” he said.
Sandi Vietor is the president of Parrot Heads of the Prairie, the local chapter of Buffett’s official fan club. The Parrot Heads is a nonprofit organization dedicated to community volunteerism, animal activism and providing social activities for people interested in Buffett’s music and tropical lifestyle.
“He’s an amazing lyricist and songwriter,” Vietor said. “Most of his songs are designed to relax a person, for a person to have a lot of fun, to take life less seriously.”
Vietor has been to 36 Jimmy Buffett concerts, including his final performance in San Diego in May. Although 36 may seem like a lot, Vietor said it pales in comparison to the number of concerts other fans have been to.
“That’s a very, very small number compared to many, many people,” she said. “It’s a following where a lot of people make it their lifestyle to follow Jimmy to many locations that they possibly can.”
The South Dakota chapter of Parrot Heads has helped 32 organizations and put in 6,561 community service hours since its inception in 2005. Along with volunteering in their respective communities, the Parrot Heads get together to celebrate Buffett and the tropical rock genre.
Every year, Parrot Heads in Paradise hold the Meeting of the Minds, an exclusive event where 3,500 Parrot Heads from around the country gather to promote the organization, network and volunteer. Although there’s a 3,000+ guest list, the event is still hard to get into, according to Sletten, who has gone more than once.
“Parrot Heads from around the country all descend on Key West for a four to five day party,” he said. “We’ve been lucky enough to be there a couple of times when Jimmy’s actually shown up. They shut down the street and did a free concert for all the fans.”
Sletten said his favorite part of the Jimmy Buffett and Parrot Head culture is the community and friendships he’s made throughout the years. He said tailgating before Buffett concerts were the most memorable parts of his shows.
“The party atmosphere and the fun people dressing in costumes– coconut bras and grass skirts,” Sletten said. “They recreate beach scenes in the parking lot. It is just so fun and everyone has a great time. The pre-party can be more fun than the concert sometimes.”
Buffett also lived in Brookings, South Dakota during the summer of 1969 where he performed at The Townhouse restaurant and lived in a trailer park, according to a 2008 article in South Dakota Magazine and a man who worked at the restaurant at the time. Buffett spoke fondly of his time in South Dakota in his 2000 memoir, “A Pirate Looks at Fifty,” but said a tornado ultimately drove him out of the Midwest.
“The next thing I knew, I was headlining Steak ‘n’ Ale joints all over the Midwest, making five hundred bucks a week, with a free salad bar,” Buffett said in his memoir. “At first, I loved the wide-open spaces, but one afternoon in a trailer park in Brookings, South Dakota, where I was living, the siren in town sounded a tornado warning. … That was my cue to get out of the Midwest.”