Why Jimmy Buffett Fans Are Called Parrot Heads

Fans of legendary singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett are called Parrot Heads, and it all began in Cincinnati, Ohio — an area the artist has said was integral to his success. The endearing name was first used by Timothy B. Schmit at a 1985 Coral Reefer Band concert after Buffett commented on the many tropical shirts and parrot hats in the crowd. According to "Lessons from Rock 'n' Roll to Make Your Business Rich and Famous," the name was inspired by the term "Dead Heads," used to describe Grateful Dead fans

Buffett is synonymous with what AP News called a "laid-back party vibe," and "Parrot Heads" is more than just a name — there are more than 200 Parrot Head clubs all around the world in places like the United States, Canada, and Australia. They typically engage in humanitarian work and offer events and concerts aligned with the Parrot Head lifestyle under the national umbrella organization Parrot Heads in Paradise (PHIP), which is recognized by Buffett himself.

According to the Toronto Maple Reefers ParrotHead Club, the ParrotHead lifestyle is one that transcends Buffett. "We are not Parrot Heads because we are Jimmy Buffett fans," the club wrote. "We are Jimmy Buffett fans because we are Parrot Heads."

The first club

The first officially recognized Parrot Head club was created by Scott Nickerson in 1989. Nickerson was from Atlanta, where Jimmy Buffett played once a year at the time, so he created the Atlanta Parrot Head Club as a means of bringing together concert friends for similar fun outside of the shows. The group met for the first time on April 1, 1989, and it quickly grew. With increasing numbers, Nickerson reached out to Buffett's attorneys to make sure everything was legal — and they offered him support, giving him the ins and outs of how to run his group without violating any laws. Nickerson also helped organize the first Parrot Head convention, "Meeting of the Minds." In 1998 it headed to Key West, Florida, where Buffett himself attended and played music — something he regularly did at the convention in the years after.

The Atlanta Parrot Head Club still runs today. According to Nickerson's website, he was also the mastermind behind Parrot Heads in Paradise Inc. (PHIP), which was established in 1994. Nickerson believes that the unique passion of Buffett fans is the driving force behind the strength of his brand. "Parrot Heads will go to show after show, all summer," Nickerson said. "They have the money and they love the experience and they'll see every show they can. His fans are possessed."

'Cult branding'

The success of Jimmy Buffett's brand has been studied by many throughout the years. In "The Power of Cult Branding How 9 Magnetic Brands Turned Customers Into Loyal Followers (and Yours Can, Too!)," Matthew W. Ragas and ‎Bolivar J. Bueno call the musician a "cult brander" and say he draws his fans into a fantasy of fun, sunshine, and margaritas that never ends. The book even quotes Scott Nickerson, who touches on this part of the brand: "It's extreme escapism! Jimmy is a master of painting such a vivid picture of life in the palm trees drinking margaritas and just having a great time. Jimmy paints great pictures with his songs. You can feel yourself there.

In essence, Ragas and Bueno say Buffett is selling a lifestyle that people buy into. "[Parrot Heads] are purchasing the opportunity to fulfill their passions and dreams with like-minded individuals through various activities," they wrote.

A shrewd businessman

It wasn't all margaritas and sunshine for Jimmy Buffett. In 2018, Taffy Brodesser-Akner penned a New York Times piece called "Jimmy Buffett Does Not Live the Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle." The article argued that Jimmy Buffett's persona, while at one time real, was eventually replaced with someone far more business savvy. "Because that, in a coconut shell, was the problem," she wrote, describing a December 2017 show in which he told old stories between songs. "Jimmy Buffett is not really Jimmy Buffett anymore. ... [He] has been replaced with a well-preserved businessman who is leveraging the Jimmy Buffett of yore in order to keep the Jimmy Buffett of now in the manner to which the old Jimmy Buffett never dreamed he could become accustomed. ... The more successful you become at selling the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, the less you are seen as believably living the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle."

Indeed, Buffett's empire grew through the years, and he became involved with products like boat shoes, tequila, and Landshark Lager, and the name of his most popular song — Margaritaville — made its way into everything from restaurant chains to clothing lines. Of course, the business acumen was always there to some degree — over the course of his career, Buffett started a record label, created his own tour buses, and oversaw all of his merchandise.