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Will Buffett fans be wasted away again?

September 22, 2003|Geoff Boucher

Will it be trouble in paradise this week? On Saturday, Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band visit Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine for a key West Coast tour stop that always packs in longtime fans, in all of their Hawaiian-shirted splendor. The most dedicated of those fans, of course, are called Parrot Heads, a nod to the Grateful Dead's Deadheads -- a population that is similarly devoted, ritualistic and, well, usually buzzed. The Parrot Heads, like the troubadour they admire, are a pretty mellow bunch, which explains why they are squawking about an ugly trend in Margaritaville.

"Things have changed at the show; it's definitely different than it used to be," says Nellie Carlen, president of the official Orange County Parrot Head Club. "The problem isn't the Parrot Heads. It's the college kids." In the past few years, the Irvine show has become a surprisingly volatile affair. Echoing Carlen, veterans of the scene blame it on an infusion of young fans who view the concert and the extended pre-show parties in the parking lot as a miniature spring break. The nadir was in 2000 when fights broke out on the lawn and bottles were hurled at cops. While only 10 arrests were made, one police official told the press that, "We could have arrested everybody in that parking lot at one point."

Irvine police spokesman Lt. Jeff Love says that the concert is now one of the events circled on the calendar every year for stepped-up officer presence. "History is a guidepost to us, and certain shows require that we be proactive," he says. "The majority of Jimmy Buffett fans go to have a good time, but there are some that get there a little too early and drink a little too much. My perception is there is definitely a degree of alcohol consumption at a Jimmy Buffett concert that will make it a different environment than if the Pacific Symphony was playing."

The parties in the parking lot have been curtailed compared to years ago -- the lot opens at 3 p.m. instead of early in the day, and tickets are checked on the way in to deter those showing up only to partake in the drinking scene outside. All of this is "not unique to Irvine, but you notice it there more," Carlen says of the influx of young revelers who seem only mildly interested in the music.

Carlen, like a true Parrot Head, says that "everyone has the right to a good time." In a way, she's enthused to see a new generation of Buffett listeners, but she wonders if the young crowd is so focused on booze that they're missing the boat.

"They don't even know the words to the songs," she says.

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-- Geoff Boucher

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