The Parrothead is a unique species.
On a day marked by rainfall, cloud cover and the occasional sun, they don their sandals, tropical shirts and leis. They’ll cry out for margaritas, but just as easily make do with a margarita-flavored malt. They’ll make lighthearted jokes about their age, but party like they’re young.
For the first time ever Saturday, the Saratoga County Fairgrounds was a home for local Parrotheads, the affectionate moniker for Jimmy Buffett fans. Sure, some young folks came to soak up the party atmosphere at the Parrot Head Festival. But those firmly grounded in middle age on up sang a similar tune.
“We grew up with him,” said Sue Holland.
The Clifton Park resident, who declined to provide her age, grew up to the soundtrack of “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” As some of her friends cavorted around a beer tent Saturday afternoon, she listened as two others discussed the legitimacy of the festival’s tribute bands.
“There’s a lot of tribute bands around, and some are good and some aren’t so good,” remarked David Jones, a Brunswick musician who believes he can spot a decent tribute band from a gimmicky one.
The lineup for the Saratoga.com-sponsored Parrot Head Festival kicked off with Robanic, a decades-old reggae band from upstate New York that played a mix of calypso and old-school reggae music peppered with steel drums.
The John Frinzi and John Patti Duo also took the stage Saturday to celebrate Buffett’s famous island escapism sound. Frinzi has gained recognition for his unique voice and live performances, while Patti’s is described as an “island jazz” sound.
But the night capped off with a performance by Changes in Latitudes, a band several at the festival said they came for.
“This band is rated as one of the top Jimmy Buffett tribute bands in the country,” said Jones. “So if you can’t get Jimmy Buffett, you get the next best thing.”
Changes in Latitudes is the next best thing, or at least that’s what Parrothead Clubs everywhere say. They’ve been known to recreate a Buffett concert experience to a T — complete with a tropical stage setup and a laid-back Buffett storytelling style.
Jones came to the festival with his brother, Nick, who said they had arranged for designated drivers and were there to party, even though they were disappointed that there were no margaritas.
“For the older set like us, you want to come out, you want to party,” said Nick Jones, who wore a parrot hat, as many at the festival did. “You put on the flip-flops, you put on the gear, and now you just want to party because it’s been a long winter. And everybody loves a party, right?”
The local Buffett fan base was something Saratoga Festivals wanted to capitalize on, said AJ Bodden. The hope is for it to be an annual event, he said, where people come back each year to hang out with fellow Parrotheads.
“It’s amazing,” said Bodden, looking out at festivalgoers lined up for hot dogs and burgers and beer. “This group of people are just like those that follow the Grateful Dead. They hang with each other, they talk with each other, they meet people at concerts and events like this and they stay in touch.”
Most of the people at Saturday’s festival were in the 30s to 60s demographic, but there were plenty of tropical shirt-wearing children, as well.
Parents brought their kids, who soon were entranced by a giant inflatable slide, ring toss and hoop games.
Mike Young’s daughter bought her dad a two-for-one Parrot Head Festival ticket for his birthday. So his wife, April, tagged along with him.
“It reminds you of summer,” said April of the music, smiling from a seat beside her husband at one of several picnic tables under a canopy.
Mike Young’s fandom goes a bit further than that. His favorite Buffett tune is “A Pirate Looks at 40” and he compared the good-time atmosphere of a Buffett concert back in the ’80s to the Saturday festival.
“It was up at SPAC, and it was great,” he said. “Of course, Jimmy was there.”