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Jimmy Buffett, And His Parrotheads, Are Still Here

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

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Last year, Jimmy Buffett hit the road for what he called his “Year of Still Here” tour.

In 2009, he’s still here, still thriving and still delivering the “Margaritaville” state of mind that he knows brings his legion of Parrothead fans back in their floral print shirts time and time again.

“I’m gonna go out there and do what people like us to do,” promises Buffett, 62, who’s released 27 studio albums since 1970.

“I learned a long time ago that they’re not really that interested in some kind of rapid departure or me doing my version of Thelonious Monk or something. They want their ‘Margaritaville’ and ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ and ‘Volcano’ and ‘Fins ... ’ And that’s OK. We like to keep ’em happy ... and maybe throw a curve ball at ’em every now and again.”

The pitches straight down the middle have worked out fine for Buffett, however. The Mississippi-born father of three, who splits his non-touring time between homes on Long Island and in the French West Indies, has built a “lifestyle” empire that extends well beyond music into restaurant chains (Margaritaville and Cheeseburger In Paradise), films (“Hoot”), musical theater (a collaboration with novelist Herman Wouk called “Don’t Stop the Carnival”), his own music label (Mailboat Records), and Radio Margaritaville stations on both Sirus XM and the Internet.

Buffett also has published six books, the latest being last year’s “Swine Not? A Novel Pig Tale” for young readers. He’s one of only seven authors to top the New York Times’ fiction and non-fiction best-sellers lists.

This year, he’s already netted more than $20 million in ticket sales, and he recently struck a deal for the Miami Dolphins’ football stadium to be rechristened LandShark Stadium after Buffett’s Land Shark Lager, which Anheuser-Busch began brewing in 2006.

“I think if you’re an artist, you have to try to get yourself in a situation where you know who you want to sell to, and where they are,” explains Buffett, who’s currently working on a sequel to his autobiography, “A Pirate Looks at Fifty,” and plans to release a live album of acoustic performances later this year.

“You want to find your audience and build a loyal following that trusts you and is interested in buying the different things you put out, like adding items to a collection. Then you don’t have to worry about if radio’s going to play it or if MTV will show your video — well, they don’t show videos now but ... ”

Buffett learned the value of creating his own artist’s “universe” during a commercially fallow period in the ’80s, when his record sales were down but concert attendances remained steady and even grew thanks to word-of-mouth about the lively party environment he and his Coral Reefer Band created each night.

“I wasn’t a terribly explosive pop, Top 40 guy,” said Buffett, though each of his last two albums topped the Billboard 200 chart and he had a No. 1 hit with country singer Alan Jackson, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” in 2003.

“I was a nuts and bolts, go out and work and find your audience kind of guy.

“And what I found out by doing that is you were able to actually make more money that way.

“And the bottom line would go to you for your hard work rather than to a record company, so you kind of gained your independence by staying on the road and building your audience there, rather than just through record sales. That way you could deal with a record company and not have to be completely reliant upon them for your existence.”

And that’s a path Buffett plans to stay on for the foreseeable future.

“I think the music business is fine,” he says. “I think the record business is kind of over. It’s like this big boat that broke up on the reef, and when it did that, there are people finding a channel through there, and the voyage goes on.

“It’s an interesting time. It’s probably more difficult if you’re new and trying to break out, I know, but for somebody who has control over their work and has a loyal following, like I do, it’s a pretty good time.”

Jimmy Buffett & the Coral Reefer Band perform at 8 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 13) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are sold out. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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