That Jimmy Buffett concerts are but a blip on Cincinnati’s cultural radar is a symbol of how far our city has come

Life’s too short to get blind drunk, do beach-bum cosplay, listen to mediocre music and pad the bank account of a multi-millionaire… but you do you, Parrot-hat-wearers

Jul 6, 2018 at 3:23 pm

Jimmy Buffett has been a running joke at CityBeat since our inception 24 years ago. It’s nothing personal against Mr. Buffett or even his fans. “Jimmy Buffett sucks” is like an unspoken mantra representing the struggle against rote, mainstreamed narratives. To me, it’s emblematic of what an altweekly has traditionally stood for — exposing things of value that might be overlooked in your community, be it people, places, stories or perspectives.

A part of the foundational mission of CityBeat was to inform people about the cool, interesting things to do around Greater Cincinnati that you might not be aware of. We always saw the local Buffett phenomenon as antithetical to that. Today that phenomenon is but a blip on the city’s cultural radar, but it hasn’t always been that way.

For decades, Buffettmania was especially hysterical in Cincinnati, where the term for the singer’s fans — Parrot-hat-wearers (I believe later it was shortened to just “Parrotheads”) — was born. When CityBeat began, the Queen City had a reputation for being ultra-mega-conservative and ultra-mega-boring, and the Buffett shows and corresponding tailgating antics played perfectly into the stereotype of Cincinnati being culturally backward. Like living in a town full of five-star restaurants but consciously choosing to only eat at White Castle, for those who didn’t know any better, Cincinnatians’ marquee event and “biggest party of the year” appeared to be Jimmy’s annual concerts.

That’s what was pushed hard by local media. Every year, every single media outlet, from TV to the daily newspaper(s), repeated the same storyline — “It’s that time of year again! Cincinnati is Parrothead central!” They made it seem like it was our “thing” and the height of entertainment options in the city. That all the locals saved up their energy for that one time of the year where they could get crazy and have fun.  

CityBeat was trying to show people that the opposite of that was true — that there was homegrown hometown culture on multiple levels more enriching and worth your time. At the very least there were better places to go get drunk and listen to music.

Back then, before social media (or blogs or message boards or chat rooms), there wasn’t really much of a dissenting opinion to Buffett fever. In the early CityBeat days, most people we knew either hated or were indifferent to Buffett, and since that wasn’t even remotely represented in the media’s cheerleading that would serve as historical documentation of our time, we figured it was our place to speak up.

Our foray into anti-Parrotheadism began 18 years ago with a silly “Ten Things I Hate About Buffett” article, an idea I pitched for our “Summer Music Guide” that year. I’ve rehashed the fallout a few times over the years, and it has been referenced a few other times elsewhere in the paper. In a nutshell, after it was posted on a fan forum, that article “went viral” and resulted in a flood of rage-filled hate mail and violent threats from Buffett’s fanbase, a hilarious contradiction to their easy-going reputation.  

We also got positive feedback from people who were glad someone finally publicly expressed how they’ve personally felt for years, which was exactly what we were going for. Generally, we on the arts and entertainment side of the paper try to achieve our mission by pointing out the positive and not wasting too much energy on snark, but some things need to be said.

It was also just funny, and I’ve endured years of teasing about it — “Oh, you going to Buffett tonight?” or “We doing a Jimmy Buffett cover story next week?” We used to have “[email protected]” as our “reply all” email in the office. I’ve also butted heads with management over keeping the gag going (stories I’ll save for my memoirs).

To each their own — do what you love, even if that means doing beach-bum cosplay, listening to mediocre music, getting drunk in a parking lot and padding the bank account of a businessman selling a lifestyle he’s billions of miles away from.

But things have changed a lot in Cincinnati since those early Jimmy-crazed days and most people are well aware that we are way more than that. Being considered Parrothead central by the entire city — and even some of the rest of the world looking in — was a disturbing prospect. But being considered Parrothead central by a tiny fraction of the community for a few hours a year these days is fine.

Back in the ‘90s and ’00s, it didn’t seem right that my city was being gaslighted into thinking Buffett shows were “the party of the year.” A smaller minority believes that now. Buffett still packs his shows, but doesn’t sell out as much, perhaps because a portion of his audience has aged out of the “going to a concert and getting wasted once a year” phase of their lives. (Fear not — the Parrotgodhead has a brochure for you if you fit that description.)

Parrot-hat-wearers, have a blast at Riverbend this year when Jimmy pulls through. I’m happy you’re happy. And I’m even happier that most of Cincinnati has progressed enough to appreciate all of the other local options available.

As for that altweekly/Buffett relationship, thank you to Minneapolis’ City Pages for keeping it exactly where it should be. I have one qualm though. I’m pretty sure “Bread Sandwich” is a Buffett — not an Eagles — song.