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Mobile remembers its’ “favorite son” Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy Buffett performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Amy Harris/Amy Harris/Invision/AP
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Invision
Jimmy Buffett performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Last Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Mobile to remember Jimmy Buffett, who died Saturday, September 2nd. The memorial included most celebrants wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts, flowered leis and hats topped with parrots or shark fins.

Well before the 4 p.m. start, music echoes down Royal Street with the crowd dancing and sipping margaritas, beers and boat drinks.

FILE - Singer Jimmy Buffet performs barefooted with his band The Coral Reefers on the NBC "Today" television show summer concert series in New York's Rockefeller Plaza, on June 25, 2004. “Margaritaville” singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has died at age 76. A statement on Buffett's official website and social media pages says the singer died Friday, Sept. 1, 2023 “surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs”. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Richard Drew/AP
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AP
FILE - Singer Jimmy Buffet performs barefooted with his band The Coral Reefers on the NBC "Today" television show summer concert series in New York's Rockefeller Plaza, on June 25, 2004. “Margaritaville” singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has died at age 76. A statement on Buffett's official website and social media pages says the singer died Friday, Sept. 1, 2023 “surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs”. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

“I woke up Saturday morning to some bad news and wanted to make the best of a bad situation and felt like that was something Buffett would do,” said Joseph Brennan, one of the organizers of the celebration. He says Mobile needed an appropriate sendoff for a man many here consider one of their own.

“I grew up in Mobile. I'm very familiar with second lines and parades and celebrating that way,” he said. That’s when Brennan started making a few phone calls.

“I grew up with, went to high school with Blow House Brass Band,” he said. “I started by texting them. Said 'hey can we get some buddies together and throw what Mobile does best? Get on the street and dance. They said 'yeah.'

The idea started out for a small event. This being Mobile, the celebration grew.

“Basically, one thing led to another,” said Brennan. “People came out and said I want to help and what started out as just a few friends, Gulf Coast friends who love Buffett turned into what you're looking at right now, which is, I don't know, I'm bad at counting crowds, but we could be looking at 500 people. So, it's a great day.”

At around 4 o’clock, a brass band, led the crowd in a New Orleans second line parade through downtown. Nobody counted participants, but the procession of musicians, strollers, golf carts and bicycles stretched more than six blocks.

Jimmy Buffett arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
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Jimmy Buffett arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Jenni and Michael Zimlich rode in a golf cart decorated with a life size statue of a manatee on the back. Michael wore a red Hawaiian shirt. Jenni wore a grass skirt. They say they had to be here.

“Just to celebrate Jimmy Buffett and the free spirited life that he lived and the fact that we walked down the aisle to Jimmy Buffett bluegrass,” said Michael.

"A Pirate Looks At 40," responded Jenni.

“We named our daughter Delaney after "Delaney Talks to Statues," so a pretty good lifestyle to live,” Michael added.

Michael Zimlich says his family’s connection to Buffett goes back even further. His father and Jimmy were students together at what was then McGill Institute, Mobile’s Catholic boys’ high school.

“My dad was playing football when he was a cheerleader at McGill,” Zimlich said.

Later, they listened to him play some of his first performances at another downtown bar a few blocks from the parade site.

“We'd go and hear him at The Admiral's Corner. When they got back out of the Navy, they would go hear him at the Admiral Semmes, at the Admiral's Corner."

“I just wanted to come out and hang out with everybody for a Jimmy Buffett,” recalled Mark McConnell, who wore a “Redneck Riviera Parrothead Club,” T-shirt. Buffett fans often refer to themselves as “Parrotheads.” The Redneck Riviera is one nickname for the Alabama Gulf Coast. McConnell is from Missouri, but he happened to be on the Gulf Coast when he heard about the Buffett celebration.

“I'm staying over in Gulf Shores and just happened to be here when this all happened. So, glad to be a part of it,” he said.

He says fans are sorry Buffett is gone, but his memory will go on.

“Just a sad time and we've all got to go along sooner or later I guess, but he left a lot of good music for us to enjoy in his wake,” said McConnell.

FILE - Jimmy Buffett performs at the after party for the premiere of "Jurassic World" in Los Angeles, on June 9, 2015. “Margaritaville” singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has died at age 76. A statement on Buffett's official website and social media pages says the singer died Friday, Sept. 1, 2023 “surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs”. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File)
Matt Sayles/Matt Sayles/Invision/AP
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FILE - Jimmy Buffett performs at the after party for the premiere of "Jurassic World" in Los Angeles, on June 9, 2015. “Margaritaville” singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has died at age 76. A statement on Buffett's official website and social media pages says the singer died Friday, Sept. 1, 2023 “surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs”. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File)

Much of the music before the parade came from a group of musicians who showed up, set up and began performing. Brennan not only had no idea who they were, he wasn’t expecting anyone.

“I just met them for the first time today and again, this is a testament to how this has just come together. I didn't even know they were going to play,” said Brennan. “When I came up to the mike, I was saying who are you? I'm not saying go away. I'm saying I would like to meet you.

The musicians had been in the cast of Mobile’s production of “Escape to Margaritaville.” The musical is based on Buffett’s music. The Joe Jefferson Players theater group put on the play.

“The cast, the group that did "Escape to Margaritaville," last year stays in touch, so we were like hey we need to do this,” said Harvie Jordan, one of the cast members performing for the crowd.

“The music community here is very fluid, and people were like 'hey we're going to sing. Come up here and sing backup, take a verse/ Sing the lead, whatever you need to do,” said Jordan.

“Jimmy Buffett for so many years touched so many people's lives with his beautiful simple poetry about living the beach life and letting your troubles wash away and it resonates with so many people. They love him,” said Jordan, who hopes this won’t be Mobile’s last recognition of Jimmy Buffett.

“I was lobbying to put Jimmy's statue where Admiral Semmes used to be. That's what I think needs to happen. I'm sure you'll see some murals downtown at some point for Jimmy,” said Jordan.

Buffett left Mobile more than 50 years ago, but for Mobilians, he’s still part of the city.

“Jimmy, he went to elementary school here. He went to high school here. This is part of his formative years. Here in Mobile, we get in the street and we celebrate and I think it's a beautiful thing. I think it's full circle,” said Brennan.

Guy Busby is an Alabama native and lifelong Gulf Coast resident. He has been covering people, events and interesting occurrences on America’s South Coast for more than 20 years. His experiences include riding in hot-air balloons and watching a ship being sunk as a diving reef. His awards include a national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists as part of the APR team on the series “Oil and Water,” on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Some of his other interests include writing, photography and history. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Silverhill.
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