Tequila-soaked ambition indeed

The words quoted above were chosen to describe some of the fans of the local band the Caribbean Cowboys, which was voted “Best Local Band” in the Mountain Xpress annual “Best of WNC” readers’ survey.

It seems that we are thought of as a senselessly sybaritic lot of Parrot Heads who have a lot of ambition to obtain things, when mixed with a few shots of tequila. In defense of our membership, and to explain our purpose to those readers who might be easily influenced by the opinions of the Mountain Xpress Editorial Department, I am compelled to continue with this explanation.

We are a group of individuals known as the Western North Carolina Parrot Head Club, founded in April of 1998 by Terri Pettis. We currently have an active membership of 75, whose ages span six decades. Twice a month, we gather for our club meetings (phlockings) at Rio Bravo on Tunnel Road in Asheville.

Our members come from a variety of backgrounds: bankers, real-estate brokers, writers, lawyers, waiters, corporate CEOs, nurses, schoolteachers, government professionals, entrepreneurs, public elected officials, law-enforcement officers, students, housewives, postal workers, plumbers, private-industry administrators, investors, builders, bartenders, fishermen, sailors, retirees, etc. Most are professional and range in age from the mid-20s to the mid-50s. The real beauty of the club is that it seems to attract exactly the right kind of people — people who, through their attraction to Jimmy Buffet’s music, also have a number of other interests in common, most importantly the desire to give something back to the community in which they live.

At the formation of this chapter, the initial announcement read: “The WNC Parrot Head Club is now forming. For those who enjoy Buffett’s music, a variety of mostly outdoor social activities, and a chance to volunteer for community service and environmental projects.”

We are a chapter of the national organization known as Parrot Heads in Paradise (PHIP), which is the official Jimmy Buffett Fan Club, founded in 1989. We are legally incorporated — with professional operating bylaws and a bank account — and we operate under the direction of an elected executive committee and members at large, and in conjunction with our board of directors. Members of the club write, edit and publish a six-to-eight-page newsletter, known as the “Phlock Squawk.” In addition, we have a member-created and hosted Web site. Quarterly reports are completed and submitted to PHIP, indicating our membership and the community and environmental work that we have contributed to during that specified time. All of the above-mentioned things are required to maintain our “chapter-in-good-standing” status. PHIP consists of more than 135 clubs throughout the United States, Canada and Australia, with a membership of well over 20,000 people. PHIP hosts an annual convention known as Meeting of The Minds — for business purposes as well as for a social gathering for its members in good standing. WNCPHC attended its first meeting at the seventh annual convention in Key West in 1998, raising over $25,000 for charity within four days, among the 2,500 Parrot Heads that had gathered for the phlocking! We traveled more than 1,200 miles by car and plane, carrying books for the Book Collection for the Wesley Home and new toys for the Hurricane Relief Christmas for Key Kids. The supplies had to be carried in truckloads to their respective destinations! Once again, we exercise our “senseless sybaritic ways.”

Locally, in just over two years, our “amazing aptitude” for “giving something back” has accomplished the following:

• Quarterly Adopt-a-Highway work, cleaning up a 2-mile stretch of highway along the scenic byway and the French Broad River.

• Annual donations of food to Manna Food Bank.

• Annual donations of food to Friends For Animals.

• $500 contribution to the Madison County Animal Shelter.

• Bele Chere 1998: worked as “rain-soaked,” not “tequila-soaked,” Parrot Heads, selling balloons on behalf of Friends For Animals.

• Bele Chere 1999: worked as hosts at Shotzy’s in downtown Asheville, allowing folks to come into an air-conditioned building, buy a … beverage of their choice from the establishment, and visit the “facilities” for a small donation at the door — which we gave to the WNC Rape Crisis Center.

• Mountain Area Hospice 1998 & 1999: “fluffed” Christmas trees for display at Biltmore Square Mall.

• Annual donations to Save the Manatee.

• Quality Forward: prepared and sold “Cheeseburgers in Paradise” at a Sunday in the Park, at Aston Park, to raise funds to purchase trees for planting.

• WNC Parrot Head Concert Series in 1998: sold tickets to each of [six] concerts, and conducted children’s games during the concerts, as well as conducting a silent auction to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

• Parrot Head Day with the Asheville Tourists: conducted children’s games to raise money for the animal shelters.

• Rick Gumbinger Memorial: currently raising funds for a need-based scholarship for a music student from WNC, in memory of one of our founding members.

• ABCCM: purchased new sweatshirts and delivered them, wrapped as Christmas gifts, for the nice folks at the shelter.

• Hurricane Floyd Relief: A core of members headed east, to the Greenville area, to give some actual hands-on assistance to those families sifting through ruined belongings and attempting to clean the mud-soaked homes. With masks and gloves, they worked through the weekend.

Again, these lists represent only a small portion of the work we do for our communities. It is my belief that it takes a lot of “sybaritic ambition” to maintain a professional career, work as a responsible employee, maintain a home and family, and on a continual basis find the time to gather twice a month for a business meeting — and a few hours of entertainment by the Caribbean Cowboys — and to accomplish these efforts on behalf of others.

Our closets often harbor two distinct wardrobes: suits and ties for work, and a hodgepodge of loud, tropical parrot prints for play. Buffett’s lyrics illuminate the experiences and frustrations of many listeners. Older songs like “Great Peanut Butter Conspiracy” detail his early days of being forced to heist peanut butter from the minimart to survive. (Yes, Buffett did pay the minimart back.) Newer tunes like “False Echoes” illustrate in poignant detail his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. In between, everything from technology out of control to the lack of Junior Mints at the movies is decried in “Fruitcakes.”

We sway and sing every lyric to the songs, in a delusion that we’re finally going to cash in our chips and set sail for uncharted isles — just like Jimmy did. But, “Come Monday,” of course, we’re all back at work, caring for aging parents, dealing with adolescent kids and tough jobs — and thankful for that little bit of relief that Jimmy’s music offers.

From the comments we often hear from the general public, most folks think of Jimmy only as the guy who penned “Margaritaville” or “Cheeseburger in Paradise” — and don’t look any further. Actually, he’s an accomplished author (of children’s books, a novel, a travelogue and a short-story collection) whose works have landed on both the New York Times fiction and nonfiction best-seller lists; a successful businessman; a pilot; a sea captain; and a tireless worker for charities and environmental causes (he donates $1 from every concert ticket to grants for nonprofit agencies in the city where he’s playing).

A frequent theme in Buffett’s music is losing track of time; this comes up in the WNCPHC as well, as we depart from our bimonthly phlockings. For some, this is the best and worst part of the meetings, because it’s time to depart. We cling to the sounds of the Caribbean Cowboys singing, “Survive, stay alive, through the thick and the thin. Survive, stay alive till I see you again.” Saying goodbye in this crowd takes longer than usual, knowing that the next day we must go back to being normal. That’s OK though, because we’ve been allowed a few hours of “tropical escapism” and entertainment through the lyrics of Buffett’s songs and the Caribbean Cowboys’ tunes — which consist not only of Buffett covers, but also of great classic rock, blues, originals and songs by great troubadours, such as Peter Mayer and Scott Kirby!

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