Atlanta Parrotheads mourn the death of Jimmy Buffett

“He was always in control even in the wildest times,”

The unexpected death of 76-year-old Jimmy Buffett Friday hit the Parrothead Nation hard in Atlanta and beyond.

At a Margaritaville restaurant adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park – opened just last year – fans showed up to pay their respects and process a keen sense of loss.

Among them was Justin Merriman. The 46-year-old’s first concert as a teenager was a Buffett show. In the years since, he’s seen Buffett perform dozens more times, and even tattooed a colorful parrot on his right shoulder.

“I wanted to make sure I came here before my flight just to honor him and think about all these years of being a fan,” said Merriman, a business traveler due at the airport later on Saturday.

For Lyle King, an Atlanta resident, learning of Buffett’s death served as a reminder to “live the life that he espoused. Work hard, have a good time, and bring happiness to people.”

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

Steve Craig, program director and mid-day host at alt-rock station 99X who played “Margaritaville” plenty of times during his 10-year run at classic rock station 97.1/The River, considered Buffett “one of the most under-rated lyricists of our time...If you look deeper into his songs, they are truly works of art that can make you smile one moment and cry like a baby the next.”

Christopher “Crash” Clark, 11Alive traffic reporter, said his dedication to Buffett is comparable to his love of all things Disney.

“Growing up in South Florida on a beach, it was Jimmy Buffett or nothing while enjoying the sand and the surf,” Clark said. “I don’t usually get caught up in celebrity life and death but Jimmy’s passing stings.”



On Friday night, A1A, a local Jimmy Buffett tribute band, performed in Tucker. Lead singer Jeff Pike, in a post on his public Facebook feed, said he has been honoring Buffett’s music on stage for 34 years.

“I cannot even imagine how my life’s song line would have played out or where I would be today had it not been for the man and his music,” Pike wrote.

He said he knew Buffett and his band members personally and they “have always been very kind to me, stood behind the band, and given us many great opportunities. I have so many spectacular memories.” Pike was scheduled for a show Saturday night at The Boot Barn Hall in Gainesville, Georgia.

“If I could, I would cancel, for I have no idea how to get through it in one piece, but the show must go on. I am sure Jimmy would agree. If you can make the show tonight, that would be wonderful. We can all say goodbye to an old friend together. I could definitely use a shoulder,” Pike said.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Deborah McColl, a former Atlanta resident, sang back up vocals for Buffett, and toured with him from 1977 to 2002.

“He was always in control even in the wildest times,” she said.

Learning of Buffett’s death left her in shock.

“It was only a year and a half ago that he was dancing around on stage barefoot. I thought he was immortal.”

In Atlanta, Buffett has performed more than 90 times. According to, he appeared at Bistro and the Southeast Music Hall in the early 1970s before he broke it big; he played to a crowd of a couple of hundred at UGA’s Memorial Hall on a cold February night in 1975. Later that same year, he opened for Joan Baez at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the Georgia Tech campus. By 1976, he was able to draw a crowd at the Omni, which he played multiple times over the years. He also headlined the Fox, Chastain and Lakewood numerous times. Buffett’s last concert in Atlanta was at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta in 2019.

Kathie Hicks Fuston, who grew up in Peachtree City and lived in Atlanta for many years, saw him at both Lakewood and the Fox many times. “The concerts had so much energy and joy,” she said.

She also got a thrill when she, on a whim, invited Buffett in 2001 to her twin sons’ Eagle Scout ceremony. He didn’t come but he sent them an autographed photo and a written congratulations.

Buffett has collaborated with Georgians like Alan Jackson (the 2003 classic “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”) and the Zac Brown Band (”Knee Deep”), who did a “CMT Crossroads” episode with Buffett in 2010.

Joel Katz, the legendary Atlanta music attorney who retired in 2020, represented Buffett for many decades.

Atlanta’s Rick Diamond, who has shot concert photos professionally since the mid-1970s, has taken photographs of Buffett on stage dozens of times, including a Jimmy Carter fundraiser at the Fox Theater in 1980. He recalled seeing Buffett by the back entrance wearing a skinny tie, which struck Diamond as odd. When a reporter asked him why the typically casual Buffett was donning a tie, he replied, “Out of respect for the president.”

Credit: Kenneth Walker / AJC

Credit: Kenneth Walker / AJC

The Atlanta Parrot Head Club has been around for 34 years, doing community service projects and meeting up monthly at The Wing Cafe and Tap House in Marietta, according to its website.

On Saturday, Jody Tuso-Key, 56, went to grab lunch at Margaritaville downtown. She frequently visits the 1,500-acre Margaritaville at Lake Lanier, which is closer to her home in Flowery Branch and includes a water park, an RV park, excursion cruises, a restaurant and boating docks.

“‘Margaritaville’ came out when I was eight or nine, you know, I’ve listened to him my whole life,” she said. “When you’re depressed, when it’s winter, and you need the sun, you turn on Jimmy Buffett.”

Tuso-Key said she doesn’t cry, but finding out about Buffett’s death left her “heartbroken.”

“I’m still trying to process it. I thought I would just come in here and drink a virgin margarita for Jimmy.”

Staff writer Bo Emerson contributed to this report

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