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Original parrot head club to hold 20th anniversary bash in Duluth

DULUTH - So it's 1989, and Scott Nickerson is a vagabond musician bent on infusing Gwinnett with a tropical vibe.

He really digs the Key West wavelengths of Jimmy Buffett. Each year while tailgating at Buffett's Chastain Park shows, Nickerson bumps elbows with the same wacky fans. Only he never really gets to know them, these parrot heads. To Nickerson this seems problematic, borderline unjust.

"I thought, you know, I'd love to get with those people, and people like them ... just get together," Nickerson recalls. "You never know what's going to happen."

So Nickerson bought a two-line advertisement in Atlanta's longest-running alternative weekly, Creative Loafing, a sort of open squawk to metro Atlanta parrot heads in search of boozy companionship.

And it worked. Oh, did it work.

From that tiny advertisement grew the viral, worldwide fanaticism that electrifies Jimmy Buffett fan clubs from Sydney to London today.

"Long story short," says Nickerson, 51, a merchandiser for Home Depot in Wilmington N.C., "word spread."

Three hundred or so people responded to Nickerson's ad, and from them the Atlanta Parrot Head Club - the first official Buffett club of its kind - was born.

Nickerson met with Buffett's lawyers to ensure he wasn't stepping on the sandy toes of any trademarks. Once cleared, a full-page ad for the club appeared in Buffett's Coconut Telegraph newsletter, and the floodgates burst.

Twenty years later, about 230 fan clubs modeled after the Gwinnett-born club dot the globe, encompassing more than 26,000 members from Australia to Saudi Arabia.

To honor the milestone, the club's originators have planned a musical blowout Saturday at Wild Bill's in Duluth billed as a 20th anniversary bash. Trop-rock heavyweights and official Buffett tribute band A1A (with Nickerson on drums) are scheduled to perform for the first time in four years. The event benefits the Atlanta Food Bank, and attendees are encouraged to bring canned and dried goods alongside their grass skirts and floral gear.

Club member Joel Oates, 47, of Duluth, says local parrot heads have raised more than $1.4 million and logged 1.2 million volunteer man hours for Atlanta charities in the last six years.

Hotlanta, the psuedo tropics

In the beginning, ground zero for the parrot head movement was Norcross-area bars like the Checkered Parrot (now a Mexican joint) and the still-standing Pufferbelly's, Oates says.

"We look back at the explosion in the mid-90s, that's when it really started taking off," said Oates, a senior service engineer for a medical imaging company. "Some clubs fail, but the whole thrust is that the parrot head nation is growing."

Lawrenceville's Jeff Pike, 47, answered that fateful ad and helped lay the groundwork for parrot head nation, traveling widely with Nickerson singing Buffett tunes in A1A for the better part of two decades. The early days, Pike says, were a golden time.

"It was a very happy atmosphere, very pleasant, non-political," he says.

Since then the parrot head buzz has, of course, penetrated the virtual world.

Drawing inspiration from the early clubs, Tracy Peters, 41, a Buford marketing manager, launched a popular shrine-to-Buffett Web site, "Meet the Phlockers," last year. The "virtual tailgate" has netted 10,000 members (aka "Phlockers") in 12 months.

"As much as everybody's fussing about the economy right now, some people can't afford to go to the beach or a concert," she says. "They can log onto our site for free and experience friendship they might not otherwise have."

Are Buffett tunes an elixir for economy doldrums? Peters seems to think so.

"(Buffett) understands that people need a virtual vacation," she says. "That's what his music is about, a tropical state of mind. It's a culture."

Oates, who met his wife in the local club, said his parrot head epiphany came upon first seeing Buffett perform live - and the famous, mass grouping of escapist bacchanalia that came with it.

"The magic of the music and seeing everybody there who knew all the words and singing along," he recalls. "It's just pure escapism for a couple hours. You get picked up from wherever you are and transported down to the islands. And the whole crowd goes with you."

But the show, as most parrot heads are growing perennially more aware, can't go on forever.

There's chatter within the ranks of parrot headdome that country superstar Kenny Chesney might carry the torch once the calypso godfather steps down, said Fred McFarlin, a promoter and the local club's official DJ.

Not that the 62-year-old Buffett's eternal docking at that One Particular Harbor is something anyone wants to consider.

"It's like the Grateful Dead when Jerry died - who's going to take the reins," McFarlin says. "Not that anybody wants Jimmy to go away. He still seems to be enjoying it, still playing well."

SideBar: Parrot head lingo

Up to speed on your Buffettisms? In light of Jimmy's arrival in Hotlanta on April 16, here's a crash course in parrot head lingo:

· Parakeet: Younger fans of Jimmy Buffett, or the spawn of parrot heads.

· Tropiholic: One exhibiting a penchant for ocean breezes, nonchalant living and strong, fruity drinks.

· Coral Reefer: Member of diverse, ever-changing band backing Buffett with Caribbean sensibilities.

· Landshark: Lager beer well-suited for a little castaway of lime.

· Flip-flops: Footwear prone to blow-outs; more formally known as sandals.

· Margaritaville: Otherworldly dreamland custom-built for wasting of one's time; also a restaurant chain and line of food products.

· Incommunicado: Drink comprised of rum, vodka, tequila, gin and more; title of popular song.

· Fins: Hands clasped above reveling concert-goers' heads, commonly seen pointing both left and right.

· Stranded on a Sandbar: The state of having been left behind by friends at a Buffett performance; title of popular song.

If you go

· What: Atlanta Parrot Head Club 20th Anniversary Party

· When: 7 p.m., Today

· Where: Wild Bill's, 2075 Market St., Duluth

· Cost: VIP tickets (for party starting at 2:30 p.m.) are $60; general admission tickets the night of event are $18.

· For more information: Visit www.atlantaparrotheadclub.org, www.wildbillsatlanta

.com or A1A's official site, www.a1a-live.com