Jimmy Buffett fans attended a tribute concert at the Jones Beach bandshell on Saturday night. The singer, who had a home in North Haven in the Hamptons and whose concerts over the years drew hundreds of thousands of revelers to Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, died Friday at 76. Credit: Howard Simmons

Jimmy Buffett’s iconic “Margaritaville” catapulted him to fame — and on Long Island, it spurred legions of hard-core fans, unforgettable tailgating parties and even a charitable club.

Tributes poured in on social media Saturday amid word of Buffett's death at 76, with many local residents posting photos of themselves from outside his shows decked in whimsical costumes that paid homage to his music. Buffett had a home in North Haven in the Hamptons, often popping in to other artists' performances.

In Northport, the closing weekend production of "Escape to Margaritaville" at the John W. Engeman Theater attracted a big crowd. 

Jimmy Buffett in concert with his band The Coral Reefers...

Jimmy Buffett in concert with his band The Coral Reefers at Jones Beach in August 2011. Credit: Newsday / Michael E. Ach

Buffett's concerts over the years drew hundreds of thousands of revelers to Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, said George Gorman, regional director at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. 

“Everybody was happy," recalled Dan Martinsen, 63, of Westhampton Beach. "There were mini-tailgates all over the place, there were tiki-adorned porta-potties. People were on skateboards, there were campers everywhere. It was always a positive vibe.”

As Buffett aged, the parties grew bigger, often carrying on from sunrise to sunset, several concertgoers said. Some revelers would attend in costume: dressed as cheeseburgers, salt shakers, even tiki bars.

His followers established the Metro Parrothead Club based on Long Island in 1992, with a mission to party for a purpose, said past president Joe Lombardi, of East Hampton.

“I don’t think there is any other musician who inspired his fans to do community service and make the world a little bit better," Lombardi said. “Often you hear that stars are not nice, but Jimmy was really the opposite."

During one of his sold-out shows in 2015, 15,000 people filled the Jones Beach Theater while over 70,000 more spilled into the parking lots for the tailgate party, Gorman said.

A group of Jimmy Buffett fans, including Frank Priolo, of Glen...

A group of Jimmy Buffett fans, including Frank Priolo, of Glen Head, left, as the boat; Anthony Tussie, of West Islip, as the cheeseburger; Craig Stuber, of West Islip, as the tiki bar; and Mike Gozelski, of East Northport, as the lost shaker of salt, are shown at a tailgate party at Jones Beach in August 2022. Credit: Anthony Tussie

Several fans recalled people setting up inflatable pools or dragging in their own portable toilets, with bands playing their own tunes, too.

“It was the biggest party that anyone could ever be a part of. People are there for one reason, and that's having fun and escaping from the stressors of life," said Anthony Tussie, of West Islip, who attended roughly 30 concerts. "His music has a way of bringing everything together."

Buffett would fly a helicopter and record his devotees from overhead, and the images would later appear on large screens at the show, Gorman said.

“It is the end of an era for Jones Beach,” Gorman said. “Nearly every parking field was filled, and we used to call it “Margaritaville at Jones Beach" ... People would walk over a mile to get to field 4 or 5 to experience it.” 

Buffett was also known for raising money for veterans, children and more.

“No one did more for charitable causes on the East End than Jimmy Buffett,” said Peter Honerkamp, owner of Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, where Buffett performed over a dozen times, including this past June. Honerkamp said Buffett in the past held a benefit concert for a child development center and also helped raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. 

“He just had a great heart and a big spirit. He loved performing. He loved his fans,” Honerkamp said.

At the Saturday matinee in Northport of "Escape to Margaritaville," a jukebox musical based on the singer’s discography, there was a spate of ticket sales.

Beth Hallisey, the theater’s house manager, said the cast spent most of Saturday working on a special rendition of “Margaritaville" to pay tribute to Buffett that would close out the remaining performances of the show. It ended its extended run Sunday.

Many said Buffett’s music provided the soundtrack to family vacations and getaways, including June Meade, 80, of Northport. 

“We’d go to Montauk with our kids and listen to Jimmy all the time,” she said. “It’s all about fun, life, happiness. That’s what he was about — you take your cares away, your worries and you have fun.”

Mary Flore and Kim Cousins of Huntington at John W....

Mary Flore and Kim Cousins of Huntington at John W. Engeman Theater in Northport Saturday. Credit: Gary Licker

Kim Cousins, of Huntington, was among those who bought a ticket after waking up to the news. She attended with her mother, Mary Flore, both wearing woven hats decorated with leis. 

“It’s very sad, but his music lives on,” Cousins said. 

Top Stories

Newsday Logo

ONE-DAYSALE5¢ a week for 5 6 months

Get Unlimited Access

Cancel anytime