For Aspen, the loss of Jimmy Buffett hits close to home
Famed musician had a special connection with the Roaring Fork Valley
For many of Jimmy Buffett’s biggest fans, aka “Parrotheads,” what drew them to the artist’s music was his depiction of life as an endless party on a boat in the Florida Keys, with songs like “Margaritaville” and “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere.”
But for Aspen locals, they remember him as someone with a 50-year relationship and deep connection to the Roaring Fork Valley. Someone who lived, married, had a child, and invested in the place we call home.
So it’s no surprise the news of his death at the age of 76 on Friday, Sept. 1, sent shockwaves through the community and a collective mourning began.
“I think it’s a sad day because he was a really nice person. He had the most relaxed attitude toward his career with almost anyone I’ve ever seen,” said longtime local musician and author Sandy Munro.
Buffett arrived in the valley in 1972 and spent a few summers here. He eventually bought a house in Old Snowmass, which he later sold to Glen Frey of The Eagles (It’s now Mad Dog Ranch + Studio) and learned to ski in the winter of 1975-76. He continued to spend a great deal of time here and supported local causes for the next five decades.
Throughout the years, he often performed both as himself and under the pseudonym “Freddie and the Fishsticks” at venues like Belly Up.
When he landed in Aspen in the early ’70s, he found a vibrant local music scene and radical counterculture that he connected with quickly.
“Everybody had a chance to work and put together bands, and people that came to listen to us, and we had our own sort of Aspen music thing going on. It was well-known around the country,” said Munro, who also owned Great Divide Music in Aspen for 30 years.
One of those early friends that Buffett made came in the form of local musician Bobby Mason.
Mason recalled the first time he met Buffett when his band Homebrew was playing a gig at the music venue The Blue Moose, which was in the basement of what was then the Mt. Plaza Building at Cooper and Galena Streets, and hosted a notable roster of musicians, including John Denver.
“We were playing when he came in, and we didn’t know who he was. He didn’t even know who he was at that point. It was the early 1970’s,” said Mason. “So anyway, he came in, and he watched us, and he showed up on the break, saying, ‘You guys have got to record that stuff. That’s amazing.’ He runs out of the club, runs down the street, gets his new album, and comes back. ‘This is my new album. I just finished it; you need to do this.’ So, we kind of found our way together. Everybody was friends back then because nobody knew anybody was going to be famous.”
Mason said that despite his fame, Buffett was a down-to-earth guy and they remained friends throughout the years. He even attended Buffett’s three-day wedding to his wife Jane at Red Stone Castle in 1977.
“There was magic in Aspen at that time. There was something you could actually almost physically touch or feel. He was a fun guy. A fun guy, but not stupid fun,” he said. “A lot of us were, but he did his thing. He really put his time in working on it, as you can tell.”
Mason recalled some of his favorite memories of Buffett, noting that he once asked him to join his Coral Reefer Band, which Mason declined because he wanted to be home to raise his daughter. He said after Buffett’s breakthrough Platinum-selling album “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and the anthem “Margaritaville” shot him to superstardom, he jokingly asked Mason if he regretted not joining the band.
“I told him, no, no I don’t regret anything,” Mason said with a laugh.
The last time Buffett performed in Aspen was on Sept. 5, 2021, at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, when he stepped in for Stevie Nicks who backed out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was his first time playing the tentpole summer event, but the joyful crowd sang along and danced their heart out to every song.
“What made Jimmy work? He was the party,” Mason said. “Yeah. You know, it’s five o’clock somewhere …”