Politics

Coconut bras and politics: Jimmy Buffett hits the campaign trail for Gwen Graham

Jimmy Buffett plays a free GOTV concert in support of Gwen Graham on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, at the Hollywood ArtsPark Amphitheater.
Jimmy Buffett plays a free GOTV concert in support of Gwen Graham on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, at the Hollywood ArtsPark Amphitheater. Sun Sentinel

Parrot Heads flocked to Hollywood Thursday evening to absorb the booze-soaked sounds of Jimmy Buffett as the singer who brought Key West to the world held a free concert to support Gwen Graham’s campaign for Florida governor.

To the extent they were there for a political event, though, is debatable.

“I am an original Parrot Head,” boasted Susan Best, 58, of Hollywood, who was decked out head to toe in green-and-pink flamingo attire. “I couldn’t believe he is playing a free show in my backyard.”

With Graham seeking the Democratic nomination in a five-way race, Buffett’s gratis appearance in a city that boasts a Margaritaville beach resort — and a county with the most Democratic voters in the state — could help her. The 71-year-old singer resonates with an older, whiter crowd, a demographic with whom Graham, 55, should perform well.

The ambiance said Buffett concert, not political event. But there were plenty of undecided music fans in the audience. And Buffett, a longtime friend of the Graham family — former Gov. Bob Graham, Gwen Graham’s father, appeared in one of his music videos more than 30 years ago — has pull with a crowd as familiar with his brand of environmental politics as his tropical tunes.

“I respect him so it makes sense to listen to what he has to say,” said Michele Gorowitz, 72.

Gwen Graham signs surrounded Hollywood ArtsPark, greeting the Buffett fans who gathered to hear their favorite songs. There were flamingo inflatables, beach balls, fin-shaped hats and palm tree head-bobbers. One man swayed in a hula skirt and wore a coconut bra over his T-shirt.

The smell of marijuana — which Graham favors decriminalizing but not legalizing — wafted heavily through the air.

Buffett, who appeared with Graham when she ran for Congress in 2014, kicked off the show with his standard, “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere.” After the line, “What would Jimmy Buffett do?” the singer shouted: “I’d vote for her, that’s what I’d do!”

In “Margaritaville,” he ad-libbed, “Some people say there’s a woman to blame, but I know, it’s all Rick Scott’s fault.”

Chris Michaels, a 46-year-old dad who showed up with his teenage daughter for this, his sixth Buffett concert, said he was interested in hearing Buffett’s take on the governor’s race. Buffett sings songs about the ocean and conservation, he said, and as a Florida resident understands what the state needs.

“I would guess that he would be in favor of the candidate who will support those things,” he said.

Early on, Bob Graham, also a former U.S. senator, stepped out on the band shell and the crowd applauded.

One of Graham’s opponents seemed to make an appearance Thursday evening, with someone paying for a plane to fly over carrying a banner that read, “Gwen don’t pave the Everglades to build a mall.”

Some of the attendees said they’d already made up their mind — to vote for someone other than Graham.

“We came despite the politics,” said Deanna Bloom, 34. “This [Graham] isn’t even who we are for.”

But with her opponents boasting endorsements from former Miami Heat superstar Shaquille O’Neal (Philip Levine) and Bernie Sanders (Andrew Gillum), Graham’s campaign viewed the evening as an important affair. Dressed down in white pants and a tucked-in, light blue T-shirt, the candidate hoped to parlay mutual fandom into a primary day victory.

“We got any Jimmy Buffett fans in the house?” Graham said to a screaming crowd. “I’ve been a Jimmy Buffett fan for as long as I can remember — we’re going to fight to protect Florida’s beautiful natural resources and make sure that the state that Jimmy Buffett has been fighting for his whole life is protected into the future for all of us and future generations of Floridians.“

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