Jimmy Buffett is changing latitudes on Hilton Head Island — or is it attitudes?
The latitude is out near Interstate 95 in Hardeeville, close enough for a proposed 3,000-home development announced last week to be called Latitude Margaritaville Hilton Head.
It is to be for “carefree” residents age 55 and better, a partnership between the Jimmy Buffett-inspired Margaritaville brand and Florida-based developer Minto Communities.
The last known sighting of Jimmy Buffett around here was a steamy Friday night in the summer of 1990 when he played to more than 10,000 Parrotheads jammed into the Hilton Head Island High School football stadium.
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A 25-foot inflatable shark floated above the stage, where a volcano, a 3-foot-high salt shaker and a 10-foot boombox blended with the margaritas and humidity on the July 20 stop on Jimmy’s Jump Up! Tour.
Our review by Tom Szaroleta said that Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band and opening act Little Feat played for four hours.
“From the time he played ‘Come Monday’ early in the set, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand,” Szaroleta wrote. “They laughed at his corny jokes and sang along as if he were playing in someone’s backyard instead of a football stadium.”
He saved some of his best songs for last. “Fins” — when the rubber shark circled aloft — closed the show along with “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and “Margaritaville.”
When tickets went on sale more than a month out at Hilton Head’s two record stores — yes, two record stores — the line started at 2:45 a.m. outside Geiger’s Record Counter and 6:30 a.m. at Disc Jockey Records at the late Shelter Cove Mall.
Buffett beat the traffic on concert night by flying in on a helicopter.
The indoor beach
Then there was that time Buffett performed at a private party for an insurance company convention at the oceanfront hotel now known as the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa.
Not many people knew about it. Mark Ruplinger got in due to connections. He was then a co-owner of a live music venue on Pope Avenue called The Old Post Office Emporium.
“I’ll never forget it,” he told me. “They brought in sand and everything. It was very Parrotthead-ish.”
Part of the beach scene was a lifeguard stand. It was manned by Chris Wagner in Speedos.
The longtime head of the bar at the Crazy Crab at Harbour Town was in those days — and no one remembers exactly when those days were — a body builder. He won Mister Hilton Head eight times, Mister Beaufort County five times, as well as state and regional championships.
He laughs about it today.
“They spared no expense,” Wagner said. “They had a clam bake going on. It was first-class all the way.”
‘Coconut Telegraph’ Hilton Head style
But Hilton Head had the feel of a real Margaritaville when Mary “Stick” Carroll had her brush with Jimmy Buffett.
She was in a wave of young people who came to Hilton Head in the 1970s — maybe for a summer, maybe for a week, maybe to escape home, maybe to have a good time. And they stayed.
Stick scored a cheap place to live through shrimper Woody Collins. It was a place off U.S. 278 she called the Aqua Shack.
Stick said she came to escape the clutches of the Buckhead area of Atlanta, only to run headlong into characters like the late fisherman Capt. Billy North; and shrimper, carpenter, artist and poet “Cowboy” Bob Coleman, whose obituary in 2011 said he got the nickname “from the cowboy boots and hat he wore while often wearing little else.”
The lasting symbol of that uncluttered time on an island with one stoplight and three cops was the Golden Rose Park. The late Eugene Wiley’s place, deep in a field of pines in what is now part of Port Royal Plantation, somehow stayed open after midnight on Saturday night when the law in those days said bars had to close.
Cowboy Bob spent a lot of time sailing with Jimmy Buffett.
He wrote a beautiful poem to that lost Hilton Head era when a friend died:
I could not help but think about you, Pete
as you lay down on your sofa
and began your final sleep.
I hope a youthful smile began to cross your face
As your dying mind replayed your years
Upon this now-lost place.
I hope you smelled the marsh of old
And felt the ocean breeze upon your face.
I hope one last sweet and salty oyster
Came back just for you to taste.
I hope you went back to the Rose
For one more rib and golden night,
With the moon and live oaks dancing
Between the stars and old tail lights.
But most of all I hope you felt the magic
This island gave just for you to take
Until we meet again on an old beach road
When we too escape the rape.
Stick’s friend Walter Hunt got the gig of art director for a Jimmy Buffett album, and Stick did the calligraphy and typography.
It was the 1981 album “Coconut Telegraph.”
Stick said she got a cassette tape of the music. It featured Buffett’s hit “It’s My Job,” which rose higher on the charts than anything else until “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” in 2003.
“We listened to it on the porch at our house at Folly Field,” Stick said. “That’s where I worked on the album cover.”
Stick’s husband, Patrick Carroll, said he got coconuts from the Big Star supermarket at Pineland Mall, which Hunt used as models for his coconut headphones on the album cover.
The Big Star is now a Stein Mart. The record stores are long gone. So is the Rose.
Stick and Patrick Carroll raised a family on the island, including daughter Charlotte Fraser, an artist with a master’s degree from Harvard University, thank you very much. But Stick and Patrick have just pulled up stakes, believe it or not, and are trying to get settled in Charleston.
And here comes Jimmy Buffett, at a slightly different latitude, if not attitude.
“We look forward to creating another port of paradise for those looking to live a life of fun and relaxation on the shores of South Carolina,” John Cohlan, chief executive officer of Margaritaville, said in a statement.
Research tells them what will give buyers in Margaritaville a good attitude these days: proximity to airports, highways, shops, a hospital and the beach.
And maybe one last chorus from Jimmy Buffett:
These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
Nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands,
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.