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Monday, April 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

Buffett tribute puts Puget Sound in a tropical zone

Playing music, salmon fishing and sailing on his Catalina 25 are among Dave Calhoun's primary pastimes. The Tacoma resident is now embarked on earning a living from the former as the only Jimmy Buffett tribute act in the Northwest.

He grew up on Bainbridge Island and boats were a big part of his life. His father was Northwest editor for Sea Magazine and often took his son along as he was reporting and taking photographs for the publication.

He took piano lessons and began playing guitar at 9.

In the 1970s, Calhoun was selling insurance by day and playing gigs as a solo artist by night. A female fan became his singing partner in the duo Dave and Dina.

It was around this time Calhoun really got into Buffett's music.

He took a management job where he was responsible for nine states. When his employer told him he had to transfer to Chicago, he quit the job and went to Orcas Island. He ran a burger joint for 11 years, often playing Buffett CDs on the outdoor deck.

After getting divorced, he moved to Tacoma in 1998. Soon he was itching to get back on stage.

"I realized how much I missed performing," Calhoun said

In the late 1990s, a Bahama Breeze restaurant opened at Southcenter Mall. Calhoun got a gig when it opened, playing two or three nights a week. While doing that for about 18 months, he also ventured out to Steilacoom Pub for occasional shows.

He was selling cars at that time. He quit that job and took a friend's advice to seek employment at Gig Harbor Yacht Sales, a job that combined his sales background and interest in boats.

He played the deck once a week at Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor during this time. He did that job for six years, leaving last August in the midst of the slumping economy and subsequent decline in yacht sales.

Taking a look around a marina and seeing how many boats are named after Buffett songs shows how important the music is in the boating culture, Calhoun pointed out. Buffett's music is appealing because it brings to mind memories of boats, sunshine and good times. This is especially true for those living in northern climes during the winter, Calhoun noted.

"Who doesn't like him?" he asked. "He takes you to those places."

The music may be relatively basic, but Buffett's true strength is as a storyteller, in Calhoun's opinion.

"He is an average singer and guitarist," he said. "He will admit that."

He never had a number one single, although his signature song, "Margaritaville," made the top 10 in 1977.

Buffett became a major live act. Calhoun saw him at Seattle Center Coliseum in the 1980s and has hit several of his shows at the Gorge.

"The tailgate party is a big part of his live experience," Calhoun said. "Buffett sells escapism."

That element helps Calhoun find gigs in the winter. Some bar owners turn up the temperature to get the crowd in the right frame of mind.

Calhoun sings and plays guitar. All of his backing tracks are recorded, nearly all of it created by him on keyboards. The seven years of piano lessons he took as a child come in handy when putting together those tracks, he noted.

Buffett inspired others to follow in his tropical rock footsteps. About 50 of them record and perform on what Calhoun calls the "sunburn circuit."

Calhoun has released two albums. The debut, released in 2006, had four originals and the rest covers by other artists from the sunburn circuit. His second, released last May, contained one cover and the rest original songs.

His original "She's Finally Free" is about Lolita, an orca whale captured in the Northwest 39 years ago and kept since at Miami Seaquarium. The song is inspired by efforts by activists to have her relocated to a pen on Puget Sound.

Parrotheads in Paradise, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the international network of Parrot Head Clubs in their humanitarian and social endeavors.

It provides various activities for people interested in the music of Buffett and the tropical lifestyle he personifies. There are more than 200 clubs in the United States, and some as far away as Australia and Europe.

Each November members from clubs around the world descend upon Buffett's hometown of Key West, Fla. Calhoun describes the annual gathering as "four days of drinking and listening to music."

Every summer the local chapter, Parrotheads of Puget Sound, holds its own get together, Laid Back Attack, in Kingston.

Calhoun draws some of his fan base from the club. He served as communications director for several years before becoming membership director three years ago. As an indicator of Buffett's relevance, Calhoun has received 11 membership applications since November, resulting in six new members.

Parrotheads of Puget Sound raised almost $32,000 last year that was distributed to charitable causes. Last summer members spent two weekends painting houses for the elderly and disabled through Paint Tacoma/Pierce County Beautiful. He jokes that the club's purpose is "to party with a purpose."

"Pirate Hooks at 40" is his favorite Buffett song. As a Buffett tribute act, he has to play "Margaritaville."

"Jimmy Buffett does not get tired of it, so why should I?"

His least favorite is "Cheeseburger in Paradise," although he plays it occasionally on request and when kids are around, as they react so favorably to it.

Dave Calhoun plays Island Jamz Restaurant and Lounge in Keyport at 8 p.m. on Feb. 27. For more information visit www.tropzone.net.

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