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Parrothead paradise

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Yup, that’s Tommy. Rocking.
Photo: Allison Duck

Every year Halloween comes a little early to Las Vegas as thousands of Jimmy Buffett fans break out their most creative costumes for the margarita-swilling musician’s October concerts at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

If Jimmy Buffett tickets aren’t within your budget, you can party for free at the street party outside Margaritaville this Saturday before the show starts. It’s not often they close down an alley off the strip for an outdoor party, but the huge turnout for these annual street parties warrants a little special attention. Similar to a football tailgate, fans gather before the actual concert to eat, drink, listen to Buffett cover bands and of course, drink some more.

Jimmy Buffett street party @ Margaritaville, October 2008

Vegas' own bar owner and musician Tommy Rocker and his band, Conched Out, have been mainstays in the local music scene for more than a decade. They play all of the Buffett standards as well as some popular cover tunes and will proudly headline the Margaritaville street party.

Las Vegas Weekly chatted with Rocker about Conched Out and his thoughts on this weekend’s Margaritaville street party.

How long have you been playing with Conched Out?

I think we got together in 1996. Well, it started out that I was playing at my bar, Tommy Rocker’s, and people started sitting in with me and then it turned into a band. We started out playing Jimmy Buffett music. We had the Las Vegas Parrothead Club which is our division of the fan club they have all over the country. As the band came together we started doing gigs outside of Tommy Rocker’s, corporate gigs, and now we’ve played probably every hotel on The Strip.

Are you guys primarily a Buffett cover band or do you have your own material?

We do all kinds of covers. We do mostly Buffett covers when we’re doing a gig like this, but when we do other parties we do some Buffett and a lot of other stuff, basically party music.

How many years have you been playing at this street party?

I think this is our sixth year maybe. It’s just the most fun. You get a bunch of people who love Jimmy Buffett and they’re drinking and you could sneeze and they would clap. They’re just there to have a good time. Although we sneeze better than any band in town, I’ll tell you that.

What is your favorite Buffett song?

Probably “A Pirate looks at 40.” That’s one of my favorite ones to sing. To play with the band together “One Particular Harbor” is just a beautiful, beautiful song.

How many times have you seen Jimmy Buffett perform?

Oh ten, probably. I haven’t been recently because I’m usually so busy on the weekends that he’s here, because we play all day on the day of his concerts. I’ve seen him perform several times in Vegas.

What is the craziest Parrothead outfit you’ve seen at a show or pre-party?

Well, there’s always the standard grass skirts and coconut bras – and that’s just the guys. They all like to wear gigantic hats with things on them that are references to Jimmy’s songs. For example, you might see a hat that has sharks because of the song “Fins” and lots of cheeseburgers because of “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” You’ll see many many many margaritas and you’ll see some of the more obscure references like Junior Mints. And if you’re not familiar with Buffett tunes, there’s this song “Fruitcakes” where he sort of goes on a rant about having to pay so much for Junior Mints at the movies. So that ends up on people’s hats. The more obscure the reference, the better.

How is the local Parrothead Club involved in the community?

You know what’s cool about the Parrothead groups, they are required by their national charters to perform certain amounts of charity work, and they do it willingly. The local Parrothead group has raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity. They go and clean up Red Rock Canyon. They call it “partying with a purpose.”

And the question we’re all dying to know… why did your bar switch over to a gentlemen’s club?

We made a change last year in our entertainment. Last year when the smoking ban came around we became a topless bar. We’re kind of a hybrid. We’re still a locals’ Cheers-type of bar. We’ve enclosed our patio now and it’s a beautiful lounge with that same gorgeous view of The Strip. New Years is going to be awesome this year. We’ll be going on into the night for sure.

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