My latest for Paste Magazine: This story begins with a struggling musician in the 1970s who didn’t fit the establishment. Rock ‘n’ roll didn’t like him. Nashville didn’t either. So he said, “To hell with it,” moved to Key West, and popularized a new genre of counterculture music called Gulf & Western or Tropic Rock. He championed “island escapism” over hard work. Made fun of inebriated debauchery. Sang heartfelt songs about retired Caribbean sailors. And paired unapologetic poetry with catchy melodies.
His name was Jimmy Buffett, a name that has since outgrown the brilliant but often overlooked and underrated sound he created during that groovy decade. Not long after, Buffett started capitalizing on the endearing lifestyle he created by the late ‘80s, which grew to “Parrothead” levels by the late ‘90s, and stratospheric status by the turn of the century. Today, Jimmy Buffett is worth nearly $1 billion dollars. His “Margaritaville” empire includes dozens of best-selling albums, cafes, and hotels, three best-selling books, and even a handful of Southern retirement communities boasting thousands of homes. In truth, the “brand” far outweighs the music that inspired it.
Last year during the pandemic, just as the world was entering a second round of lockdowns, Buffett Inc. quietly launched the Margaritaville Island Reserve, its first all-inclusive resort, near Cancun, Mexico. Operated by the well-run Karisma chain of all-inclusives, Buffett’s resort could have easily turned into a tacky, kitchy, money grab. It is anything but. After visiting with my wife this winter, Margaritaville Island Reserve is one of the finest all-inclusives I’ve ever visited, replete with the best all-inclusive food of any resort, a helpful staff worth writing home about, and an impressive attention to detail (i.e. custom furnishings) to appeal to fans and non-fans alike.
About the only “on brand” thing the resort is missing is the debauchery, which no one wants on vacation anyway. Continue reading…