Jimmy Buffett was honored at the New Orleans Jazz Festival funeral procession

From NOLA.com: Jimmy Buffett got a second-line at New Orleans Jazz Fest; Queen Latifah put ‘Ladies First’

Jimmy Buffett came home to the New Orleans Jazz Fest on Saturday.

New Orleans nourished Buffett’s nascent career in the late 1960s. By the late 1980s, he was a favorite of the festival, a frequent performer who would hang out and pop up onstage or line for gumbo even in years when he wasn’t officially booked.

Buffett’s death on Sept. 1 after a private battle with a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer came as a shock to fans. There was never any question that this year’s Jazz Fest would celebrate him.

Buffett didn’t necessarily want a funeral. What he wanted, as his buddy and Jazz Fest producer/director Quint Davis put it, was for his fans to “keep the party going.”

That party popped off Saturday at 1:15 p.m. when a second-line procession in Buffett’s honor stepped off from the Norman Dixon totem near the Jazz & Heritage Stage. His family members, friends and fans toted posterboard pictures of him, most of which depicted him onstage at the Festival.

With the Smitty Dees Brass Band supplying the soundtrack and various social aid and pleasure club members providing a swirl of swagger and color, the procession wound its way along an infield walkway, picking up more marchers as it went along.

Between the RhythmPourium tent and a merch stand, bystanders broke into applause at the sight of the Buffett photos. “We love you, Jimmy!” one man shouted. From the distant Grandstand, a 20-foot-tall portrait of Buffett looked on.

The procession reversed course and made its way to the back of the Congo Square Stage field, where painted totems honor festival “Ancestors” – musicians, staffers and others who loomed large in Jazz Fest history.

On what was, appropriately, the sunniest and steamiest day so far of the 2024 festival, hundreds of Buffett fans were already there, lining a barricaded patch of grass in front of the Ancestors. Members of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band, complete with steel drums, performed his “Son of a Son of a Sailor” for the assembled throng.

“Technically, this is sad,” Quint Davis said in his opening remarks. “This is a huge loss. But in New Orleans, we don’t mourn. We celebrate a life.”

Savannah Buffett remembered her father and his love for Jazz Fest and New Orleans with prepared remarks. “I’m not going to wing it,” she said. “It’s too emotional.”

She recalled how her father convinced Davis to let him park an Airstream trailer in a parking lot in the 1990s so his kids could take air-conditioned breaks from Jazz Fest. In the Buffett family, Jazz Fest was, she said, a “family tradition, like the Fourth of July and Christmas.”

She had promised her father that she “would bring him home and give him a second-line for the ages.”

Given all that he packed into his 76 years, she believed he “lived to be 100. He just did it in ¾ time.”

The second-line and Sunday’s scheduled Coral Reefer Band performance on the main stage just before Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue are meant, Savannah Buffett said, to “bring back the magic and dance away from the tragic.”

With that, the new Jimmy Buffett “Ancestor” totem was revealed. It depicts Buffett onstage, wearing his favorite Jazz Fest cap. “Jimmy was a part of the festival,” Davis said. Installing him as an Ancestor is “to make sure he’s here every year.”

The Coral Reefer Band then sent everyone off with a quiet singalong of Buffett’s “Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes.” 

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