March 30, 2014 01:00AM
By Mary Ellen Godin
They wear Hawaiian shirts and coconut bras, surround themselves with pirates and Tiki huts and call themselves Parrotheads.
Jimmy Buffett fans are known for their tropical tailgating parties at Buffett concerts throughout the country. But locally, it’s the Buffett Bus that most Parrotheads look forward to visiting in Massachusetts and Jones Beach, Long Island.
“All my friends go to Buffett shows,” said Thomas Pimentel, executive director of TNT Ltd. Productions. “And a fixture would be the giant bus. People would line up to get on it.”
The Hoff family has owned two Buffet buses and is working to acquire its third by raising $4,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. The money will go toward the purchase of a used bus at $3,900 and the materials needed to transform it into a pirate boat in paradise. The other two buses have grown tired and been decommissioned.
“It’s the ultimate party bus,” Eric Hoff said. “When people see it, they either get it and laugh, or they don’t know what to make of it.”
Hoff and his brothers Chris and Howard Hoff, and sister Joyce Hoff-Amann, have used the bus to convert friends into Parrotheads by inviting them to concerts in Mansfield, Mass., and Jones Beach. The family members hope to have the bus ready for the July and August shows.
“It’s almost like a family reunion,” said Joyce Hoff, a retired Meriden police officer who now lives in Florida. “We kind of relive our childhood with an alcohol twist and family and friends. The whole world is growing older, but not us.”
The family passion began when their father, Howard, converted an old school bus into a camper and brought the family to Hammonassett Beach State Park every summer. As a young man, oldest brother Howard Hoff followed the tradition and bought a short bus to take camping. Then his siblings Chris and Eric got involved, picking up scrap materials and converting the bus into a pirate ship. The bus has appeared in the Daffodil parade, the Four-Towns Parade in Somers, and been leased out for private parties.
The first bus was retired and replaced by a full-sized bus that Chris Hoff purchased for $800 in 2008. The brothers ripped out the seats and scavenged couches and booths, which they bolted onto the side wall. A rug covered the floor and the interior was decorated in a boozy mix of Buffett kitsch and pirates.
Between the decks was a Tiki bar. The upper deck can be accessed from the cabin by a ladder. Railings prevent people from falling off, and the sail and mast came down when it took to the road.
“The money has been excessive,” Chris Hoff said about the cost of the bus and its accessories. “We have a lot of requests and have created a roaming museum.”
The bus has gotten exposure in Meriden, appearing at football games and Beat the Street events along with the Daffodil Festival.
The Parrothead culture is divided into a couple of factions, a younger crowd typically looking for a reason to party and sometimes cause trouble, and the older crowd that relates to Buffett’s music and culture. Some even bring children, who Buffett refers to as parakeets.
“They get together to tell stories,” Chris Hoff said. “There is a certain amount of drinking involved. But as you get older it becomes a nice reunion. Where else do you get to go to dress up, the tackier the better? Its Mardi Gras, Carnivale — a whole lot of Carnivale.”
Pimentel had friends who attended Buffett concerts and he was asked to be included in a documentary on Parrotheads that Buffett’s production company was filming. Pimentel was starring and producing in his own work, “Indiana James and the Raiders of the Lost Shaker of Salt.”
He met Chris Hoff and the familiar bus provided the opening scenes for the full-length production, with Chris at the wheel. The scene is fast-moving and Hoff is forced to dodge a few punches.
“It’s the scene where he goes underneath the bus,” Chris Hoff said. “It’s funny.”
Eric Hoff recalls once taking the bus along the Connecticut Wine Trail to a Stonington vineyard, where a manager was less than welcoming when the monstrous ship pulled up to its lot filled with Mercedes and other luxury cars.
“I guess they didn’t think we were the clientele they were hoping to get,” Eric Hoff said with a chuckle. “They almost didn’t let us park.”
But folk musician Jonathan Edwards, who was performing at the vineyard, got the joke.
“At least he enjoyed it,” Eric Hoff said. “He gave us a shout out.”
The third bus is expected to provide more adventures for the family, which looks forward to more concerts this summer and the years to come. After 15 years, the brothers and sister and now their children and friends will continue the party.