Janelle Hail, founder and president of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Dallas, accepts a check from tailgate party organizer Bill Ansel, of Garland, on behalf of Jimmy Buffett fans from across the nation who gathered at the Pizza Hut Park in Frisco last year prior to Jimmy Buffett’s concert. This year, the Ozarka plant in Hawkins has donated almost 1,000 bottles of water to be sold at the April 26 tailgate party, with proceeds going toward medical expenses of a Winnsboro man recently diagnosed with lung cancer.
Submitted Photo

Party with a purpose: Parrotheads tailgate for charity

Winnsboro man fighting cancer to benefit from Second Frisco Feeding Frenzy, April 26,

By Terry Mathews, News-Telegram Arts Editor

March 10, 2008 - A while back, Jimmy Buffett, the world's richest beach bum and the man who made "Margaritaville" a destination, asked his loyal fans, called parrotheads, to add a new dimension to their legendary pre-concert tailgate parties. He asked them to "party with a purpose" - to raise money for charities of their choice.

With that one request, Buffett, long a spokesperson for the "Save the Manatee" and other conservation movements, set forth a phenomenon carried out in parking lots all over the nation.

This year at Pizza Hut Park near Dallas, a group of fans from the site BuffettNews.com are sponsoring the Second Annual Frisco Feeding Frenzy and will again raise money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, their favorite charity for several years.

However, since one of the local parrotheads who attends the Texas gatherings has been touched by cancer, the group has decided to also raise money for the family's medical expenses.

Becky Nichols, a long-time parrothead, and her husband, Dana, live in Winnsboro. Right before Thanksgiving, Dana was diagnosed with lung cancer and has not been able to work as he undergoes chemotherapy in Dallas. Becky has lost her job, too, but was able to keep her insurance benefits.

"Our insurance coverage was running about $650 a month, until I managed to get me dropped. Now, for Dana alone, it's right at $400," Nichols said in an interview. "Of course, some of the scripts are not 'preferred' or covered. Coming home from the hospital I stopped to grab the many prescriptions, and found out one of them was $1,600. I could get two of the pills for $120 or something like that. Needless to say, Dana does without that medication."

In the past, Ozarka has donated bottled water for the tailgate parties. This year, they were asked to up the ante so the water could be sold at the pre-show festivities.

"We'll be raising money for Becky and Dana by selling water all day," said Bill Ansel, the group's official tailgate planner. "All the proceeds will be given to them for Dana's medical expenses."

Ansel, an indirect services director for a communications company who lives in Garland, is one of many who have pitched in to make the Texas tailgating experience one of the highlights of each concert season.

Ansel organized his first tailgate party for the big 2004 Texas Stadium show featuring George Strait, Alan Jackson and the big Kahuna himself.

"I've been tailgating a lot longer than 2004 - that was the first time I opened it up by inviting a bunch of people I hadn't actually met," Ansel said.

"The Texas Stadium tailgate went really well, but it cost me a ton of money because I did just about everything myself." In 2006, the party grew into a themed event, named "Hoot Island" after Buffett's movie "Hoot," that premiered around the same time.

"With two young kids and another one on the way, I decided to have everyone help cover my expenses up front in 2006," Ansel explained. "So for Hoot Island, we did a pre-paid party and bought items for the tailgate with the money we collected. We ended up with around 300 people and $4,500 worth of stuff for the community tailgate."

Parrotheads from all over the country came to Dallas to party. The visiting fans signed in on a map of North America, and over 30 states and British Columbia were represented at the show. The day was dampened by heavy rain, but the deluge didn't stop the party.

"Just call us 'Barefoot Children in the Rain,' after one of Jimmy's songs," said Alison Demasters, a health care specialist from Virginia, who made the trip to Dallas to party with her friends.

Demasters didn't make the Texas trek last year, but plans on being in Frisco come April 26.

"I wouldn't miss this for the world," Demasters said. "Becky and I met in Chicago several years ago, and ended up driving back to Dallas together. I'm happy to come help her out this year."

Last year, the tailgate festivities moved from Smirnoff Center (formerly Starplex) at the state fair grounds near downtown Dallas to the Frisco Pizza Hut Park and soccer complex.

"With the new baby and other commitments in 2007, I decided to take that a step further and have everyone bring individual contributions for the group tailgate instead of paying me up front," Ansel said. "Wristbands were free as long as you signed up to bring something for the party. We also printed T-shirts and sold them for a small profit, and donations were accepted at the tailgate."

According to Ansel, there were 675 people at the 2007 tailgate party, raising some $2,300 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, plus several hundred dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphona Society, in the name of Michael French, one of Buffett's youngest fans, who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 8.

French is now in remission and his mother credits the music of Buffett and the support of his fans for some of the recovery.

This year's tour is called "The Year of Still Here." It officially kicks off in Houston on Monday, April 21, then moves to St. Louis on Thursday, April 24.

Come Saturday, April 26, almost 1,000 parrotheads will be celebrating their hero, meeting their friends from all over the country and partying with a purpose for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and for Dana Nichols' medical bills.

"We're going to have hamburgers, hot dogs, tamales and almost everything else you can think of to eat," Ansel said. "Everyone pitches in and brings things, and everyone helps with the massive clean-up. The management of the park couldn't believe how clean the spot was after we left last year. I think that's why they are working with us so closely this year for space, access to bathrooms and electricity."

The group also plans to have a silent auction to raise money for their causes. They will be selling "naughty lessons" to other fans in the parking lots to raise money.

"Last year, we had such fun taking our lessons to other parking lots around the facility," said Shannon Newman, director of leadership and first year programs at a private college in North Carolina. "We're going to do a complete tour, selling the lessons this year for 25 cents and $1."

So far, $2,906.65 has been collected for charity this year, with an additional $582.24 donated to sweeten the pot.

Tickets for the April 26 show are still available at TicketMaster's website.

Parrotheads will gather Friday, April 25, for a "phlocking" party at Fox Sports Bar.

The tailgate party will begin the next morning and should be in full swing by 10 a.m. The faithful will kick up their heels all day, then go to the show and return to the tailgate to party on long after Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band have loaded up and headed out to the next show. Come join the fun and learn how to party with a purpose from the pros.

As one long-time parrothead says, "It feels good to do good."

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