The 8 Best Jimmy Buffett Documentaries (Ranked)

After Jimmy Buffett’s death in 2023, I scoured the Web for the best Buffett documentaries.

Below are the best 8 I found:

1) Parrot Heads (2017)

This TV-14 rated documentary, running for 88 minutes, delves into the world of Buffett’s die-hard fans known as “Parrotheads.”

Buffett rose from obscurity by chance encounters and radio plays in spots like Cincinnati. His songs offered a taste of faraway adventure and shoreside revelry.

From these seeds grew a formidable fan organization spanning clubs worldwide uniting Buffett apostles.

Led by Scott Nickerson of Atlanta, the first Parrothead club sparked a thriving network hosting events from pool parties to blood drives.

Their zeal fueled Buffett tribute acts like A1A and a distinct musical genre christened “trop rock” or calypso-tinged rock.

We witness Parrothead culture birthing its own cottage industry, with trade publications, concerts, and awards shows expanding an entire orbit around their “prophet” (Jimmy) and his Coral Reefer band.

Though Buffett himself remains an enigma who pops in intermittently on this subversive subculture he spawned almost accidentally, the documentary primarily tracks those his music set free – middle-Americans liberated at least temporarily through Caribbean flights of fancy.

We observe Parrothead couple’s dancing blissfully to proves there need not be a dominant rhythm or melody, yet one man’s dreamed paradises still compel thousand to find fellowship and purpose.

In this globally resonant search for belonging, a bespectacled artist and his makeshift family built refuges.

Jimmy and his Parrot Heads welcome waitresses, veterans, caretakers, and clock-punchers alike to glimpse their nobler selves amidst this “nation”.

“Fins Up!” and “Party with a Purpose!”

Watch Parrot Heads on:

2) Jimmy Buffett Live by the Bay (1985)

Heads-Up Warning: Jimmy said some things about giving young girls Purple Passion alcoholic drinks.

“Live by the Bay,” , is like a sun-soaked episode of “Miami Vice” where Don Johnson himself introduces Buffett.

The 87-minute spectacle, captured at Miami Marine Stadium, is a visual ode to the Buffett experience. The stadium, once a hub for powerboat racing, transformed into a floating concert stage, surrounded by fans in boats, creating a unique aquatic auditorium.

It’s a cinematographic treasure, capturing the essence of ’80s Miami, complete with a skyline backdrop. This venue is “back home”, as Buffett says, right near “Coconut Grove”.

The film opens and closes with more than just concert footage. It includes an interview with Buffett and scenes of fans tailgating—or should we say, boatgating.

The film’s narrative is as laid-back as Buffett’s quote about making just enough to buy a boat and play in a bar. It’s a glimpse into the Parrothead culture, soaked in nostalgia, showcasing Buffett’s connection with his fans.

A rain interruption during the Friday show adds an unplanned twist. Buffett retreats to his sailboat, docked stage-side, while the crew performs Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” to test the equipment.

Most of the final cut features the Saturday show, but this interlude adds a raw, real-time feel to the film.

The setlist is a Buffett fan’s dream, opening with “Gypsies in the Palace,” followed by hits like “Volcano,” “Margaritaville,” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (though YouTube cut out Cheeseburger in Paradise in the video).

The intermission includes an interview, offering a personal touch amidst the energetic performances.

The concluding track, “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” wraps up the concert beautifully.

Buffett’s return to Miami Marine Stadium in 1987, and his 2009 support for its restoration, underline the venue’s significance in his history.

Although the stadium now stands condemned, this film immortalizes its glory days.

Critics described the concert as an “amiable mix” of Buffett’s signature folk, rock, country, and calypso.

It’s a visual cocktail that conjures images of tropical breezes and good times, albeit with fans who might have enjoyed one too many.

“Live by the Bay” remains an essential piece of Buffett lore, capturing the essence of his enduring appeal.

Here’s the full set list of the show (as it appears in the video):

  • Introduction / “Gypsies in the Palace”
  • “Door Number Three”
  • “Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit”
  • “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About”
  • “Stars on the Water”
  • “Coconut Telegraph”
  • “Come Monday”
  • “Ragtop Day”
  • “Who’s the Blonde Stranger”
  • “Volcano”
  • “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”
  • Intermission / Interview
  • “One Particular Harbour”
  • “If The Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me”
  • “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw”
  • “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (this one is blocked by YouTube so you only hear Jimmy talk about “cheeseburgers for a bit” before it skips to Fins.
  • “Fins”
  • “Last Mango in Paris”
  • “A Pirate Looks at Forty”
  • “Margaritaville”
  • End titles / “Son of a Son of a Sailor”

Where to watch Jimmy Buffett Live by the Bay:

Note: The actual set list had these songs in a different order and included Brown Eyed Woman (which was played as the final encore song).

3) Jimmy Buffett: Live at Wrigley Field – The Labor Day Weekend Shows

Directed by Stan Kellam, this 2006 video is a tribute to the Wrigley show from 2005. It’s a substantial recording, spanning over two and a half hours.

Here are some of the songs featured:

  • Piece of Work
  • The Pascagoula Run
  • Hey Good Lookin’
  • Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
  • I Will Play for Gumbo
  • Come Monday
  • I Will Play for Gumbo
  • Come Monday
  • The Slow Lane
  • Last Mango in Paris
  • Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street
  • License to Chill

Watch it for free online on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye9ZLHSSvQQ

4) Jimmy Buffett: Tales from MargaritaVision (2000)

“Tales from MargaritaVision,” (June 13th, 2000) is a nostalgic journey through Jimmy Buffett’s musical evolution.

The 77 minuter compilation, curated and introduced by Buffett himself, features music videos from the early ’70s onward, serving as both a tribute to his Parrothead fans and a chronicle of pop video history.

The collection showcases Buffett’s transformation from a free-spirited Florida hippie to a relatable, laid-back figure.

This is also one of the best documentary where Jimmy Buffett explains his songs.

You can trace the stylistic shift in Buffett’s music from ’70s singer-songwriter influences to a unique blend of pop, country, and rock, with hints of calypso and reggae.

The videos and songs featured are:

  • Pencil Thin Mustache (“The first video I recorded”, Jimmy says)
  • Come Monday
  • He Went to Paris
  • Nautical Wheelers (Live)
  • Livin’ It Up
  • One Particular Harbour
  • La Vie Dansante
  • Who’s the Blonde Stranger?
  • Homemade Music
  • Take Another Road
  • Jamaica Farewell (live)
  • Another Saturday Night
  • Fruitcakes
  • Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes (live)
  • The City (live)
  • Lovely Cruise

Watch it for free on YouTube (with ads) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKNDcTbbsyY

5) Jimmy Buffett on 60 Minutes (1997, 1998 and 2004)

This 42-minute compilation features Steve Kroft’s interviews with Buffett across different times. It includes live performances and discussions about Buffett’s multifaceted career.

Some favorite parts of mine:

  • Kroft asks him if he considers himself a writer, a promoter, a marketer, a musician?; Buffett: “I’m a simple altar boy who wanted to play bass in a band to meet chicks”.
  • A great quote from Jimmy: I”m still here, I didn’t have to go to rehab…and I ain’t broke”.
  • He’s never had a #1 album.
  • How a big breakthrough was when country star Alan Jackson asked him to come to Nashville to work on the song”5 O’Clock Somewhere”.
  • Buffett shares how “I was never categorizable…and now I’m a category”. Buffett used to be pure country when he first started.
  • A $10 million a year mail order businesses (selling margarita glasses and clocks)

There’s also the usual stuff like a live version of Margaritaville and the “Land Shark” invasions.

6) Jimmy Buffett: Buried Treasure Audio with Documentary (2018)

Buried Treasure (trailer above) is an audio CD that came out in 2017.

But the Deluxe edition includes a 20 minute documentary called “From Mobile to Nashville”. The doc was directed by Buffett’s second daughter Sarah (who goes by the name “Delaney”.

You can buy the Deluxe edition CD and DVD (with documentary) at https://www.amazon.com/Buried-Treasure-Package-40-Page-Collectors/dp/B0762CQ3F6. It has a book as well.

7) Jimmy Buffett @ The American Library in Paris | 23 September 2015

This 62-minute video is an interview with Buffett (I know, it’s not technically a documentary).

It features Buffett in a unique setting (a library in Paris!), discussing his life and career over wine with the patrons.

Jimmy lived in Paris at one point.

He is interviewed first. Then he answers questions from the small crowd. Then he plays guitar for the crowd (“Rue de la Guitare” and “He Went to Paris”)

Real intimate.

Watch it for free on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egS7hZlzcgM

8) Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story (2022)

I thought I’d throw in one more documentary: Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story.

This doc is about Jazz Fest but Jimmy plays a prominent role (he’s even got the largest picture on the cover art).

Plus, it’s a great documentary overall (Rotten Tomatoes users gave it a perfect 100 out of a 100). IMDB scored it a solid 7.3

It’s a Jimmy Buffett experience, with a side of Springsteen, Katy Perry, and Earth, Wind & Fire.

You can see most of the key Jimmy coverage for free on YouTube in the trailer above or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeTPZ4N7yUU. There are other streaming options at https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/jazz-fest-a-new-orleans-story

Jimmy Buffett Documentary “All That Is Sacred” Coming Soon!

There’s a Buffett doc called All That Is Sacred that was shown at the Telluride Film Festival in 2023 (just hours after Buffett died). It explores Key West as a hub for counterculture arts in the 1970s.

It hasn’t been released in theatres or streaming yet. But here are some highlights based on people who saw the doc at Telluride include:

  • The 34-minute film stars novelist Tom McGuane and Jimmy Buffett. Director Scott Ballew details his approach, originally planning a fishing movie with McGuane, evolving into a broader narrative.
  • A Look at Literary Greats: Includes figures like Jim Harrison and Richard Brautigan
  • Legacy and Loss: The film touches on the passing of many Key West scene members, adding a poignant aspect to this exploration of their lives and work.
  • “Tarpon” – The project has updated footage from the related 1973-74 film “Tarpon” (see the Tarpon trailer here)
  • End of an Era: Ballew’s thesis suggests this group represented the last of a breed of artists congregating in one place with a shared goal.
  • Key West’s Tourist Transformation: The film touches on Key West’s evolution from a literary haven to a tourist hotspot, with McGuane reflecting on its changes.

Bonus Buffett Docs:

I haven’t watched them yet, but below are some other Jimmy Buffett-related documentaries/videos I plan to watch:

  • Tarpon (Jimmy did the music for this doc on fishing in the Keys). Here’s the Tarpon trailer (I don’t see any place yet to see the full documentary)
  • The Wall’s Embrace (Jimmy narraates this 2008 PBS special (34 min) about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s power to heal)
  • There could be a new doc coming out about the making of Buffett’s final album (Equal Strain on All Parts) (source: Billboard). That would have some behind the scenes Buffett footage from 2022 and 2023.
  • Austin City Limits footage

I’ll add those to this page when I do.

Thanks for reading!

-Rob Kelly