By Laura Myers
KEY WEST, Fla. (Reuters) - Jimmy Buffett, known for his "Cheeseburger in Paradise" song about the American diet staple, surprised a gathering of avid fans with a rare impromptu street concert in the Florida island city that he nicknamed "Margaritaville."
The 55-year-old Buffett greeted about 3,000 members of the Parrot Heads in Paradise Inc. fan club, celebrating their 11th annual Meeting of the Minds convention, with favorite hits during a street festival on Friday.
"The last time I sang on Duval Street I got arrested," Buffett quipped, referring to Key West's main drag, known for its lively strip of nightclubs and bars.
"But the mayor's back there so I'm OK. Hi there, Jimmy," said Buffett, greeting Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley.
Buffett played such hits as "Cuban Crime of Passion," "Havana Daydreamin"' and "Volcano."
Parrot Head fans drank margaritas and tossed beach balls into a throng that gathered quickly in sweltering heat after word spread on the island that Buffett might appear.
Most had missed a late-night performance, also impromptu, by Buffett on Thursday at Margaritaville Cafe. In town to celebrate Buffett's music, they were attending another beachfront concert by The Peter Mayer Group, which sometimes tours with Buffett, from St. Louis, Missouri.
"Who was that stranger who played at Margaritaville last night, 'till all hours?" Buffett said. "Oh yeah, that was me."
Buffett is an active Democrat who now lives in Palm Beach, Florida.
He reportedly maintains a house in Key West, where he launched his career and co-founded Margaritaville Cafe. Buffett formed the Coral Reefer Band in 1975.
"I was just a lounge singer in a Key West bar," he told adoring fans. "I don't deserve this, but thank you. I just love being in Key West."
Many of Buffett's songs celebrate a laid-back lifestyle in the Florida Keys, a chain of islands about 160 miles south of Miami.
Parrot Heads have nearly 157 clubs with 18,000 members. The annual gathering, themed "Far Side of the Keys," ends on Sunday.
The group typically dons tropical regalia such as foam parrot hats, grass skirts and loudly flowered shirts and shorts. Many in Key West sported bald heads and are graying.
"This is ground zero for Parrot Heads and to see Jimmy play is just magic," said Ray Campbell, 45, a poet-carpenter and member of Parrot Heads chapters in Key West and Washington, D.C.
Buffett last played at a Parrot Heads convention in 1998.
The singer also is scheduled to perform on Saturday in Miami Beach's trendy South Beach at a children's benefit.
The $500 per ticket event is hosted by Miami Heat basketball player Alonzo Mourning, who is ailing from a deteriorating kidney condition.