TAMPA — On Friday evening, Cricket Larson was making arrangements for a Jimmy Buffett-themed goat statue to arrive at her Skipper’s Smokehouse bar and restaurant the next day.
She didn’t know how serendipitous this 48-inch-tall, 75-pound multicolored icon would be until she woke up around 5 a.m. Saturday to the news that its music legend namesake had died at age 76.
Larson had fought to reopen Skipper’s after the pandemic, determined to save a now 43-year-old fixture of Florida culture known for cold beer, blackened grouper Reubens and ramshackle beach vibes.
As Larson puts it, it’s a beach bar washed ashore nowhere near the water in the middle of North Tampa that’s “held together by damn duct tape.”
But like Buffett, Skipper’s has been beloved by generations for its music and the community it brings together. Here, there can be Mongolian throat singing on stage one night and a Grateful Dead tribute band the next.
“I’m here because of the music,” said Larson, 41. “I felt this personal responsibility to keep this legacy alive and keep live, independent music alive before the powers that be at Ticketmaster kill it.”
Buffett is one of the legends who has inspired Larson to do what she does, not just for his music that makes it “impossible to be unhappy” while listening, she said. But also for his dedication to Florida’s environment, its animals and marine life.
So in June when Larson saw on Facebook that Save the Manatee Club, a nonprofit that Buffett co-founded, was promoting a raffle for a goat statue with a Margaritaville theme, she pounced.
Bubba, which was given Buffett’s nickname, has a head that’s painted like a parrot, a nod to the singer’s followers, called “parrotheads.” Its body is painted with palm trees and a sun, a guitar and tropical flowers. And its base has a famous Buffett lyric: “Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt.”
Larson spent $500 on her chances, and while she couldn’t remember how many tickets that bought her, the contest website said entries started at $5.
Bubba was one of 55 statues created as a fundraiser for Project GOAT (Global Offensive Against Trafficking) in January 2021. The Tampa area-based Athletes and Causes Foundation commissioned artists to paint different themes on all of the statues and sold them at a ZooTampa at Lowry Park event during Super Bowl 55.
There was a Tom Brady goat, a Red Sox goat and dozens of others. But the Jimmy Buffett goat, painted by artist Kristi Burke, was the second or third that was made, said Rob Canton, founder and CEO of Athletes and Causes.
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The pandemic hampered their efforts, and some goats were left over after the zoo event. This year, Canton reached out to Buffett’s Save the Manatee Club to find Bubba a home, and their raffle took off.
Larson got the news that she won Bubba on Aug. 1, but she finalized plans on Friday night for Canton to drop him off on Saturday.
“I sent her a text around 6:30 p.m., and we don’t know what time Jimmy Buffett passed, but it’s almost eerie,” Canton said of the coincidence.
Before Buffett’s death was announced, Larson had also already planned for a Jimmy Buffett-themed brunch, which will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday with musician Patrick Foy.
She’s still thinking of where Bubba’s permanent perch will be at Skipper’s. It needs to be a spot where people can admire it and pay their respects to Buffett but not where anyone can try to pick it up after too many pints.
For now, Bubba will be right by Skipper’s stage, another symbol of this community.
“Jimmy was an artist that not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk,” Larson said. “He didn’t just stand on the stage and say ‘save the manatees,’ he put that into action.”
“And here, we’re all in this together. My goal is to be here when I’m 80. I love this place and I want the community to come join us, support local business, support local music ... this is exactly the kind of bar Jimmy would have drank at.”