Jump back in time to relive one of the most magical summers of Kathleen Stieffel’s life. The Bay native reminisces on her time touring the nation with the one and only Jimmy Buffett.
- By Lisa Monti
“For a few hours, they were in Margaritaville with him.”
All the tributes that have unfolded since Buffett died on September 1 show how loved the Pascagoula-born singer was. “He was everything people are saying about him: fun-loving, generous, brilliant, gracious,” Kathleen said. “We just loved being around him.”
Evangeline came together as a band in 1988 and soon caught the attention of Quint Davis, the Jazz Fest producer. One night, he took his friend Jimmy to hear them play in a French Quarter bar. Buffett liked what he heard so much that he signed them soon after that to his record label, MCA/Margaritaville Records, and invited the band to open for him on his Recession Recess Tour. The 1992 tour kicked off at Jazz Fest in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans. After playing bars and other small venues, Kathleen said, it was “shocking to look out and see that sea of people. It was just wild.”
On tour, the musicians traveled from show to show on a big tour bus, playing for huge audiences at each stop. “We did 54 nights across three months. That summer was the most fun I’d ever had,” Kathleen said. “Jimmy took us out to dinner and regaled us with his stories that got better with each glass of wine.”
Before the tour, the Evangeline members stayed at Buffett’s Key West compound while recording their self-titled album at his Shrimp Boat sound studio. Jimmy asked Kathleen at dinner one night to sing “Gulf Coast Highway” with him as a duet on the album and on tour. In the studio, the producer asked them to share a microphone to record the haunting song written by Nanci Griffith, John Lee Hooker, and Danny Flowers. For Kathleen, being in the recording studio in close quarters with Jimmy was a magical experience that remains a highlight in her career. Every night on tour, Jimmy joined Evangeline onstage to perform Gulf Coast Highway as a duet, usually sharing a mic center stage. “It was the high point of each night and in my career,” she said. “It was so special since it had always been one of my favorite songs, and apparently, his too."
Even today, Kathleen says, when she walks into the grocery store and hears one of Buffett’s songs, “it just transports me back to watching him from the wings all summer long.”
Evangeline lead guitarist and songwriter Rhonda Lohmeyer, who lives in Waveland, recalled, “There was nothing more fun than playing ‘Margaritaville’ on stage with him. That’s about as much fun as you could have on stage.”
Kathleen said, “He changed my life in such a good way with his belief in us and by giving us this gift of a major label recording contract. It was a dream come true for all of us, and he shared that magic with us.”
Rhonda said the band was “very, very fortunate” to have the opportunities Buffett offered them early in their careers, and the advice he shared about the music business “was perfectly delivered.” He was a powerful figure in the industry who connected with audiences and brought joy through his songwriting, she said. “But at the same time, he was just being a regular guy to us. It’s how he treated us. He was just Jimmy.”
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