By John Benson
In the supply and demand world of rock music, Jimmy Buffett in any given year can’t possibly play to all of his fans. That’s where cover bands come into the picture.
Filling a desperate need for Parrotheads is the rally cry for local Jimmy Buffett tribute band Fins to the Left, which returns after a two-year hiatus for a Friday show at the Warren Community Amphitheater.
“We’ve always had a great deal of support from the Warren Amp,” said Fins to the Left leader Shawn Lawless, a 1984 Springfield High School graduate. “I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a sellout, but we’ve had full houses every time we played there. I’m excited because this could be the biggest show at Warren Amp we’ve ever done.”
He guessed previous audiences were in the 3,000 to 5,000 range, with the upcoming show already drawing tons of local interest. As far as previous Fins to the Left gigs, the cover band was a consistent draw for a decade beginning in the late ’90s. In fact, there was one gig attended by more than 12,000 people in Cuyahoga Falls.
Not bad for a group Lawless helped start after he sold his restaurant, Hurdy Gurdy (now The Fireplace Restaurant). Having already made contacts with local musicians, the decision was made to create a Jimmy Buffett cover band.
“Our first gig was at the Magic Twanger in Boardman, and we just took it from there,” Lawless said. “The band was Margaritaville, which was the most logical name. We later received an offer to perform at Margaritaville in Key West for an entire week.
“It was decided the band’s name would be changed to Fins to the Left. Things snowballed, and we built a reputation regionally and in different areas around the country. We got to play some amazing places.”
As its height, Fins to the Left was playing three to four times a week. Things changed in 2006 and 2007 as Lawless’ company took off. Lawless Industries is a manufacturer of parade float chassis and design for Disney and other theme parks around the globe.
“I came to the realization that given the popularity of the band and my workload I had at my company, Lawless Industries, that something had to give,” Lawless said. “So we officially retired the band and, since that point, have made a few appearances. The most recent was two years ago at the River Rock at The Amp.”
There’s a credibility factor that Lawless believes makes Fins to the Left different from other tribute acts. Sure, the outfit plays both Buffett hits and obscurities, the latter including “Lovely Cruise” and “Banana Republics,” but of late the act has included actual members of Buffett’s Coral Reefer band such as Michael Utley (keyboards), Robert Greenidge (steel drums) and Eric Darken (percussion).
These three — who just played Northeast Ohio with Buffett last month — will be joining Fins to the Left at its Warren show.
“Even the guys from the Coral Reefer Band are excited to come back and enjoy us,” Lawless said. “I think that speaks a lot. Looking ahead, we’d love to make the Warren show an annual affair if it works out. We love the support people give us. We kind of owe it to them to play. Not everybody can make it to the Buffett show, and that’s the other reason we got into this. We kind of fill that need for the Parrotheads, if you will.”