Jimmy Buffett is a a country singer/songwriter from Pascagoula, Mississippi. He was one of the first artists mix reggae and other tropical elements with classic pop-country song structure, making him a pioneer of the island country sound later adopted by artists like Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown to name a few. His influence on recorded music is often underestimated, but it pales in comparison to his concerts. Buffet is undeniably a legend in the world of live performances. Incredibly, he’s toured every single year since 1976, racking up more than 40 separate tours and amassing an army of dedicated fans known as “Parrotheads.”
The experience of a Jimmy Buffett concert is something that simply must be seen in person. My first experience came last summer in Saint Louis on the “Son of a Son of a Sailor” tour. Buffett took the stage at eight and we arrived around noon to a full parking lot which had been transformed into a full fledged beach, complete with lawn chairs, campers, boats, swimming pools full of sand, and an uncountable number of blenders all hard at work whipping up margaritas. No matter where Buffett goes, he brings the beach with him, and last night in Nashville was no exceptions.
With no opening act, Jimmy took the stage a bit after eight and set to work on a show that lasted close to three hours. I’ve found myself impressed at both concerts by the fantastic pacing of the set list. With nearly 30 studio albums to his name, he has a bit of an advantage in this department, but a Buffett concert never seems to drag despite its length. He drops hits like “Volcano,” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” throughout, breaking up the monotony of lesser known tracks, and yet has plenty left in the tank for a strong close with iconic cuts like “Margaritaville,” and “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.”
Even on lesser known tracks, there’s plenty to appreciate. Despite his care-free style and sayings like “I always try to spend your money irresponsibly,” Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band that backs him are absolute professionals. This concert was especially fun because the majority of his instrumentalists are longtime Nashville players. I was particularly impressed by Peter Mayer who covered lead guitar duties and Doyle Grisham on pedal steel guitar. Both are Nashville legends in their own right and gave excellent performances throughout the night. Of course, Robert Greenidge’s steel pan drumming is also invaluable, as he is one of the top players in the world and his solo in the middle of the show was excellent.
All this being said, the highlight of the show is the man himself, Jimmy Buffett. From the opening moments of the show, the 72 year old icon is on fire, filled with enjoyable stories and bottomless energy. His voice has held up remarkably well over the 40+ years of touring, though few of the tracks are particularly taxing. Nevertheless, he’s an incredible frontman, and with the aide of longtime partner and country music legend, Mac McAnally, he brings quite the party to the stage and the three hours fly by quickly.
As much as I enjoyed the show, I did notice just a few shortcomings, mainly in the venue. The show was held at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, just a few steps from the massive crowd gathered for the final day of the NFL draft, and so there wasn’t the normal pre-show tailgating that Buffett is known for. Additionally, the crowd was much more subdued, and aside from the sea of Hawaiian style shirts, the costumes left quite a bit to be desired, though my group and I were proudly holding it down in light up shark fins, grass hula skirts, and coconut bras. The Saint Louis show certainly captured the atmosphere much better, but I still had a blast and felt that the performance itself was actually quite a bit better.
Ultimately, I can’t overstate how heavily I recommend that any serious music fan attend a Jimmy Buffett concert at least once. Even if you, personally, aren’t a fan of the music, there’s nothing like the traveling beach party that is one of his tours.
The Parrotheads are an extremely welcoming bunch, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band give an endlessly fun performance, and the overall experience must be seen to be believed.