Off the top let me say this: a Jimmy Buffett concert is one heck of a party.
Though he’s actually from Mobile, Alabama, Jimmy Buffett is the Patron Saint of Key West, a man who has built an enviable career singing about boats, beaches, parties, and lots and lots of drinking. No wonder then that Buffett’s second (third?) home is Las Vegas.
On October 23rd, 2010 I had a ticket to see Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefers at MGM Grand, but the party got started on the otherwise ugly service road next to where I was staying at The Flaming O, a strip that eventually got developed into a cool pedestrian mall with restaurants, casinos, and funky shops but again, at the time it was a gritty concrete side road off The Strip that would ordinarily be ignored as the crowd passed by one casino after another.
But on this afternoon the street was closed down and festive, sporting a makeshift stage, a merch area, lots of drink stands, and was there even a small ferris wheel (if so it would be a tiny precursor to the giant observation wheel that now towers over the side street)? The alley was crawling with 50-somethings partying it up large, many with elaborate hats featuring colourful full-on working drink mixers – it seemed like wacky hats were the thing. The liquor lines were doing brisk business as was Buffett’s extensive merch area (which is generally pretty cool stuff); everyone was tearing into the celebration in a big way. Watching the aging demographic party like they were teenagers was inspiring and worth aping.
I got into things pretty good myself and still managed to make it to the show in time to watch the lights to go down. Jimmy Buffett came out and led his twelve (or so) piece band through two and-a-half hours of drunken sing-along bliss. Parrotheads were screaming like Pentecostals speaking in tongues, conga lines spontaneously broke out around the arena, people with light-up hats found each other in the darkness and formed allegiances, and all the while Jimmy and his Reefers delighted us with Fins, Volcano, Jamaica Mistaica, Cheeseburger In Paradise, and of course the song that made him the world’s most successful one-hit wonder (if you count the two restaurant chains, the beer company and the clothing line on top of the incessantly sold-out touring schedule), Margaritaville.
(Margaritaville seems so different than the rest of his material [the bulk of which all sounds pretty similar] that I’m semi-convinced that Jimmy Buffett stole the song, and probably buried the evidence [read: original songwriter] at sea.)
It wasn’t until he introduced his extensive band that I realized that the great Sonny Landreth was one of the guitar players on stage. Gotta love a guy that can get musicians like Sonny Landreth to play with him. And oh, the island percussion players – pan drums, marimbas, vibes – the sound was just so good, and how could it not be with such a talented assemblage? Kind of like when Lyle Lovett plays with his big band – all those great players make songs sound really great.
Jimmy encored with Scarlet Begonias which was probably pretty sweet, but by this point my memory gets understandably foggy. Frankly, it’s damn impressive that I remember anything about the show at all.