Hanging with the Parrotheads

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band performing "Pencil Thin Mustache" at the Taco Bell Area, Boise, March 13, 2019

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band performing “Pencil Thin Mustache” at the Taco Bell Area, Boise, March 13, 2019

Jimmy Buffett has a gift for lyrics that speak strongly to WC. You’ve probably seen some of them quoted in this blog over the years.

This morning, I shot six holes in my freezer
I think I’ve got cabin fever
I wanna go where it’s warm

— Jimmy Buffett, “Boat Drinks,” from the album Volcano


Yes I am a pirate
Two hundred years too late
The cannon don’t thunder
There’s nothing to plunder
I’m an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late
Arriving too late

— Jimmy Buffett, “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” from the album A1A

WC first saw Buffett live at the Quiet Knight, in Chicago in Spring 1974, for a two drink minimum. In fact, Buffett’s three night stand in late April – WC went all three nights – nearly caused WC to fail Corporate Finance. It certainly caused WC to blow the final exam. Totally worth it.

She and old Cougie, my what a pair
Doin’ the Rhumba as no one else dared
Slidin’ and glidin’ ‘cross Hollywood floors
But they don’t dance like Carmen no more

— Jimmy Buffett, “They Don’t Dance Like Carmen No More,” from the album A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean

So when Buffett brought his Son of a Son of a Sailor Tour ’19 to Boise, you can bet WC and Mrs. WC were there for the show.

Some things have changed since those 1974 shows.

Buffett used to have a lot more hair. Well, so did a lot of us. What he still has used to be brown, too. Ditto.

Buffett’s lyrics used to be a little more edgy. They’ve been bowdlerized, or at least made a little more politically correct. In “Livingston Saturday Night,” he used to sing “15 will get you 20, but that’s all right.” Now he sings, “There’s sharks all around you, but that’s all right.” Statutory rape isn’t funny any more, if it ever was. Buffett hasn’t gone completely bland, though: the list of places he doesn’t want to go “when the volcano blows” now includes Mar-a-Lago.

At the Quiet Knight, Buffett was backed by Michael Utley on keyboards. Now he’s backed by the mighty Coral Reefer Band – something he joked about in 1974 – with drums, bass, a horn player, three guitarists, two keyboardists, a percussionist, steel drums and two background vocalists. And yes, Utley is still a Coral Reefer.

Buffett was pretty much unknown in Chicago in 1974. Today he has a huge fan base, “parrotheads,” who dress in costume for his shows: beach wear, pirate outfits, parrot-topped hats and shark fin caps. Buffett himself was dressed for the show: a beach shirt, white shorts and barefoot.

Maybe the biggest change is that in 1974 Buffett was just one step above busking. His music style, in those pre-Margaritaville days, was something called Gulf and Western, country-western music on Gulf coast themes. Now Buffett is a multi-millionaire, with an estimated net worth of half a billion dollars. He’s a best-selling author, a land developer, a baseball and football team owner, with franchises, and licenses his trademarks for serious money. Jimmy Buffett is no longer living the Jimmy Buffett beach bum lifestyle.

But what hasn’t changed is the evident joy, the sheer pleasure, the infectious delight that Buffett shares with his audience during his shows. A Buffett concert is half concert, half beach party and completely sheer fun. Jimmy smiled during the entire show; so did the sold-out crowd of adoring fans. Buffett had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the moment he took the stage.  His song book is a lot bigger, his fame is much greater and the audiences are huge. But that sense of fun hasn’t changed at all.

Buffett doesn’t need to tour any more. He could spend the rest of his life loafing on one of his sailboats, or hanging out at his St. Barts’ mansion. He tours because he enjoys it, because the energy from the crowds and the pleasure of performing still matter. And it shows through every moment of his performance.

It’s time to see the world
It’s time to kiss a girl
It’s time to cross the wild meridian

— Jimmy Buffett, “The Pascagoula Run,” from the album Off to See the Lizard

WC recognizes this was yet another geezer artist, but unlike, say, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffett’s voice is mostly unchanged. And the thing about geezer artists is that they have large and terrific songbooks.

It was a great show; WC loved every minute. The band was tight – most of the band members have been with Jimmy twenty years or more – and the setlist excellent. Buffett noted it had been eight years since he’d been to Boise. He promised it wouldn’t be that long to the next show.

WC hopes that’s true.

Thanks for another great show, Jimmy Buffett. Hope to see you again soon.