Two weeks ago, Jimmy Buffett pulled what felt at the time to some like a rather inconsiderate move by scrapping plans for a long-scheduled concert at Charlotte’s PNC Music Pavilion less than 36 hours before showtime.
The 71-year-old singer still wanted to come, he said. He just didn’t want to come when it was going to be cold and wet and windy out.
Buffett returned to (finally) officially open the outdoor concert season on Friday night — when temperatures hung out in the 60s for the duration — and while I sympathize with the Parrotheads who were miffed they couldn’t make the makeup date, I’ve gotta say: His call probably was the right one.
I mean, a Jimmy Buffett show isn’t a Jimmy Buffett show if the star is wearing long pants, if his fans have fleecy jackets covering up their Hawaiian shirts, or if the only way to hold onto a cold beer without being uncomfortable is to wear gloves. Right?
“I can’t tell you how many times we kind of commiserated over whether we should come here and play in 31 degrees and winds of 30 miles an hour,” Buffett said to the crowd early in the evening (though he was exaggerating a bit; it was in the mid-40s on the night the show was originally scheduled to take place).
Then he explained, with a smirk, what the deciding factor was: “I don’t do that s--- anymore.”
Somewhat curiously, he never explicitly used the words “I’m sorry” — which would have been an easy-to-offer and perhaps appropriate gesture, especially for the folks that had to go out of their way to rearrange travel plans, or babysitters, or plans to see the new “Avengers” movie.
But of course, this wasn’t really an occasion for apologies. It was an occasion for everything Buffett fans come to a Buffett concert for: frat-party-level tailgating, the opportunity to wear colorful leis around their necks, the reverential treatment of cheeseburgers, margaritas and pirates, and the jolt of surprise when a beach ball is batted directly into your face, your ear or the back of your head.
Perhaps predictably, 1979 party-starter “Fins” served to send the crowd into the wildest frenzy, with 1978’s “Margaritaville” a close second thanks in part to fans’ excitement over chanting “Salt!” (right after the “searching for that lost shaker of salt” line) with the same fervor as Neil Diamond fans shout out “So good! So good! So good!” I’d also add the jazzy, trumpeted-up version of 1974’s “Pencil Thin Mustache” as a highlight.
And unlike many touring national artists, Buffett does a nice job of making it clear he really does know where he is.
Performing what he said was his 36th career show in Charlotte, Buffett told one of his favorite old Charlotte stories: of playing Carowinds back in the ’70s and being drowned out periodically by the old Thunder Road roller coaster while playing 1974 hit “Come Monday.” He’s got a new one these days, too: He dedicated 1978’s breezy “Son of a Son of a Sailor” to the tiny Eastern N.C. city of Washington, where two years ago he had a custom 44-foot boat made by master ship builders at a company called Pacific Seacraft.
Then, as he duetted on “Back Where I Come From” with sideman Mac McAnally — who originally wrote and recorded the song in 1990 — the screen behind them flashed up pictures of uptown Charlotte’s skyline, the fountains at Romare Bearden Park, the playing field at Bank of America Stadium and even the more-obscure Metalmorphosis sculpture near Arrowood Road and I-485.
For most of the night, Buffett was backed by his nine-piece Coral Reefer Band (led by 10-time Country Music Association Awards Musician of the Year McAnally) and a pair of female back singers who dressed and danced like they’d been hired away from a luau.
But there were a few other musical configurations.
For “Come Monday” and 1978’s “Coast of Marseilles,” opener Caroline Jones joined Buffett onstage to infuse both songs with her angelic voice and some sweet but subtle country flavor.
Buffett also took a detour during the second half of the show with a bluegrass-y splinter group of the Coral Reefer Band that he calls Daphne Blue & the Show Ponies; they performed “Gypsies in the Palace” — a 1985 song Buffett wrote with his former neighbor Glenn Frey, the Eagles co-founder who died two years ago — then segued right into a smooth cover of “Take It Easy,” which Frey co-wrote for the Eagles in 1972.
Then McAnally got the stage to himself at the show’s midpoint, performing the Allman Brothers’ bouncy acoustic guitar instrumental “Little Martha” (also from 1972), after Buffett excused himself by saying “I’m gonna go get a little glass of wine.”
Surprisingly, though he’s looking grandfatherly even in a blue Hawaiian shirt, blue knee-length shorts and bare feet, Buffett continues to play younger than his age. He has a hard time standing still, he flirts with the front row like a thirtysomething, and man, if he’s not genuinely enjoying himself up there, he’s faking it pretty well — it’s tough to smile for two hours straight, like he did, unless you’re having a heck of a lot of fun.
In other words, retirement for Jimmy Buffett doesn’t seem like it will be on the table anytime soon.
“Retire from what?” he asked the crowd, half-jokingly, as the night came to a close. “I’ll be coming back as long as y’all will have me.”
Or as long as it’s not cold and wet and windy out.
Jimmy Buffett’s setlist
1. “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”
2. “Pencil Thin Mustache”
3. “The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”
4. “Knee Deep” (Zac Brown Band cover)
5. “Come Monday” (with Caroline Jones)
6. “Son of a Son of a Sailor”
7. “Growing Older But Not Up”
8. “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” (Alan Jackson cover) (with Mac McAnally)
9. “School Boy Heart”
12. “Little Martha” (Mac McAnally solo)
13. “Coast of Marseilles” (with Caroline Jones)
14. “Gypsies in the Palace” (as Daphne Blue & the Show Ponies)
15. “Take It Easy” (Eagles cover)
16. “Cheeseburger in Paradise”
17. “Coast of Carolina”
18. “A Pirate Looks at Forty”
19. “Back Where I Come From” (with Mac McAnally)
20. “Southern Cross”
21. “One Particular Harbour”
23. “Love and Luck”
24. “One Love/People Get Ready” (Bob Marley & The Wailers cover)
25. “Tin Cup Chalice”