At a few different points during Jimmy Buffett’s concert at PNC Music Pavilion on Friday night, he’ll be joined on stage by a young woman his fans may not recognize.
So, if you’re going to the show, let us fill you in:
Her name is Caroline Jones, and in the past 16 months she’s landed on Rolling Stone’s list of “10 Country Artists You Need to Know,” on Billboard’s list of “15 Country Artists to Watch,” and on the radars of Buffett, Zac Brown Band and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill – all of whom have tapped her to open concerts for them in 2018.
A 27-year-old singer-songwriter, Jones dropped her new album, “Bare Feet,” in March, then sold the album (in more ways than one) by making her national-TV debut on the “Today” show two weeks ago, sans shoes.
“Is that your signature?” co-host Kathie Lee Gifford asked.
“It is today,” Jones replied, cheerily. “I couldn’t sing this on TV and wear shoes.”
If she was nervous in front of the cameras, it was tough to tell.
“Really, nerves are all in your mind, right?” Jones told us this week about that appearance. “It’s all in your mind that this one really matters. Sometimes when you perceive something to be a bigger deal, you can actually lose the emotion – you can lose the joy of it – so I always try to focus on trying to breathe and being present, and giving my heart and soul like I always do.”
Will she take off her shoes on Friday night when she performs a few songs in Charlotte with Buffett? Find out that and more as we lay bare five things to know about Caroline Jones.
1. She doesn’t have your typical country music background. The daughter of hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, she was raised in the Stamford-Greenwich area of Connecticut. She developed a love of music early, started recording original music while attending the Professional Children’s School in New York City, then played gigs around Manhattan while studying creative writing at NYU. She then developed an initiative called The Heart Is Smart that saw her performing and conducting workshops in songwriting, entrepreneurship and vocal performance at hundreds of high schools and colleges all over the country.
“At the end of my performance, students would come up and ask, ‘How do you write songs?’ Or ‘How do you hit a high note?’ Or ‘What are your rhyme schemes?’ Et cetera, et cetera. ... I was really focused on developing a human connection with people in a live-performance setting, because that connection is really special and unique and long-lasting. That’s the kind of career I’ve always wanted to build.” She now lives not in Nashville, but in Palm Beach, Fla.
2. In addition to writing every song on “Bare Feet,” she also played most of the instruments for it. Among those she’s proficient on: several varieties of acoustic and electric guitars, as well as the Dobro, lap steel guitar, banjo, harmonica and piano. “I think my strongest instruments would be piano and guitar, and then I’m always working on different skills that have to do with different variations of styles of guitars because there’s so many. For example, the lap steel and Dobro, you could spend your whole life just mastering one of those instruments, even though they’re basically versions of the guitar. ... I love experimenting with those.”
3. But while she did all the writing and played most of the instruments, as she always has, “Bare Feet” is the first album she hasn’t produced by herself. Jones tapped Grammy and Academy Award winner Ric Wake (who has worked with Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston) for help, and “he taught me a lot about how to layer sounds, how to choose parts, how to create a record with punch, without overproduction. Ric is a great complement to me, because I tend to have a million ideas, and he just knows which ones are good.”
4. She met Jimmy Buffett for the first time last November. They were both on the bill at a hurricane relief benefit concert called “Trying to Reason...” in Tallahassee, Fla., where Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band headlined with Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith after Jones and Jake Owen led off. Buffett closed the show with his first live performance of the song “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On” – accompanied by Jones. “We just really hit it off, and it was a magical, really special night. Then they asked me to some other shows, and asked me on tour, and we teamed up for this record (her “Bare Feet” was released by Buffett’s Mailboat Records label). It’s as simple as that.”
There is a little more backstory, though: Jones has known Buffett’s manager, Mike Ramos, for years – they both live in Palm Beach. Ramos introduced Jones to Coral Reefer band member Mac McAnally six years ago. McAnally saw potential, helped her get a record made with studio musicians in Nashville, and became a mentor. But Jones never pushed for the Buffett meeting.
“I’ve always been very cautious about taking advantage of connections or over-stepping boundaries in that way. I actually – sometimes to the chagrin of people on my team – want to earn those opportunities, and I want them to feel right. They’ll come when they feel right. I’ve never been someone who’s trying to grab onto people just because they’re famous.”
5. So will she perform barefoot on Friday night? Don’t count on it. “Sometimes I do, but most times I don’t, because as a woman, you can only be barefoot in certain outfits. You can’t wear leather pants with bare feet – it’s just like not right. You have to wear leather pants with high boots. Jimmy, he’s always wearing a T-shirt and shorts, so it always looks good. But for a woman, if you want to dress up a little bit, you gotta wear shoes. So we change it up. But if I were left to my own devices, I’d always be in my bare feet.”
In June, Jones will open two shows in Canada for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, then in July and August she'll hit the road with Zac Brown Band. Her upcoming tour dates are listed here.