Going into a concert not knowing what to expect is a big part of the experience for me. A surprise cover, a surprise guest, a new song, and of course the surprise of the fans when anything like that happens. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts in my lifetime. I thought that I had pretty much seem it all. Then, this Jimmy Buffett show came along.
Just before the exit on I-275, you can peer over into the Ohio River, which flows behind the Riverbend Amphitheater. In the Ohio River, two hours before showtime, were no less than 50 boats and pontoons ready to enjoy a night of free music. That was my first indication that this night was going to be different.
After taking my exit, I’m greeted by row after row of Rv’s. There were a few of your everyday models, but most were decked out with custom painted tropical themes or huge hanging banners professing their Buffett addiction. Some complete with shark fins, but none absent of party people.
A couple of miles in, I approached many people heading to the venue. I’ve never seen so many grass skirts in my entire life! There were obviously Parrothead hats, but there were also a ton of incredibly creative people filing in. Guys wearing coconut bras, ladies wearing next to nothing and even kids with painted faces. That’s when it occurred to me, that as much as I love music and as many great experiences that I’ve been through, they all pale in comparison to the entire culture that Jimmy Buffett has created through his music and loyal fans. This is an event, not a concert.
As I talked to a few fans on the way in, I asked a young couple if they had seen Jimmy Buffett before, they both peered at each other and a huge smile captured their faces, their reply was, “A few times.” Obviously, I wanted to know more, so I continued to ask how many
shows events they’ve attended. Their answer was in unison, “This our 43rd show together.” Stunned, all I could muster as a reply was, “Holy shit!” I had found my fountains of knowledge! James and Mary Ann (Yeah, I thought of Gilligan’s Island immediately as well) proceeded to fill me in on what not to miss. They. Were. Awesome. Sadly though, I found out I was a Buffett Virgin. Can’t win em all I suppose!
Enough of the atmosphere, lets talk about music!! After being pummeled by beach balls for an hour before the show, it was time to get our party on. This tour is titled, Songs From St. Somewhere, and the band opened with that version of the song Kinja. Didn’t matter though. As much electricity that was in the air, Jimmy could’ve sang the will call ticket list and these people would’ve been just as happy.
It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere and tonight, that occurred about 10 minutes into the set, around 8:25 in Cincinnati. The massive Alan Jackson hit was the first huge singalong of the night and the table setter for all the fun times to follow.
One of the early highlights for me was the new song Something About A Boat. A nice slow groove built the momentum up to that big ole chorus and the song certainly has that signature Buffett style. It was a refreshing addition to the setlist. Seeing Jimmy’s dog Gracie fighting with a crab on the huge video screen gave the song a visual to go with the story and validate that Jimmy truly is who he says he is.
Jimmy and musical director Michael Utley threw out some numbers for the 26 years since they’ve been coming to Riverbend. Michael stated that there had been 870,000 tickets sold and 26 sold out shows. Jimmy added there have been 420 hangovers in the band, a few angry husbands and he guessed he’d better stop there. Great information and a rare glimpse of the business side of things. Still, it also shows how much Jimmy cares for this city.
With such a long setlist, I can’t really touch on every song, but some of the next few songs were amazing. Songs like Knees Of My Heart, the New Orleans inspired Pencil Thin Mustache was a particular favorite, and Son Of A Son Of A Sailor were all simply fantastic.
One thing I noticed, is there isn’t a lot of movement from the band, which in this instance is completely expected. Their focus is on the music, right where it should be. Jimmy’s music and personality are more than enough to carry the show and he leaves the moving and excitement to the crowd.
Next I want to discuss a brand new song. A Toby Keith duet that’s coming on the new album called Too Drunk To Karaoke. Straying more into Toby Keith’s lane than Jimmy’s, the outlaw country/rock song has the makings of a hit just oozing from its pores. Keep your eye out for this one. There should be a video released, hopefully within a few days of this show.
Following that up was the HUGE hit Cheeseburger In Paradise. This funkified version had the capacity crowd dancing to every beat and nearly overpowering Jimmy’s vocals with a massive amount of crowd participation. How could you not get lost and fall in love with this song?!
The acoustic portion of the show was where it was at for me. Stripped down songs bring me closer to them. Most are written an an acoustic guitar, so to hear them in their natural state, so to speak, is amazing. An inspiring rendition of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Southern Cross was absolutely stunning. The vibe, the energy, the power in that melody is as strong as it’s ever been and his rendition was absolutely spot on. Amazing.
During Volcano, Jimmy mentioned that they will be playing the new album all the way through in Hawaii. That’s the first set of the night at that show. I mention this because you can help select the other 27 songs that will be played during the second set, by voting for them on margaritaville.com. One can only assume this will lead to an epic DVD release to accompany the new album. So, if you’re a Parrothead, go help shape the future!!
Breaking into a cover of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long, I couldn’t help but feel that this song fit Jimmy better than it ever did Lionel. It was a perfect rendition and one I won’t soon forget. Listen, while Jimmy may be showing some signs of aging, he’s certainly not indicating he’s slowing down one damn bit and I completely admire him for that. His spirit is alive and well and it filled the venue with love and excitement, All Night Long.
James and Mary Ann had told me to be sure and do the Land Shark dance. I’ll be honest, I had no clue what they were talking about, but once the song Fins started, it didn’t take me long to figure it out. This song ended the main set, but no one there was fooled. We all knew he was coming back.
Once back onstage, Jimmy gave away his flip flops. Now that’s something I can say I’ve never seen before. That’s one unique souvenir and just one more way that sets apart Jimmy Buffett from the rest of the pack. That was cool.
Once the music started back up, it was Jimmy’s island influenced version of the classic Van Morrison tune Brown Eyed Girl. What a singalong. I’m still amazed and maybe even a little deaf after that one!
You couldn’t have the Jimmy Buffet style, and especially the marketing, without his signature hit Margaritaville. Has there ever been a song written before this one, that completely embodies the who, what, when, where and why of an artist? This song is what everyone has been partying for all day and night long. It’s the culmination, the apex of the evening and the reason this entire night existed. Wow is really all I can say.
As I mentioned earlier, Jimmy has a deep appreciation for Cincinnati. He sang one more song and it was easy to see that it was dedicated to the city and all the fans who have made the last 26 years so successful. The song was I Have Found Me A Home and it was a sincere, classy way to end the night.
What I took away from my evening was simple. Jimmy Buffett is the Super Bowl of concerts. With all the tailgaters, cornholers, grill masters, beer drinkers and Parrotheads in the
parking lots entire area, this was plain to see. After being a casual fan for years, I’ve just been transformed into a Parrothead. Thanks Jimmy for being who you are and for being true to yourself. Your personality shines like the Stars On The Water.