Review: Jimmy Buffett serves up tributes, Florida love at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre
A week had passed since the death of Gregg Allman, and as a fellow elder statesman of Sunshine State songwriting, Jimmy Buffett couldn't let the night get far without tribute.
"This is for Gregg," Buffett said early in his concert Saturday at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, as his Coral Reefer Band transitioned The Great Filling Station Holdup into a rowdy rendition of the Allman Brothers Band's Midnight Rider.
"Thank you Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers," he added afterward, "for everything you did for us."
At 70, a year older than Allman, Buffett’s adoration of all things Floridian is never buried too deep in the sand. And for his first full Tampa concert in two years, the king of Caribbean conch rock and a sold-out crowd of 19,000 piled the love for one another on thick.
“It’s nice to be back here in Florida playing, I’m telling you that,” he said, a salty goatee barnacled to his permanently suntanned face. “I haven’t been back here in about two years; sorry about that. But time flies.”
Not in the Margaritaville time zone, apparently. For Parrotheads, a Buffett concert is mainly an excuse to tailgate and drink and toss beach balls all day; by the time the show rolls around, the crowd is just a sea of swaying patrons in Hawaiian shirts and straw hats, bellowing every word and tossing fins in the air left and right. This is the somewhere in It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.
Buffett rewarded his fellow Gulf Coasters with a slew of local chatter and references: Gasparilla (“I know I’m in a pirate town,” he said before A Pirate Looks at Forty); an old photo of himself in a Rowdies jersey; Boca Ciega Bay (which he pronounced “Boca CHEE-ga” [UPDATE: As readers have pointed out, he was quite possibly referring to Boca Chika in the Florida Keys]); opening for “my neighbor, my friend and my cohort” Glenn Frey and the Eagles in Lakeland decades ago; even “a place out in John’s Pass that has a good cheeseburger; it’s got conch fritters on it.” A full-band version of ace sideman/songwriter Mac McAnally’s Back Where I Come From was backdropped by a montage of scenes and people from all over Tampa Bay; it was as cheesy as it was effective.
A Buffett show is hardly the place for talk of current affairs; the closest he really got was a little medical pot talk; a Je Suis Paris guitar strap and a couple of pro-environmental pitches in the encore that may or may not have been directed at Donald Trump.
"You live on one of the best one particular harbors in the world," he told the Tampa crowd. "I think the world is worth saving, you know?"
He did, however, update fans on the status of his musical Escape to Margaritaville, which just had its premiere in La Jolla, Calif., and is eyeing a Broadway debut in 2018.
“It’s coming, it’s coming, and it’s pretty good,” he said before Come Monday, which featured rehearsal footage of the show. “It’s kind of fun to go play these songs after we’ve seen other people imitate us in the production.”
Really, though, who could imitate Jimmy Buffett? How do you still smile ear-to-ear singing Margaritaville for the 10-billionth time, as Buffett did Saturday night? How do you keep turning that boogie-woogie rumble of Fins into a Y.M.C.A.-sized dance party?
In addition to hit after hit after hit – Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes; Cheeseburger in Paradise; Son of a Son of a Sailor; Volcano – Buffett rearranged his band into a bluegrass-style collective for a few songs, including Gypsies in the Palace and a cover of the Eagles’ Take It Easy in honor of Frey. In fact, he offered a host of covers, from friends like Crowded House (Weather With You), Alan Jackson (It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere) and the Zac Brown Band (Knee Deep) to legends like John Hiatt (The Tiki Bar Is Open) and Crosby, Stills and Nash (a particularly rocking Southern Cross). Allman even got a second tribute, a dynamic solo acoustic guitar performance from McAnally of the Allman Brothers Band’s Little Martha.
“That was pretty cool,” Buffett laughed afterward – and it was; McAnally’s solo was the best pure musicianship in the show.
But with Buffett, it was never just about the music. Like Allman, he created an aesthetic and movement that’ll outlive him by eons. Whenever he sails off into the great unknown, he’ll get his stage tributes, too, and plenty of margaritas in the air acrosss Florida. The Midnight Rider would no doubt approve.
-- Jay Cridlin