There is very little reason to get wasted and wear a grass skirt in Utah—especially on a brisk October night. But, then again, it’s been nearly 30 years since Jimmy Buffett played here, and apparently that’s a reason onto itself.
And, as I learned last night, a Jimmy Buffett show is also a very strange fashion show. Attendees wore some many leis that I asked a couple of women in the bathroom if they were handing them out at the venue (They were not.) and so many parrots were perched on their heads and shoulders that fake feathers fell on the floor like confetti. I saw at least two women with sea shell bras on over their T-shirts and two more wearing full-body shark suits. And one man who went all-in with a parrot costume.
And there I was in a turtleneck and blue jeans. Like a dummy.
Even Buffett showed up in his own sort of costume, though, surely by now it’s more of a uniform. Shorts, a brightly-colored Hawaiian shirt and, of course, no shoes. It’s this laid-back ‘I don’t give a you-know-what’ vibe that Buffett has made his fortune on.
But, and here’s the irony of the whole thing. He definitely does give a you-know-what. It would be easy for a reviewer to hate on the performer, after all, he is the ultimate-capitalist (Margaritaville restaurants, Landshark Beer. Need I go on?) while making a fortune on his alleged desire for the simplicity of island life. I’m not going to do that.
In fact, here are five reasons why Jimmy Buffett did not suck, despite the fact that his fans brought beach balls to his concert.
- The Coral Reefer band. They are large and they are mighty and while it might be easy to dismiss them as nothing more than a back-up band, their folk-country-bluegrass-calypso transitions proved that they are versatile.
2. The setlist. Buffett played hits. He played b-sides. And he played covers. In a set spanning his career, he played the songs you know by heart (“Margaritaville,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Come Monday”) and threw in some red meat for the die-hards, of which there were many (“Knees of my Heart,” “Livingston Saturday Night”) and plenty of covers (“Brown-eyed Girl,” “Southern Cross,” “It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere”). Throughout the set, he introduced nearly every song with a story.
3. The crowd. Aside from my obvious confusion caused by some of their… er… wardrobe choices, this crowd was in it for Buffett. They chanted “Salt! Salt! Salt!” during “Margaritaville.” They made fins of their hands and moved to the left and to the right during “Fins.” They were living in the moment during each song. And—the best part—they spanned generations. Boomers and Millennials both were grooving along—often as part of the same family. The family that sings “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” stays together, I guess. (ed note: Getting drunk and screwing was not part of the setlist for Buffett’s Salt Lake show. Perhaps our conservative reputation precedes us.)
4. The stage. It looked like a tropical paradise onstage, sure. But what I really want to talk about is the screen behind Buffett. It switched from video-taped beach scenes, to visual prompts based on the lyrics of songs and to photos of a younger Buffett—and even photos of his boat. It kept things interesting. And it definitely added to the show.
5. The man himself. Look, it would be really easy for Jimmy Buffett to actually take his own advice and retire on an island. It would be just as easy for him to phone it in at a concert. His loyal fans would show up anyway. But that’s not what happened. Buffett showed up. And he had a hell of a lot of fun on that stage, seemingly connecting with the audience in real ways. He joked about the Great Salt Lake, he apologized for taking so long to get back here. And at the end of the night before the final song of his encore, the conservation-themed “Defying Gravity” he told the crowd, “Get out the vote!” and adding “Some people need to get their asses and their heads out of the sand…”
I’ll drink to that.