Acoustic Harvest Moon Benefit Concert
I never thought I'd have to pay $200 to see Jimmy Buffett, a man of the people, a dude who answers to "Bubba." Usually, I'm up on the lawn with the other real fans...or at least the other real poor fans. In fact, I criticized Jimmy for failing to "keep it real" when I heard he was charging $500-$1000 for his millenium concert. The only people who can really afford to pay that price are the people who are usually the villains in his songs, not the parrothead proletariate.
But, when a friend dangled this ticket in front of me, I had to jump on it. I rationalized, "It's for charity," while thinking, "Since when is a Montessori school in the Hamptons singing 'There's Nothing Soft About Hard Times?'"
Screw charity, I just wanted to see Jimmy B. do an acoustic show in a ridiculously small venue, The Bay Street Theater that only seats 300. And I was fished-in by the promise of a chance to meet Jimmy at a post-concert reception. I've been a fan for ten years, so I was really excited for this opportunity and I scrambled to think of something profound to say to JB. I didn't want to say the wrong thing and face the blank stare that my co-editor, Mary, received from Cher.
We drove to Sag Harbor, near the eastern tip of Long Island, parked the car and waited outside for about a half hour, freezing in our short-sleeved hawaiian shirts. When they began to let people in, a woman in a fur coat tried to push past us but we held our ground. We feared that fur coats might outnumber hawaiian shirts at this show, but the overall vibe wasn't snobby. In the theater lobby, we scanned the items available for silent auction. There were a few authographed Buffett items and a jacket from the St. Louis Parrothead Club, which made me feel like I was in the right place, since I'm from St. Louis and had once scored Buffett tix for a show in Nashville from that club. The opening bids were all too rich for our blood, so we went into the theater to take our seats. Although our seats were in the last row, the theater was so small that it really didn't matter.
A couple of representatives of the Peconic Montessori School told us why we were there and introduced Jimmy. He came out on stage wearing jeans and a white shirt, pretty dressy for him. He told us he had chosen songs with a nautical theme for this show, since we were on an island. He kicked things off with "The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful" because it mentions Long Island, and he forgot the words of one of the verses. He laughed and apologized for having "a senior moment," and we didn't mind one bit. He seemed really glad to be there, both for the cause and for the chance to play an intimate show where people were sober and listening instead of shouting the lyrics along with him. We did sing along to some songs, but when Jimmy paused to tell stories in between songs, we hung on his every word. This show played like a fascinating episode of VH1's Storytellers, like having Jimmy Buffett in your living room.
Next up were "Boat Drinks" and the rarely played "Presents To Send You." Jimmy said, "I can't believe I've lived this long and recorded so many songs." He said he would reach back into his catalogue for us and we cheered. He then showed that he was something of a webhead, by referencing The Church of Buffett, Orthodox, a popular online resource for parrotheads. Jimmy said he had gone to the site to remember the lyrics and chords to his songs for tonight's show. While he took issue with the COBO tenet that he hadn't recorded anything "worth shit" since 1976, he did allow that the site were a great source for chords.
The show rolled on with "Grapefruit/Juicy Fruit," "Lone Palm" which Jimmy called "No Bird Flies Through My Window," and "Life Is Just a Tire Swing." Jimmy played "Brahma Fear," a song he said he based on his experiences working on Rancho Deluxe, a western that he scored in the 70s. He said, "The best thing about being a writer is listening," and he related the story behind the next song, "Morris' Nightmare." Jimmy was on a beach on a carribean island and overheard a woman haranguing her sleeping husband, "Morris, wake up! Your missing our vacation. You can sleep when you get home." I have always admired Buffett's skill at taking these isolated moments and spinning songs that have larger significance out of them.
He played "Miss You So Badly," "Banana Republics," and "Jolly Mon," a song based on a childrens book he co-wrote with his daughter Savannah Jane. He told an anecdote about a meeting at "the studio out in California, the one with the mouse" where they wanted to turn "Jolly Mon" into a movie, but they also wanted to turn the lead character, a Jamaican Rastafarian, into a white guy.
We then got a really rare treat--a hilarious rendition of "God's Own Drunk," a spoken word routine not heard live since the 70s. He played "Twelve Volt Man," and "Door Number Three"--an ode to Carol Merrill and Let's Make a Deal which Buffett said he preferred to Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
Before playing "Distantly in Love," Jimmy mentioned that a university in Louisiana gave a course on geography in Jimmy Buffett songs. He shares these tidbits with a bemused expression on his face, so he never seems self-inflated. "Migration" and "Son of a Son of a Sailor" were the last longs in the set.
The crowd went ballistic and Jimmy came back for a two-song encore. He obliged with "Margaritaville," pausing for the parrotheads to shout "Salt! Salt! Salt!" He showed affection for the parrotheads throughout the night, drawing attention to a couple of guys in grass skirts who made frequent trips to the bathroom and asking how many members of the NYC Metro parrothead club were present. He ended the show with a gentle cover that's featured on his latest live album, "Southern Cross."
We filed out to the reception and drank margaritas and ate conch fritters and shrimp, waiting for Jimmy to grace us with his presence. We waited until the auction was over and then waited some more, til most of the Hamptonians had left and only the parrotheads remained. He never showed. I'm not sure why, but some guy in a shark costume told me the authorities had told him that Mrs. Buffett came out and checked out the crowd and decided it would be a mob scene. I find this a little hard to believe, as the crowd was much more well-behaved and sober than at a typical Buffett summer show, where I've witnessed lots of projectile vomiting and seen people too drunk to make it from the parking lot tailgate parties to the actual concert. We were annoyed, since the benefit organizers had promised that our $200 would ensure us an audience with the man himself, but I got over my angst pretty quickly. I was flying high from being one of only 300 to see this incredible show. There has been some clamoring on the internet for Jimmy to do an all-ballads album and tour, and that's something he should think about pursuing, given the success of this show. I think this concert must have been gratifying for Jimmy, assuring him that people want to hear all of his songs, not just "Margaritaville," and that he is appreciated as a storyteller as well as an entertainer.
My favorite part of the big Buffett concerts is the part where he sends the Coral Reefer band offstage for a break and plays a few ballads on his acoustic guitar. He tends to get a little lost when he's a dot onstage and I'm up on the lawn, but it's still a magical portion of the show. At this benefit show, I was treated to over two hours of Buffett and his acoustic guitar. I didn't miss the steel drums and the back-singers one bit. I know Jimmy likes to make and spend a lot of money and I don't begrudge him for that, but here's hoping he downsizes his shows like this more often.
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