The beach balls tossed around the crowd. The leis. The adult beverages being consumed in parking areas – yes, even at Chastain.
Forty-plus years into a career and none of it changes.
And that’s exactly how Parrotheads like it.
At his first gig at Chastain Park Amphitheatre in 27 years, Jimmy Buffett skipped onto the stage in his traditional uniform of pastel shorts and flip-flops and immediately burst into “Summertime Blues” with his nine-piece band and two backup singers.
By the second song, a steel drum-inflected cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” the shoes were shucked and the nearly sold-out crowd popped to their feet to sing along.
The fact is, Buffett could be up there reciting the Gettysburg Address and as long as fans could wear a foam fin on their heads, they’d happily recite along with him.
His catalog is comprised of uncomplicated songs (“Changes in Latitude” is paint-by-numbers Caribbean lite and the self-explanatory “Too Drunk to Karaoke” is cheerfully brainless) and Buffett has always been a flat, nasally singer prone, in his later years, to speak-singing lyrics live.
But he’s committed to a lifestyle that offers fans a couple of hours of escapism and, while his style isn’t for everyone, he presents it with a warm smile and many, many stories.
“Why the hell not?” was Buffett’s reasoning for returning to Chastain after nearly three decades, and the same could be said about those who shelled out more than $250 for the best seats in the amphitheater. For many, a Buffett show is an annual ritual, and if foot-tapping along to the jaunty “Volcano” and the clip-clopping “One Particular Harbour” makes them happy…so be it.
While Buffett’s extensive chatting between songs was endearing to a point – and he customized his banter to Atlanta-specific tales – it also led to an even-keeled energy level that never escalated because of the continued pauses.
His introduction to the still-lovely “Come Monday” included a story about when, in his fledgling years, he performed a show at The Bistro on West Peachtree Street and “no one actually came.”
The eternal singalong “Cheeseburger in Paradise” was prefaced by Buffett, 67, noting, “In my early days, my only cheeseburgers were from Krystal and The Varsity.”
Locals undoubtedly appreciated hearing Buffett praise Atlanta’s Zac Brown Band prior to covering the band’s swinging “Knee Deep” (on which Buffett appeared on record); later, Buffett reeled off the combo of ZBB’s “Free” and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” popularized by the pair on “CMT Crossroads” (ZBB launched its own summer tour over the weekend, so a live sighting was not to be).
Adding to the Atlanta connections, one of Buffett’s longtime backup singers is Nadirah Shakoor, an Atlanta native and former member of Arrested Development.
The other secret weapon in Buffett’s ace band, which is as capable of adding a pretty accordion coating to “He Went to Paris” as easily as injecting electric guitar into to the rockin’ soul of “The Pascagoula Run,” is guitarist Mac McAnally, the deserved six-time winner of the Country Music Association’s Musician of the Year award.
The booming voiced guitarist held the crowd – a notoriously chatty and distracted bunch at Chastain – rapt with his playing on The Allman Brothers’ “Little Martha” and filled in the Toby Keith portion of “Too Drunk to Karaoke.”
During the 2 ½-hour concert, Buffett included only a couple of selections from last year’s “Songs From St. Somewhere” album – his 27th release and ostensibly the reason for this tour, dubbed “This One’s For You.”
But everyone knows that Buffett doesn’t need a new album to support a tour. A few grass skirts and blenders of booze and yet another trip to “Margaritaville” is all that is ever required.