Jimmy Buffett is plenty skilled at bringing a summer party to a summer crowd; the trick is doing on a chilly-ish Thursday night in February.
Luckily, the head Parrothead is pretty good at that sort of thing, and conjured up on Groundhog Day a summertime house party at the North Charleston Coliseum worthy of Independence Day. He and his Coral Reefer Band knocked out a 2 1/2-hour, 27 song show heavy on the usual suspects -- "Come Monday," "One Particular Harbour," "Margaritaville" and the like -- but with a heavy helping of Carolina-targeted treats for the Lowcountry audience. (And an apology for being a spot delayed due to the chaos on the bridge in Charleston that day.)
Though Buffett's Coral Reefer Band rehearses in Charleston, they hadn't performed a show proper there since 1997, a fact Buffett noted in introducing the show. The crowd knew it too; the show sold out brutally fast. Buffett joked that any Parrotheads who accidentally found their way into the adjacent Performing Arts Center performance of "Mary Poppins" could have been understandably confused. "If you want to look for people flying during this show, they're in the audience," he said. "Then there could be some Parrotheads over there who took the wrong turn going, 'Wow, that Jimmy, he's aged.'"
The setlist read as Buffett setlists will, heavy on the "Changes In Latitudes"/"Son of a Son of a Sailor" laid-back sailboat material on which Buffett has built an empire; uncorked in a maritime town that hadn't seen him in a while, the sailing material had an extra seaworthy edge.
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But nodding to his locale, Buffett brought out a number of Carolina-specific rarities. "Coast of Carolina," from his 2004 album "License to Chill" -- a country-inflected record that was his first No. 1 album -- is a lovely, gently rolling love song from a wisened point of view. The semi-torch song "Honey Do" finds him "dreaming of ... pretty eyes up in South Carolina." Most pointedly he dedicated to Pat Conroy the 1989 rarity "Prince of Tides," a semi-monologue with a name-check for Daufuskie Island that probably hasn't been played since its release.
Buffett also nodded to his recent impressions on the country charts by playing "Knee Deep," his collaboration with the Zac Brown Band, "Back Where I Come From," a hit for Kenny Chesney written by his guitarist and collaborator, Mac McAnally, and of course "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," starring McAnally as Alan Jackson.
Buffett, who turned 65 on Christmas Day, was in fine voice throughout, his Coral Reefer Band -- due to all those Charleston practices, no doubt -- are automatic at this point. And judging by the energy and barefootedness, there's no reason summer can't keep going. "I see the day where my hair turns gray and I finally disappear," he sings in "One Particular Harbour," adding, "But not yet."
Jeff Vrabel is a music writer and unapologetic Parrothead who lives on Hilton Head Island. Reach him at www.jeffvrabel.com.