Jimmy Buffett in Tampa: five reasons it could’ve sucked, and five ways we were totally wrong

I dreaded this trip to Margaritaville. I was totally wrong.

After my last Jimmy Buffett concert a few years ago, I swore never again. 

Yes, I’ll go see him play when he campaigns — from the media stands — but an honest-to-god parrothead concert? Um, no, thank you. But reviewing his show? For free? Not in the goddamn lawn section? I can handle that. As much as I love his music and his message, I still sort of dreaded Saturday night’s show at the Mid-Florida whatever we call it these days. Here’s why, and why I was wrong.

5. I don’t love the fans.It’s not that I don’t love his songwriting and his message (the real message, not the “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” one, but because I had reached my lifetime limit of dealing with ex-frat boys with paunches, pasty white chests and depressing day jobs trying to pretend they “got it” while wearing coconut shell bras and getting way too chummy after a few too many trips to Margaritaville. Now, before every chapter of Parrotheads everywhere burns my effigy, you’re totally entitled to worship at the altar of the salt shaker however you want and yes, I know a lot of the chapters do a lot of good, but the way you party at the concerts is not how I choose to enjoy Jimmy Buffett. When you all get together, I honest to god cannot stand you.

4. Especially the goddamn lawn.Because I hate the lawn section. Aside from the fact that you don’t have a seat (I mean, you can bring one but you’re not going to see a thing because everyone’s standing) and it sells out first so it’s always crowded, the last time I saw JB from the lawn I spent more time trying to keep my spot than appreciating the show. 

I mean, I spent a good 45 minutes of a two-hour show with elbows out and a fight stance so I could breathe. At another show, I couldn’t see JB because the super-tall dude in front of me made himself even taller with a huge straw hat, to which he strapped two naked barbies going at it. And flashing lights. And yes, he was in a grass skirt and had that red shiny drunk glow. Which is totally the message Jimmy wanted to get out there when he wrote “Color of the Sun.”

3. I also don’t need to see your tits, bro.Here’s a pro-tip for all the dudes who, at age 70, still think it’s a swell idea to get trashed and wear coconut shell bras: Yes, I know he wrote a song about you. But go to about :33 in and multiply by about 200-500 people, then remember that was you 11 years ago and while you might think margaritas are magic, they haven’t helped you sweat less. 

2. People don’t get him.In reality, though, the reason I don’t love the drunks and the guys in coconut shell bras is because they really don’t get what his music means. And I know you love Margaritaville — believe me, you’ve made it crystal clear — but that’s not who he is. Heartbreaking, I know, but he is Jimmy motherfucking Buffett, and while I would die happy if I never, ever heard “Margaritaville” even again, the man is a master. Stay with me. I know lots of you wish we’d reserve our corner of the web for bands like Gwar, the Ramones and the Weeknd. You’re suffering from hearing “Fins” one too many times (so, uh, twice, then). He’s actually a brilliant, gifted songwriter — but at his concert, fans don’t want to hear “Death of an Unpopular Poet” or “The Christian.”

1. Jimmy Buffett feeds the machine I hate.Look, this Parrothead culture isn’t an accident; Buffett’s fed the machine. Brands he’s created that feed it include Landshark beer, Margaritaville footwear, Caribbean Soul shirts, Margaritaville shrimp, Margaritaville hotels, Margaritaville bars, Margaritaville blenders… you get the idea. But I’m pretty sure that’s a mean to an end; every account I’ve ever read of his private life indicates the drunk party life is all show. Remember MySpace? ‘Round ’bout 2005, I downloaded a bootleg of Buffett playing “The Wino and I Know” in some bar somewhere, and he makes a remark about how great it is to play in a venue like that without “a bunch of drunks” clamoring for “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” — and it’s pretty clear from his tone he’s making fun of those people. I downloaded it, and when I sent a friend to the link to download it a few weeks later, it was gone. Probably because it’s not great press if his fan base ever realized how much they can annoy him.

Maybe I’ve stayed away too long, but if Saturday night’s concert at the Shed is any indication, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jimmy Buffett is running out of fucks to give about whether or not the depressed CPA wearing a grass skirt and drinking way too much Landshark wants him to play “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.” And here are five reasons why I believe that, based on his most recent show in Tampa Bay. 

5. He’s moving away from the songs the drunk white collar fans come to hear him play.Granted, most of what he played was the popular stuff, but there were some treasures in there we wouldn’t have heard 10 years ago. If you look at the set list, aside from the covers (and no, I don’t count the ones Mac McAnally wrote as covers), he evenly divided the “songs you know by heart” with the infinitely-better B-sides. There was also a change from past videos playing in the background — while Buffett still showed video of the crowd and past examples of Parrothead debauchery, he also incorporated spectacular photography and videography in the background, making the concert a pleasure to watch as well as hear.

4. The bluegrass version of “Gypsies in the Palace.” On the 1985 Last Mango in Paris, the late Glenn Frey makes an appearance on “Gypsies in the Palace.” Last night Buffett played a bluegrass rendition of the song, transitioning into “Take It Easy.” When the crowd went wild, I had to wonder how many of them know Buffett called opening for The Eagles on their Hotel California tour “the rocket ship we rode” to fame.

3. More Mac.Over the years, songwriter Mac McAnally has had increasingly more front-and-center time, and with good reason: He’s written (or co-written with Buffett) some of the Coral Reefer Band’s best B-sides, the stuff people like me go to the concerts to hear. To wit, “It’s My Job,” “Coast of Carolina,” “She’s Going Out of My Mind,” “The City” and “Semi-True Story.” This Muscle Shoals musician has also written songs for the Lyle Lovett, Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown. Songs he did not write include “Margaritaville,” “Fins” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.”

2. “Little Martha”. An acoustic song, played not by Buffett but the wildly gifted Mac McAnally. Despite the cheers for the Allman Brothers, a goodly number of the concertgoers headed for the beer stands when it became apparent Buffett wasn’t about to launch into a song about la vida playa. Which is a shame; those of us who stayed were rewarded with a tender acoustic tribute to, as McAnnally said, the band who “made it cool to be Southern in music.”

1. “Defying Gravity.”The final song of the evening came from 1976’s Havaña Daydreaming, but Buffett never released it as a single. He preceded “Defying Gravity” with a not-so-veiled barb at Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord (he’d already ad-libbed “don’t wanna land in Mar-a-Lago” when he sang “Volcano”): After calling Earth a beautiful planet, he said some people cared more than others, than closed by saying “I want to live on islands; I don’t want to be treading water.”Listen to a playlist featuring every song Buffett played at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre by clicking here.


Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

The Tiki Bar Is Open (John Hiatt)

The Great Filling Station Holdup

(mentioned Gregg Allman in the “Midnight Rider” snippet)

Knees of My Heart

Grapefruit—Juicy Fruit

Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season

Son of a Son of a Sailor

Come Monday

Weather With You (Crowded House)

Jamaica Mistaica

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (Alan Jackson)

Knee Deep (Zac Brown Band)



Little Martha (The Allman Brothers Band — Mac McAnally solo acoustic)

That’s What Living Is to Me

Gypsies in the Palace

Take It Easy (Eagles)

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Last Mango in Paris

A Pirate Looks at Forty

Back Where I Come From (Mac McAnally)

Southern Cross (Crosby, Stills & Nash)


Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)

One Particular Harbour

Love and Luck

Defying Gravity (Jesse Winchester)

This article appeared originally in Creative Loafing Tampa.