In his first live concert since the pandemic, Jimmy Buffett was in Delray Beach at Old School Square last night, as happy to be there as were the hundreds of parrot heads and fans who had gathered to see him in a rare—almost intimate—setting under the stars.
“We can’t wait to get back,” he said, which was the general theme of the evening, mixed with a sweet nostalgia for Key West, and a career that has made him integral to the laid-back Florida dream state, from busted out flip flops to lost jiggers of salt, sailboats and sea changes.
He started off easy with “Changes in Latitudes” and “Pencil-Thin Mustache.” Vowing an easy re-entry into “the core of parrot head-ism,” he moved on to “Migration,” interspersing songs with allusions to 14 months of lockdown, and the sheer joy of being on stage again. At one point he said, “The plane is out of the hangar, on the runway…and we took off tonight.”
And took off he did. Although he was playing with about half of his Coral Reefers band, Buffett embraced the small Old School Square venue when it dawned on him that it was like “being at a big backyard party” which it was, of course. The crowd was not as crazy as I’ve seen in larger venues with no tailgating under their Hawaiian shirts (and no beach balls allowed) but plenty of pink tutus and parrot hats and grass skirts and dancing in the “pods” reserved for seating.
Midway through the show, he brought up Caroline Jones, a pop country singer -songwriter he’d met at a Tallahassee benefit who did a ukulele duet with him on “Come Monday,” an oldie but a bestie in the singer’s songbook.
Having Jimmy Buffett at Old School Square may have been one of the most brilliant coups any Delray venue has had in years. I remember the first time I saw him in the 1970s back in Key West—I think he was doing a gig at Captain Tony’s—when he was just starting out. That was decades before the superstardom and mega venues and big crowds, and he talked to his audience as he played, all of us in the same world, in a crowded bar, listening to a soundtrack of our lives, sipping a beer. That’s what it felt like last night, in Old School Square—earlier times, made all the more sweet by the last year and a half of isolation and uncertainty.
Buffett’s longtime band mate Mac McAnally did a brilliant rendition of dueling banjos on his guitar, followed by more Buffett standards, from “Margaritaville” to “Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street” to “When A Pirate Looks At Forty” to an encore with “One Particular Harbor” and the traditional closing anthem, “Fins” and “I’m Looking For a Better Day.”
“It’s great to be back to work,” he said, as he ended his show.
And it was great to have him back.