March 1, Verizon Arena
It's good to be Jimmy Buffett. He's got his own brand of beer, Landshark. And his own bar/restaurant chain, tequila brand and Sirius-XM radio channel, all named Margaritaville.
He doesn't have to work that hard. He played 33 concerts last year and has played or announced only 17 this year. And when he decides to come to North Little Rock, the concert sells out seats in 90 minutes — the norm wherever he plays. All that with only one Top 10 pop hit (you know the one).
Not to mention his business attire is long shorts, a T-shirt and no shoes. And he commutes in a Dassault Falcon Jet 900 — a sweet ride he picked up in Little Rock a while back.
A good friend once astutely pointed out that Jimmy Buffett sells much more than music — he sells a lifestyle. It's a lifestyle many ache to pursue — azure waters, lapping surf, an endless supply of cold beverages, a sweet boat, zero cares and a meeting-free calendar. And he's marketed the components of the lifestyle so well — from the booze to the clubs to the merchandise that promotes all of the above.
That astute friend is Keith Sykes, the Memphis music legend who once played in Buffett's band, made a handsome sum of money when Buffett included two of his compositions on "Son of a Son of a Sailor" and was Buffett's co-writer on the popular standard, "Volcano." So his opinions carry some weight, particularly since Buffett-facilitated checks still arrive in his mailbox.
Perhaps the best thing about being Jimmy Buffett, aside from all the money, is that his fans worship him. His concerts are a coronation, not an examination of whether or not he's on his game that night.
So it was March 1, when Buffett and his extraordinary 12-piece backing band —including Arkie-deluxe Mike Utley, his band leader and keyboard player for 30 years or so — were absolutely the toasts of the town, if not the state.
The question was whether the biggest party was inside or outside Verizon Arena. From the huge Ben E. Keith tailgate on the grass outside Dickey-Stephens Park to the west to the jam-packed RV park craziness that stretched to the Clinton Bridge to the east, North Little Rock was alive like it's rarely — if ever — been. The parties started the night before, and by 5 p.m. March 1 it was truly electric, thanks in part to the sunny 70-degree weather.
And then there was the concert, which in no way could or did disappoint the adoring 16,161 who undoubtedly felt lucky to have gotten the chance to pay up to $150 or so (counting fees) for the privilege.
Many of Buffett's songs are fun, semi-throwaway numbers, like "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Volcano," "License to Chill" and the Alan Jackson duet, "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere" (which neither wrote), all among the 27-song, two-hour-plus set.
But there's some real meat to others, from the self-realization of culpability that comes out as "Margaritaville" progresses to the reflective "Son of a Son of a Sailor" and "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes" to perhaps the most thoughtful Buffett classic, "A Pirate Looks at Forty," to the pining-for-you love song, "Come Monday," which started it all back in 1974 with the Nashville-insisted, over-produced, orchestrated sound that is so anti-Buffett. All were well performed and enthusiastically received.
Winding down the show, Buffett revisited a couple of his better-known concert covers. "Southern Cross," by Crosby, Stills and Nash, completed the main set. Van Morrison's classic "Brown-Eyed Girl" closed the first encore, with the rollicking "Fins" sandwiched between. The second encore was "Lovely Cruise," another cover that is lyrically apropos for a closing number, particularly for a nautically themed artist: "I'm sorry it's ending. Oh it's sad, but it's true. Honey, it's been a lovely cruise."
Indeed it had.