Barefoot bard Jimmy Buffett immediately charmed the Acura Stage audience at New Orleans Jazz Fest on Sunday (April 26) when he stepped to the microphone and absurdly identified himself as rapper Pitbull, who was actually appearing at the Congo Square Stage. Time and again during his two-hour performance, the 68-year old country/Caribbean singer delighted the crowd with references to the Crescent City, where he busked in the French Quarter 40 years ago.
During his recitation of the sand and sun anthem “Margaritaville,” the best-selling author modified the lyrics to match the mire that spread out in front of him in the rain-soaked racetrack infield.
“Nibbling on sponge cake,” he sang, “watching the sun bake, all of you at Jazz Fest covered in mud. Strumming my six-string, on my front porch swing, we’re looking a lot better than when there’s a flood.”
Buffett has long cultivated a carefree persona, but the Pascagoula, Miss. native is anything but insouciant when it comes to his fans. Throughout the set, he handed out his hits — “Changes in Latitudes,” “Changes in Attitudes,” “Come Monday,” “Volcano,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and more — like lovingly wrapped gifts at the New Orleans Jazz Fest presented by Shell. He beamed with the applause that crested with the opening chords of every beloved melody. During “Fins” he led the crowd in a shark pantomime. During “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and …” his faithful fans sang along with the affably naughty refrain.
Bottleneck guitar maestro Sonny Landreth joined Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band on three tunes, lending his trilling slide sound to the mix of steel drum, pedal steel guitar and trumpet.
The audience was dotted with Buffett devotees sporting shark fin hats or parrot accoutrement. A couple near the stage rose above the flock, having decked themselves out in head-to-toe parrot costumes made from brilliantly colored actual bird feathers. A cluster of fans near the centrally located sound tent had stenciled their arms with the number of times they’d seen Buffett live. The numbers ranged from single digits to 145.
The sun made occasional appearances in the milky sky, though the beach balls that bounded dreamily above the crowd remained streaked with residual muck. A beer vendor in a pink cap tunneled through the packed audience. A tattoo of the Mississippi River trailed along the suntanned shoulder blade of a young female Buffett fan.
The concert closed with the hard rock/hula “One Particular Harbor,” but Buffett and company swiftly returned for an encore of “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” that segued into “Twist and Shout” and finally the good-time classic “Brown Eyed Girl.”
Buffett followed his New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell set with a show at Preservation Hall’s Jazz Fest Midnight Preserves series, a run of late-night concerts that take place each festival night and feature big-name performers from the Fair Grounds –- unannounced until they hit the venerable St. Peter Street stage –- in concert alongside members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. See photos and read more about that night.