Photos by Clayton Taylor
Jimmy Buffett has reached “The Slow Lane” part of his life.
Those aren’t my words. They are his, captured in the 2020 song of that name and mentioned again as part of his stage banter last night (June 9) during a concert at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion.
“Ridin’ in the slow lane, slow lane, throttlin’ down,” he sang to the crowd, which had packed the venue in Rogers. If he was slowing down before, “the stuff” – his way of referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that postponed this concert from September 2021 to now – made him dial it back further, he said.
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
Who: Steely Dan’s The ‘Earth After Hours’ Tour with Snarky Puppy
When: 7:30 p.m. June 10
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Starting at $39.50 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or amptickets.com
And who can blame him? He’s 75 years old. He’s been on the road for 50 years, and he has a merchandising empire to run. He certainly doesn’t need the money.
The concert, featuring Buffett and the 12 members of his Coral Reefer Band, was certainly a slow-paced affair. Buffett took time to tell stories before each of his songs. He played up the fact his band director, Michael Utley, was born in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas. The crowd obliged by calling the hogs on two different occasions. Buffett jumped back in mock surprise both times and let Utley soak it all in. Buffett was never in a hurry about anything.
As a result, the show also never quite found the raucous crescendo I might have expected. Buffett’s biggest songs got appropriately big responses. But it was also more of a parking lot party with a theme, one where people dressed up and wore hats that looked like shark fins, cheeseburgers or parrots. It wasn’t Buffett’s first appearance in Northwest Arkansas – I found a record of a 2005 concert at Donald Reynolds Razorback Stadium (!!!) that almost certainly had to be part of Walmart Shareholders’ Meeting festivities. But I would argue that Thursday night’s show had to be the largest collection of Hawaiian shirts this region has seen since.
Photo: Clayton Taylor
Often, the full-band takes of Buffett’s songs – which have been dubbed “Gulf and Western” – were indistinct. As such, the homogenized sound contributed to the easy-breezy vibe of the show. There were no peaks and no valleys, just two hours of country-tinged beach rock. For me, the most compelling parts of the show were stripped down or otherwise unexpected. Buffett’s solo take at “Tin Cup Chalice” and near-solo take on “A Pirate Looks at Forty” were highlights. So too was guitarist Mac McAnally’s stunning cover of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Little Martha.” There was tremendous talent on the stage, and it was best viewed when isolated from the rest of the group.
I do not know what previous iterations of the Jimmy Buffett concert experience might have looked or felt like. This was my first Buffett show. Maybe the shows were faster, wilder or more dramatic in some other era. But those traits don’t strike me as very-Buffett like. And no matter how you view the experience itself, the concert should have taken place long ago. Not just because of COVID, but because the Parrotheads came out in full force for the show. Northwest Arkansas was ready for it.
As Buffett said during the singalong of “Margaritaville,” everyone was wasting away again “and I’m still here!” Here, of course, is Margaritaville, more of a vibe than anything distinct, which could be said about the concert itself. May we all find a little of Buffett’s unique brand of zen once in a while and get carried away.