WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. - I'm a Jimmy Buffett fan. Not a Parrothead by any means, but enough of a fan that on a nice sunny day I've got no problem rolling down the windows, tuning in to his XM station and even belting out a few stanzas of "Cheeseburger in Paradise" if nobody can hear me.
(And yeah, just reading that paragraph makes me want to punch myself in the face, but I digress …)
So I was pretty excited to see him booked for a concert here Saturday night, just down the road from The Greenbrier Classic. I’d never seen him perform live. As I told a PGA Tour media official when we left the course after the third round, "Buffett's not my favorite, but I’ve seen all my favorites. This should be pretty cool."
And then I got ready for the show and boarded a crowded shuttle bus and got to the amphitheater and he started playing. And, well, it wasn’t that cool anymore.
Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band opened with "Summertime Blues," a campy cover track that was popular when the 67-year-old Buffett was a pre-teen and it was probably hokey even back then. They followed with "Brown-Eyed Girl."
(Yes, he went 0-for-2 in playing actual Buffett songs to start, immediately giving the show a karaoke disposition. In fact, later he'd even play a song with the word "KARAOKE" bleating on a screen behind him, which at least proves he was in on the joke.)
The caddie standing next to me was so young that he asked whether the Van Morrison wedding-stalwart was a Buffett original.
I'm not that young, but I'm young enough that ever since I've enjoyed music, I've always seen the Beach Boys as a Kokomo-crooning, Baby Boomer-swooning, cheesy caricature of surf-life in the 1960s.
But Buffett? Man, Buffett was cooler. Buffett was the dude who'd rather hang out at the beach bar with a few cold beverages and a guitar than show off to the coeds with his surfing moves.
On this night, though, I couldn't help thinking he wasn't cool anymore. Maybe he never was in the first place.
He wore a bright pink "Margaritaville" T-shirt, lemon yellow shorts and no shoes. He smiled a lot, which was good, and paused a lot, which wasn’t.
The entire show, which featured at least a dozen guitarists and horn players and AARP-ish women singing background vocals alongside him onstage, had the feel of Uncle Larry crashing your Fourth of July party with some of his pals.
Or better yet, Uncle Larry shooting a commercial for his Lucky Larry's Used Car Emporium.
It was schmaltz upon schmaltz. It was music’s answer to vaudeville theater.
If the Beach Boys are a caricature of long-ago surf-life, Buffett is a caricature of Buffett.
Then again, it seems to be working for him.
The amphitheater was packed. Fans sang along. When Buffett wailed, “Fins to the left, fins to the right …” everybody clapped two hands together over their heads and swayed back and forth. A few diehards even wore actual stuffed parrots on their heads.
Hey, more power to 'em. The brand works. Just like we’d say of a few of the older golfers who were in attendance, Buffett may not do anything great, but he knows how to get himself around the course and post a score.