Wednesday night at First Niagara Pavilion, all eyes were on Jimmy Buffett. Well, all eyes but one pair. His eyes were on his fans.
Buffett made sure that his fans knew that this tour was about them. After all, it is called “This One’s For You.”
The day began with tailgating in the parking lot and the party continued as the easy-going folk-rocker opened the show with a montage of images of Parrotheads and thanked them throughout the show for their continued support. During his cover of “Knee Deep,” projectors displayed pictures of fans tailgating earlier that day and the show ended with Mr. Buffett toasting a red Solo cup to the crowd and announcing, “This one’s for you, thank you.”
The show — or party, rather — was for people like Lou and Kelly Caputo and Steve and Debbie Lange, friends who have permanent box seats to First Niagara Pavilion, solely for the annual Buffett event. To them, attending Buffett concerts is a lifestyle — that’s been going on a long time.
“Since I had dark hair,” the gray-haired Steve Lange said.
“Since I had hair,” Lou Caputo said.
“And since she was in diapers!” Lange said, pointing to Kelly.
The party was for people like Jenna Sylvester, 19, whose grandfather, Bob, has been taking her to Buffett shows since she was 6. The party was for Bob, too. He has tattoos on his back of every year he’s seen Buffett in concert. Some years are printed multiple times.
But it’s not just the performance that Sylvester loves so much.
“The parking lot is just as much fun as the concert,” he said.
The party was for people like the older man who sat in front of me and referred to himself as Brains. At one point during the concert, Brains surveyed the crowd, sprinted back several rows and bear hugged a big shirtless man in a USA hat. Later, I asked him who his friend was.
“Oh, I met him in the parking lot. His name is Tank. I feel like I’ve known him for years,” he said. “That sort of magic happens here.”
The party was for people like Tank, who embraced Brains at least four separate times during the concert and constantly danced in ballerina fashion up and down the aisle. I last saw Tank wiping away tears during Buffett’s finale, “Lovely Cruise,” a song that opens with “Drink it up/This one’s for you/It’s been a lovely cruise.”
The party was for the many Buffett fans from far and wide — one fan proudly showed me his Alaska driver’s license to demonstrate how far he’d come. Another group insisted their friend had flown in from Germany — who wanted to, at Buffett’s recommendation, start the weekend on a Wednesday.
In vintage Buffett fashion, a quarter of the 28 songs he played were covers of artists such as Van Morrison, Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills & Nash, which he sprinkled in with his own crowd-pleasers like “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Come Monday.” No song of his from the past decade made an appearance as he stuck to the classics, closing with the beloved “Margaritaville” before predictably returning for an encore that included the racy “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” played within the more modern “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” Throughout the show, the 67-year old entertained, dancing around in his barefeet, cracking jokes and making plenty of Pittsburgh references.
To the fans, Buffett is known simply as “Jimmy” and they casually tell stories about him like a best friend or neighbor. All of the concert-goers are close to him. Close enough even to forgive him when he started a verse of “A Pirate Looks at Forty” with the wrong words and was corrected by the audience, because when Buffett performs, the musical component is just a bonus. The party is what people love. And the fans make the party happen.
“Excuse me, sir, you shouldn’t be having that much fun,” one fan laughed to another, mocking a security guard before the two toasted.
At First Niagara Pavilion Wednesday, thousands of chairs surrounded the stage, but along with the grass skirts and Hawaiian leis, they were purely decorative. There’s no sitting at a party with Jimmy Buffett.
Hayes Gardner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @HayesGardner. First Published July 23, 2014 8:00 PM