Sunday, August 15, 1999

What if Buffett does waste away?


We'd need to find somebody else to salt our margaritas

BY LARRY NAGER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What if he really means it this time? Every year Jimmy Buffett is one of the summer's most dependable, hottest tickets. Every year he says the same thing: “Next year” he's going to cut back on touring, get off the road.

        In his annual tradition, Mr. Buffett is returning this week to the Tristate, where Parrotheads were born. (The term was coined by his then-bassist Timothy B. Schmit at an early '80s TimberWolf concert). Thursday and Saturday, he and his band are at Riverbend.

        What about next year? He'll be 53. He's found other creative outlets: writing novels, short stories, memoirs and even straight journalism. (He covered the pope in Cuba for Rolling Stone). He wrote the songs for Don't Stop the Carnival, his musical theater collaboration with Herman Wouk.

        OK, so Jimmy may not need us, but we sure need him. Or at least a reasonable facsimile. We need to come up with a new Jimmy Buffett, someone who can come to Cincinnati and sell out multiple shows, create that perfect summer concert/party on demand, then come back and do it again, year after year.

        Here are some candidates.

        • Dave Matthews — The South African bandleader would make a good Buffett for a couple of reasons.

        The man can sell tickets. He's been selling out Riverbend for years. And he's got the songs — “Tripping Billies,” “Crash Into Me,” “What Would You Say,” “Ants Marching” and “Dancing Nancies.”

        The crowds at his shows are younger, which ensures a future for the tradition, and they sing and dance with as much gusto as their elders do for Jimmy.

        But Mr. Matthews loses points for mood. There's just not much beach party ambiance at a Dave Matthews Band show. And all the Hawaiian shirts in Honolulu probably wouldn't help.

        • Sarah McLachlan — With Lilith Fair, Ms. McLachlan has proved she knows how to draw a loyal audience, sell out big venues and keep the crowds coming back each year. She has the songs, too. The only problem: Would old-time Parrotheads be willing to sing “Your love is better than ice cream,” with as much fervor as they belted “Why don't we get drunk and . . .”

        • John Mellencamp — His Riverbend shows may not sell out, but they draw solid crowds and rock like crazy. He has a boatload of great sing-along anthems. And, like Mr. Buffett, his music has a real sense of place.

        The drawback is that, unlike those Florida/Caribbean beaches immortalized in Mr. Buffett's tunes, small-town Indiana is usually a place people want a vacation from, not to.

        • Frankie Beverly & Maze — The sophisticated soulman fits the criteria in many ways. He has the songs and the stage presence. His music moves to a supple, jazzy, conga-driven beat custom-made for booty shaking.

        The Maze band has the same sort of long-term camaraderie and interplay that Mr. Buffett's Coral Reefer Band once had. Mr. Beverly has proved he can draw crowds every year as a perennial attraction at the Coors Light Festival at Cinergy Field.

        But Mr. Beverly remains largely unknown outside the hard-core, African-American R&B audience. Parrotheads would love “Joy and Pain” and “Back in Stride” if they heard them, but there's zero crossover between Parrothead Nation and Mr. Beverly's Maze Craze.

        • Garth Brooks — He can draw, and his love of '70s music certainly includes the laid-back folk stylings of Mr. Buffett.

        Self-conscious about his pudginess, Garth is sure to love the loose Hawaiian shirts that come with the gig. Should his new, pop project — adopting the persona of “Chris Gaines” — flop, he may well be ready to fall back on the hibiscus-patterned Buffett mantle.

        • Bonnie Raitt — She has the songs, the stage presence, the same eclectic '70s musical roots. She's a solid local draw. And she's a better guitar player.

        The drawback is that she's even more reluctant a road warrior than Mr. Buffett.

        • James Brown — Papa's got a brand new Buffett. The Godfather of Soul knows how to have a funky good time and get a party started. He has deep Cincinnati roots and a bunch of great songs. And he'd look great being led off the stage draped in a Hawaiian-patterned cape.

        But dependability has never been his strong suit.

        • Nobody — Decorate the stage in grand beach bum Buffett style, program a CD player to deliver a Buffett concert set and hold a giant Parrothead Party at Riverbend.

        Without the $300,000 or so Mr. Buffett makes there each night, Riverbend management could afford to drastically reduce ticket prices, put Happy Hour prices at the beer and margarita booths and still turn a tidy profit.

       



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