11:30 a.m. July 20---
I've always wanted to visually document Tropical Tailgating before a Jimmy Buffett concert at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wis. Despite a fading recording industry, his concert audience continues to grow because of his shrewd (and fun) marketing sensibilities.
Saturday, 7/19 was no exception.
The noontime heavens were grey when we were drinking Bloody Marys and having German-Fried bratwurst at the legendary Brat Stop in Kenosha (gotta get the Laack's cheddar chese curds to go), but by late afternoon it was a picture perfect sky that kissed the funky Alpine ski lodge.
The concert was sold out, drawing nearly 40,000 fans. I still get goosebumps when I look at the crowded lawn during a love song like Buffett's "Come Monday." I think of passionate White Sox owner Bill Veeck who said there was nothing as beautiful as a full baseball stadium. That's how I feel at a Buffett show.
I'm guessing 5,000-7,000 fans were camped out in the parking lot before the show. Gates opened at 1 p.m. Showtime was 8 p.m. The rural setting of Alpine and nearby Lake Geneva draws fans from all over America, which is why Buffett makes this an annual stop. On stage Saturday Buffett mentioned people who trekked in from Colorado, North Dakota, Tucson, Az. and Hawaii.
With the cooperation of Buffett's management and Scott Gelman at Live Nation, here's some precious video of Saturday's pre-concert festivities. It was combat duty. My favorite sight? The group of middle-aged housewives from Sugar Grove, Ill. called "Steel Crazy." [www.steelcrazyband.com] They actually set up about 10 steel drums under a tent in the parking lot and played beautiful Buffett songs like "One Particular Harbor" and "A Pirate Looks at 40." Take a look..........
....I used to see the this community-inspired vibe before and during a Grateful Dead show. But it is not breaking news to report that "Deadheads" were more into pot and mushrooms where Buffett's "Parrotheads" are into beer (Landshark Lager, I guess) and tequila (Margaritaville, of course.). Walworth County sherrif's police wore Hawaiian leis as they patrolled the crowd. I don't recall Chicago cops wearing tie-dyed shirts when the Dead set up camp at Soldier Field.
The concert itself was remarkable. Buffett's fine band was as tight as usual and on stage shennaigans were kept to a minimum. The nice surprise for hard core Buffett fans was the return of blues harmonica player Greg "Fingers" Taylor to the fold. Taylor's searching riffs are to Buffett what Mickey Raphael's harp is to Willie Nelson.
Taylor emerged in a surprise set after intermission. Buffett told me that during this years New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival he was out with Quint Davis of the Jazz Fest and some folks from the edgy Cajun/Southern restaurant Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas, www.cocchonrestaurant.com) when they stumbled across a hard driving Mississippi-based act "The Juke Joint Duo." Turned out they were drummer Cedric Burnside, the grandson of electric Mississippi blues great R.L. Burnside and his guitar slinging partner in crime Lightin' Malcom.
Cedric Burnside, who appeared in the film "Black Snake Moan" with Samuel L. Jackson is a fierce spot-on drummer who guided the band through "Hey, Bo Diddley," a tribute to another one of Mississppi's favorite sons. The center stage summit between Malcom, Buffett's guitarist Mac McAnally, Taylor and Buffett was sparked by improvisational energy. They tore the roof off the place---well, if Alpine had a roof.
The vibe continued through the rest of evening, peaking at the band's rowdy cover of the Crosby, Stills and Nash hit "Southern Cross" and the countryfied encore version of Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women 12 X 35." Sound strange? Dylan and Joan Baez once dueted on "A Pirate Looks at 40." And magical evenings like Saturday night at Alpine Valley only come around once in a while.