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Paul McCartney, Snoop Dogg, Dave Grohl Enliven Jimmy Buffett Tribute Concert

Star-packed Hollywood Bowl show came six months after beloved singer/songwriter's death from cancer
Jimmy Buffett Concert
Frank Marshall, Paul McCartney, Woody Harrelson and Jackson Browne (Credit: Randall Michelson / Hewitt Silva-Live Nation)

Outside of the beaches, blenders and branding, the enduring appeal of the late Jimmy Buffett lies in the sense that you, with just a few impulses and questionable financial choices, could be Jimmy Buffett. That the sun-cooked sands and endless sunsets are tantalizingly just out of reach. That there’s probably a lovingly damaged boat waiting for your rescue. That’s a life of warm breezes and tropical ease is all just a snap decision away. But also: if you can’t do any of that because of the real world or whatever, you can still do what you can to focus on the good stuff.

Keep the Party Going: A Tribute to Jimmy Buffett, a sendoff/free-for-all held on a perfect April night at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl, was all about the good stuff, a night full of wild-and-then-bonkers set of performances, stories, celebrity cameos and probably some of the most unexpected collaborations you’ll see on stage all year. As Judd Apatow, one of the night’s many surprise guests, put it, “I know I had too many gummies backstage because I swear to God I just saw Snoop Dogg doing ‘Gin and Juice’ with the Coral Reefer Band.”

He also saw Paul McCartney perform the Beatles’ “Let It Be” with the Eagles (?!?), Zac Brown and Dave Grohl light up “Brown Eyed Girl” (complete with a dual drum solo featuring the latter and Coral Reefer percussionist Eric Darken), Pitbull — Pitbull! — and Jon Bon Jovi performing the legitimate “Thank God and Jimmy Buffett” and a full Eagles mini-set.

Jimmy Buffett Tribute Concert
Pitbull and Jon Bon Jovi (Credit: Randall Michelson / Hewitt Silva-Live Nation)

Holding down the three-and-a-half-hour show were the Coral Reefers, Buffett’s backing band since the mid-1970s. They were helmed on this night by the invaluable longtime wingman Mac McAnally, who handled lead vocals and emcee duties for a memorial service that felt like anything but. “The man said keep the party going,” said McAnally of Buffett, who died last year, “and look who all showed up.”

Still, the party was only half the story. By his admission, Buffett never enjoyed much critical acclaim, but the tribute threw light on his influence as a songwriter and the unheralded depth of his catalog. Brandi Carlile brought a perfect sweetness and melancholy to “Tin Cup Chalice,” among the best of Buffett’s meditations on the solemn, finite side of the island dream. Angelique Kidjo strutted the catwalk for a powerful take on “One Particular Harbour,” while Dave Matthews submitted a video version of the breezy, wistful “Lovely Cruise” and Jackson Browne performed “He Went to Paris,” introduced (by Will Arnett) as Bob Dylan’s favorite Buffett song. Jack Johnson and Caroline Jones traded vocals on a sublime “A Pirate Looks at 40,” maybe Buffett’s most potent example of finding the precise midpoint between romantic adventure and melancholy. 

Not that the party was ever far away. Sheryl Crow, a backup singer on Buffett’s relatively obscure 1989 album Off to See the Lizard, handled the crucial lead vocal job on “Fins.” Kenny Chesney, who like Brown has mastered the art of the sand-and-summer tour, made a case for including “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” into his own traveling show but also performed McAnally’s “Back Where I Come From.” Timothy B. Schmit, a one-time Coral Reefer who’s credited with coining the term “Parrothead,” performed “Volcano” before returning for a three-song set with his other band.

Naturally, the celebrity cameos provided no shortage of true Buffett stories. Harrison Ford, who cracked an actual whip on the 1980s obscurity “Desperation Samba (Halloween in Tijuana),” materialized early to lovingly blame Buffett for convincing “a 40-year-old guy to get a fucking earring.” Woody Harrelson claimed kinship as another “boy from the South with a beautiful head of hair,” saying that Buffett’s “Gulf Coast pride ended up being the very thing that helped him create a new genre of music … and hotels, and restaurants, and old folks homes.” Tributes came in from Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, John McEnroe, Kelly Slater, and Bon Jovi, who quipped that only a true rock star flies his plane to his concerts. 

JImmy Buffett Tribute concert
(L to R) Brandi Carlile, Angelique Kidjo, Sheryl Crow and Jon Bon Jovi (Credit: Randall Michelson / Hewitt Silva-Live Nation)

And while the “everybody on stage at once” version of “Margaritaville” was the only logical choice to end the show, the emotional finale came much earlier during “Bubbles Up,” a song from Buffett’s posthumously released final album, Equal Strain on All Parts. Performed by McAnally and Jones, it’s one of Buffett’s best late-career singles, which comes out out of nowhere in gentle, gorgeous and surprising ways. It’s also basically his goodbye: “Just know that you are loved / there is light up above / and the joy is always enough.” There will always be the blenders, the cheeseburgers, and the restaurants, but as this tribute demonstrated, Buffett’s legacy will forever be much more than just clowning around.

Keep the Party Going setlist:

“It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” – Mac McAnally and Scotty Emerick
“Grapefruit / Juicy Fruit” – Jake Owen
“Pencil Thin Mustache” – Scotty Emerick
“Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” – Kenny Chesney
“Back Where I Come From” – Kenny Chesney and Mac McAnally
“One Particular Harbour” – Angelique Kidjo
“Pirates and Parrots” – Zac Brown 
“Knee Deep” – Zac Brown
“Son of a Son of a Sailor” – Eric Church
“Volcano” – Timothy B. Schmidt
“Tin Cup Chalice” – Brandi Carlile
“Cheeseburger in Paradise” – Scotty Emerick
“He Went to Paris” – Jackson Browne
“Bubbles Up” – Mac McAnally and Caroline Jones
“Southern Cross” – J.D. Souther
“Why Don’t We Get Drunk” – Mac McAnally
“Gin and Juice” – Snoop Dogg
“We Will Rock You / While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – Jake Shimabukuro
“Don’t Stop the Party” – Pitbull
“Thank God and Jimmy Buffett” – Pitbull and Jon Bon Jovi
“Fins” – Sheryl Crow
“A Pirate Looks at 40” – Jack Johnson and Caroline Jones
“Brown Eyed Girl” – Zac Brown (with Dave Grohl on drums)
“Lovely Cruise” – Dave Matthews (video)
“The Boys of Summer” – Eagles
“Take it to the Limit” – Eagles
“In the City” – Eagles
“Let It Be” – Paul McCartney with the Eagles
“Margaritaville” – Everyone