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Buffett bringing balmy vibes back to Verizon

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published December 5, 2013 at 2:52 a.m.

jimmy-buffett-performs-in-2011-surprising-attendees-at-the-20th-parrot-heads-convention-in-key-west-fla

Jimmy Buffett performs in 2011, surprising attendees at the 20th Parrot Heads Convention in Key West, Fla.

When Jimmy Buffett packed the arena - and the tailgating areas nearby - on March 1, 2012, it was his first central Arkansas performance in more than a decade.

He had played Barton Coliseum in January 1992, as well as in January 1990. (His first Little Rock show had been in March 1975 at what was then called Robinson Auditorium.)

And now Buffett is back.

He will again be joined by The Coral Reefer Band, led by Blytheville native Mike “Buddha” Utley, who has spent more than four decades playing keyboards and, when not on the road, producing or co-producing Buffett’s albums and those of other musicians.

Another of the Coral Reefers, multi-instrumentalist Mac McAnally, shares co-producer and co-writing credits with Utley on numerous Buffett albums, including the latest CD, Songs From St. Somewhere, released Aug. 20 by Mailboat Records, a part of the burgeoning Buffett entertainment empire (along with Land Shark Lager, Margaritaville Casino and Resort, Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants and Margaritaville Records).

McAnally, 56, who was born in Alabama but raised in Mississippi, could be described as a soul brother to Buffett, who was born in Mississippi and raised in Alabama.

“As a teenager, I gravitated to Muscle Shoals, where there was this great recording scene,” McAnally says. “I was a bashful kid, and I shopped a recording to the same guys who gave Jimmy his record deal, and they said I reminded them of him. So later he listened to my stuff and said, ‘We’re gonna be friends.’ It sure was nice to find someone who meant what they said.

“By the mid-1990s, he had asked me to come on the road with him, and to bring my kids. And working with Mike Utley, he’s a joy to work with. We’ve produced the last several albums together.”

McAnally is a veteran recording artist and session player in his own right.Live From Muscle Shoals, McAnally’s 12th album, came out in 2011 on Mailboat Records. His songs have been recorded by such artists as Kenny Chesney (“Back Where I Come From”), Sammy Kershaw (“Southbound”), Alabama (“Old Flame”) and, of course, Buffett (“It’s My Job”). McAnally, who was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007, has also been honored by the Country Music Association with its award for Musician of the Year for six years in a row, from 2008 to this year.

“I now have a better understanding of how mediocre congressmen keep getting re-elected,” McAnally says with a laugh.

Besides his Coral Reefer touring job, McAnally is also at work producing an album by singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester, after producing a Winchester tribute album a year ago.

And Buffett, though never professing to be a surfer, has ridden the wave of ticket price inflation successfully. Tickets were $4.50 each for his 1975 concert. By 1990, tickets had climbed to $17.50, and two years later, they were $22.50. The 2012 show tickets went for $136, $76 and $36.

Former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays, who was in the Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of Arkansas with Utley, managed to convince whatever combination of managers, agents, promoters and perhaps Buffett himself to play Verizon in 2012.

Recent predictions of harsh winter weather conditions - if they occur - may affect the party atmosphere outside the arena, where Buffett’s fans, known as Parrot Heads, have been planning to gather in a tailgate-like atmosphere, beyond the seawall on Riverside Drive. Vehicle access will be open at the Olive Street opening in the seawall from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. After that, access will only be open to pedestrians.

Visit verizonarena.com/concerts-and-shows/jimmy-buffett for a parking map.

Jimmy Buffett

8 p.m. Saturday, Verizon Arena, East Broadway and Interstate 30, North Little Rock Tickets: $159, $91.50, $48.50 (800) 745-3000 ticketmaster.com

Weekend, Pages 35 on 12/05/2013

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