Buffett at the BOK

Jimmy Buffett performs at Tulsa's BOK Center on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. JOEY JOHNSON/for the Tulsa World

It's hard to worry — about anything — when Jimmy Buffett's around. So even as storm clouds were threatening outside the BOK Center, fans pouring into the arena Tuesday night to see the iconic island crooner were clearly ready to trade thoughts of rain and rivers for those of sand and surf.

And Buffett was just as clearly ready to help. Although he mentioned the recent flooding in Oklahoma several times throughout the evening, he noted that the sun was, indeed, shining in Tulsa on Tuesday, performing a rowdy version of "Hot Hot Hot" just to drive home the point.

Buffett told the crowd early on that he and the Coral Reefer Band were on hand to provide a much-needed holiday — a "License to Chill," if you will.

That license might more appropriately have been a passport. A Jimmy Buffett concert is nothing if not an around-the-world adventure. Tuesday's voyage included such ports of call as San Francisco, Key West, Paris, Alabama and even that "One Particular Harbor." The destinations are as familiar to fans as the songs that feature them — "Come Monday," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Margaritaville," "Last Mango in Paris" — whether they've ever left the state or not.

Still, it's no secret that home — the birthplace kind, the current-residence kind, and the ones you visit primarily in your head and heart kind — means everything to Buffett, and so many of his songs have that homey familiarity.

Who could imagine a Jimmy Buffett concert without hearing "Volcano"; "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes"; "A Pirate Looks at Forty"; his cover of Alan Jackson's "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere"; "Son of a Son of a Sailor," Buffett's 1978 hit for which the current tour is named; or the audience-participation classic "Fins"? Never one to disappoint his audience, Buffett played them all.

But you have to feel a bit sorry for the guy. He's 72 years old, he's been singing songs for more than 50 years now, and yet the crowds seem least engaged when he tries to present something new. Buffett and the band dabbled in a bit of jazz Tuesday night, remaking the island-themed stage briefly into the Jazz Police Lounge, an homage to New Orleans' Bourbon Street, yet "Half-Drunk" and "A Frenchman for the Night" received only moderate applause, compared to the rousing appreciation shown Buffett's 1974 staple "Pencil Thin Mustache."

Stated or not, that reliance on the familiar, on "home," is actually one of the things Buffett does best. Besides his several mentions of the tornadoes and flooding — including urging concertgoers to donate to the American Red Cross to help their neighbors — the three large video screens frequently showed well-known Tulsa landmarks, such as Route 66 signs, the Oklahoma welcome signs along highways at the state's borders and the former state license tag proclaiming the Sooner State as "Oklahoma: Native America."

Any performer can remember what town he's in long enough to say it aloud a few times during the show; Buffett (or someone on his staff) has put in the work to make the crowd feel like he understands that this is home. And he knows what home means.

In a way, Tulsa is one of Buffett's "homes." Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant was a cornerstone of a $365 million expansion in 2016-17 of the River Spirit Casino Resort on Riverside Drive just south of 81st Street.

The River Spirit closed May 22 because of rising floodwaters and is projected to remain closed through June, a fact Buffett noted wryly Tuesday night, adding that he last performed at the BOK Center in December 2013, when snow and sleet made the city's roads nearly impassible.

Buffett last performed in Tulsa more recently, though, when he helped christen the River Spirit's Paradise Cove theater on Jan. 28, 2017, telling some 3,000 Parrotheads in attendance that, after being given the key to the city earlier, “it’s great to not only play here but to be part of the city.”

After a solid two-hour show featuring more than two dozen numbers Tuesday night, Buffett and the Coral Reefers returned to the stage for a three-song encore, led off by the 1999 number "Love and Luck," with Buffett telling weather-weary Tulsans, "With a little love and luck you will get by."

Buffett and the 12-person Coral Reefer Band, featuring Mac McAnally on guitar, Doyle Grisham on steel pedal guitar, Michael Utley on keyboard and the impressive Robert Greenidge on steel drums, head to Little Rock on Thursday and Dallas on Saturday. The tour will crisscross the U.S. this summer, then cross the pond in September for shows in Dublin, London and Paris before wrapping up in Las Vegas in October.


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