Austin 360 has a review of Saturday’s show: ‘Build the new arena and he will come!’ Jimmy Buffett lights up Austin’s Moody Center
“You never know what’s going to happen in Austin!”
Jimmy Buffett had a giant grin on his face, basking in the moment of giving the city a very special moment on Saturday night at the Moody Center.
Fifty years ago, Buffett explained, he was just beginning his career when he heard the self-titled debut album from a 21-year-old Austin troubadour named Willis Alan Ramsey. Buffett covered that album’s opening track, “Ballad of Spider John,” for his 1974 album “Living and Dying in 3/4 Time” — but the two songwriters apparently had never sung the song onstage together. Until this night.
As memorable moments at the new arena go, this one ranked second only to George Strait and Willie Nelson dueting on “Sing One With Willie” a few weeks ago. Buffett cracked early in Saturday’s two-hour set (plus a three-song encore) that the fresh arena had drawn him in: “Build the new arena and he will come!”
Indeed, he was overdue for a big-venue performance in Austin. Because Buffett often rehearses his Coral Reefer Band here before launching tours, he’s played tune-up gigs at smaller venues such as ACL Live and Stubb’s in recent years. But the last time he’d played one of the city’s large venues was in 2014 at the Austin360 Amphitheater.
Buffett’s ties to Austin run deep. He noted when introducing “Margaritaville,” which closed the main set, that he’d begun writing the tune here in the mid-1970s. “It started in Austin in a little tequila bar,” he explained. “We had a couple margaritas in the morning.”
He’d been drawn here in the first place by Jerry Jeff Walker, who had previously driven Buffett from Miami to Key West in the early 1970s and “changed my life,” he explained when introducing the mid-set number “Migration.”
Buffett’s first gigs in Austin were at the folk club Castle Creek in 1974. He moved up to Armadillo World Headquarters in 1976 and then to the Erwin Center in the 1980s, taping a couple of “Austin City Limits” episodes along the way.
Walker died in 2020, but his son Django Walker helps carry on Jerry Jeff’s legacy. Django co-wrote a song called “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Boat” that Buffett recorded for his 2013 album “Songs From St. Somewhere,” so it was fitting that Django joined him onstage for the tune.
Much of the energy at a Buffett show comes from the crowd, which lit up the arena in pastel colors with their bright beach attire. Buffett acknowledged those decked out in sailor and mermaid outfits early in the set. Before the music started — and stretching several songs into the show — concertgoers on the arena floor batted beach balls back and forth, plus one small inflatable shark.
Guitarist Mac McAnally, literally Buffett’s right-hand man onstage, is his perfect foil, a 10-time Country Music Association musician of the year who underscores his boss’s sheer love for playing music. He got his own solo spotlight mid-set with a sterling rendition of the late Duane Allman’s instrumental “Little Martha.”
There was one last hometown treat. Buffett invited Django Walker back onstage for his late father’s 1973 classic “Sangria Wine.” Django sang out loud and proud when he reached the line in the middle of the song that fit the moment exactly: “In Austin on a Saturday night.”