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All about fun: Jimmy Buffett time machine

From left: Jimmy Buffett in 1975; Buffett in 2006; Buffett in 2009.
From left: Jimmy Buffett in 1975; Buffett in 2006; Buffett in 2009.

On Aug. 3, 1975, a guy with one breakout radio hit took the stage at Carolina Coliseum, his first Columbia gig in a big venue with his full backup band. Jimmy Buffett was the opening act for The Eagles that night.

Buffett and the Coral Reefer band have come a long way in 35 years to end up a block away at Colonial Life Arena tonight. The fans come to see them now (to the tune of 4.5 million tickets sold in the past decade, according to Pollstar).

For fans like Don Bennett, who attended that 1975 concert and will be in the crowd tonight, the essence of Buffett hasn't changed much in those 35 years.

"We went to see the Eagles, but they didn't impress me nearly as much as Buffett," said Bennett, who now lives in West Columbia. "(Buffett) was having a great time. (The Eagles) didn't seem to be having fun."

Bennett wasn't a completely impartial observer. He had met Buffett a few years earlier when the laid-back songwriter played (just his guitar and his voice) in local bars such as the Purple Onion. He was a fan before "Come Monday" hit the airwaves as Buffett's first hit in 1974.

Bennett helped set up and take down stages at the Coliseum while at USC in the early 1970s. But he didn't work that 1975 show, instead attending it with his first wife. They had great tickets down front.

Bennett enjoys regaling fellow Parrott Heads, as Buffett fans are called, with tales from those early years. Elaine Hoffman, president of the Palmetto Parrott Head Club, still regrets she missed that 1975 show.

"I was 17 at the time, and my mom would not let me come to Columbia from Myrtle Beach for the show," said Hoffman, who was able to catch a Buffett show on a smaller stage on the coast that same year.

Bennett admits his memories of the 1975 Carolina Coliseum show are fuzzy from the passing of time and possibly from the passing of other things that night.

"They told me I had a good time at that concert," Bennett said.

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Way back Buffett

Excerpts from a story in The Columbia Record by Pat Berman, who interviewed Buffett after the 1975 show at Carolina Coliseum:

- Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band haven't always been as well-received in South Carolina as they were last Sunday in the Carolina Coliseum.

"When we played at The Citadel, the commandant wrote me a letter afterwards and told me not to come back," Buffett said with a grin. "I loved that. I framed the letter."

Buffett and his four-man band play what he describes as a "loose set," and if the commandant expected a Glen Campbell or mildly off-color Roger Miller, he was obviously unpleasantly surprised. The fair-haired Floridian with his overt but good-natured scatological and sexual references has a free and flowing style that thrives in a "relaxed" atmosphere. ...

- The Coral Reefers joined him six months ago, but Buffett feels he is still playing with the same style he had as a solo artist. "I guess there's still a little more production, a little more rock and roll in the sound," he said. "But I still write humor songs. I can't help it." ...

- The group prefers clubs to the bigger concert halls. "You can play for a couple of hours and unwind," Buffett said of the clubs. "I think people still want you to talk to them. They want a feeling of intimacy.

"At a concert you're just about to stretch out and it's time to end the set," Buffett said. He did manage to fit about 10 songs and an occasional one-liner in his tightly arranged set Sunday night.

"I won't go to those rock and roll shows where people are rushing the stage in an orgasmic frenzy. I like them to sit in their seats and enjoy it," Buffett said.

Buffett is enjoying a new-found popularity that has taken him on round-the-country tours. Hoping to work 150 days this year, the Florida-based singer-songwriter said, "We're out till it turns cold. Then we go home."

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