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DVD Review: Jimmy Buffett Live At Wrigley Field

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The last time I checked, Key West was still somewhere down in Florida and its sandy beaches and tropical trees hadn't been moved. The same goes for all the little shacks on the beach serving drinks and cracked crab, or the juke joints along the highway that play music well into the night and serve Margaritas so cold that your teeth chatter when you drink them.

New Orleans is still on the Gulf Coast, staggering to her feet after the latest barrage that the storms of the ocean threw at her last hurricane season. In fact from what I hear, they managed to start up the parades again and some of the music is now going strong. I'm sure the same wasn't true over Labor Day Weekend of 2005, which could explain why it might have seemed that the sand and surf beach culture of the Gulf Coast had moved up into the Midwest.

It takes a lot more than wishful thinking to turn the beaches of Lake Michigan into oceanfront property near the Everglades, and there can be no disguising the fact that Chicago is not Key West. The pace is a whole lot different, there is quite a bit more concrete, glass and steel in attendance, and you sure won't find many people in the Keys selling pork belly futures. Cooking a whole pig over a roaring fire on the beach, drinking beer, and dancing under the stars is much more likely.

But once in a while things can seem a whole lot different from their reality, and for 84,000 people over the course of the Labor Day weekend in 2005, that was the case. Wrigley Field in Chicago was not only home to a night game preceded by a matinee that featured only one team, it was also the first time ever that a live concert was performed in the confines of that ball park.

The original beach bum and pirate from the Gulf Coast, Jimmy Buffett and his batting order, The Coral Reefers, showed up with sand in their flip-flops and partying on their mind. Now almost a year later, the good folk at Mailboat Records have released a double disc DVD of the show – Jimmy Buffett Live At Wrigley Field. Not only is it a memento of a special occasion, it also marks the first ever release of a full-length Jimmy Buffett concert on DVD.

People in Milwaukee walk around with hunks of cheese on their heads; those who followed the Grateful Dead with glazed eyes and vacant expression proudly reveled in being referred to as Dead Heads; but Jimmy Buffett's legions of fans take glee in the inanity of being Parrot Heads.

Never before have so many people been filmed in Wrigley Field wearing such a loud collection of clothing or straw hats. Nor, I'm sure, has the drink of choice for the bleacher bums ever been a Margarita before. But captured on film as that weekend was, the proof is plain that people from the Midwest only need the slightest opportunity to go right off the rails.

A Jimmy Buffett concert is obviously more then just another gig for him and his fans. It's like a revival meeting for the beach bum mentality that exists in what seems like most of us. With Jimmy and the Coral Reefers cranking out music for two and half hours at a stretch, ranging from his own hits like "Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes" and older fare like Hank Williams "Hey, Hey, Good Lookin,'" the music was relaxed and the atmosphere festive.

From Jimmy up on stage shuffling in his bare feet and bouncing around like a beach ball, to the folk on the field and up in the grandstand, there didn't seem to be a pair of feet that could keep still, or hips that could stop from swaying. Of course this being a social event, people were being kept well-fueled with specially provided Margaritas and the more traditional ballpark beverage of watery draft beer.

Obviously the filmmakers aren’t able to completely transform your living room into a beachfront seat for the concert, but with some amazing co-operation from the weather and some deft camera work they do their best. Although the shots of people posing with their drinks and behaving like jerks gets tired fast, most of the footage of the crowd works to convey the atmosphere of fun and frolic that obviously accompanies a gathering of Parrot Heads.

Of course there are Wrigley Field traditions that can't be broken; the fans seated on the rooftops of the apartments across the street from the field are out in force. But at least there was one tradition that wouldn't be carried out as no one parked on the street risked a broken windshield from a home run.

The music has been recorded for digital 5.1 playback, and make sure you have a system that can handle it or you will be in for a disappointing couple of hours of mush. When the first song started I wasn't able to discern any separation in instruments and voice but a quick check showed my audio setup was out of whack. As soon as I switched over to 5.1 the sound was crystal clear and impeccably mixed.

Because of the timing of this concert, there were a great many requests for donations to the various aid agencies working to assist in the recovery of New Orleans. In his notes about the concert and his relationship with Chicago and Wrigley Field, Jimmy Buffett talks about the man who first took him to a game there: Steve Goodman.

It's only fitting that a special encore/bonus feature consists of Jimmy and acoustic guitarist and vocalist Mac McAnally performing Steve's most famous song, "City Of New Orleans", seated in the bleachers, in the vicinity of where Steve and Jimmy attended that first game. Steve Goodman's been dead a number of years now (he died of leukemia) but as an inhabitant of Chicago and Wrigley Field, I'm sure he would have approved.

I've never seen Jimmy Buffett live in concert, but after seeing Jimmy Buffett Live at Wrigley Field I've got a much better idea of what the experience could be like. With great sound, and generally excellent camera work, the casual Buffett fan can gain an understanding of what it would be like to attend one of his concerts. This is not something that should be absent from a die-hard fan's collection for any length of time. It's as close to actually being there as you can get without having been at one of those two legendary Labor Day concerts.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.