Heat wave and storms pass before Jimmy Buffett's joyous return to Alpine Valley Music Theatre

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
View Comments

It was paradise for the Parrotheads after all.

Saturday’s weather forecast was one of the worst this summer in southeastern Wisconsin, with an excessive heat warning and a heat index above 100 degrees — and thunderstorms on top of that. 

Which didn’t bode well for Jimmy Buffett’s Alpine Valley Music Theatre Saturday.

It was a night Parrotheads were especially excited about. Buffett generally plays Alpine every year, but opted for Wrigley Field for recent tours, making this his first Alpine appearance since 2016. (That time away may have helped ticket sales; Saturday's show was sold out, with at least 27,000 people in attendance.) 

Fortunately, Saturday’s weather didn’t ruin the occasion. By the time Buffett and the 11-piece Coral Reefer Band took the stage Saturday, it was 71 degrees, with a pleasant breeze swallowing up any humidity, and not a gray cloud in the sky.

Buffett, though, took the stage a half-hour later than planned. Those storms Saturday afternoon delayed entry, and with other cars and buses full of Parrotheads no doubt waiting for fairer conditions to roll into East Troy, traffic was a bear. 

This was a pretty happy group, though, despite significant delays and a lack of clear lines at the entrances for ticket-holders. 

And when the show did start, a barefoot Buffett was just as gleeful as his most animated (and decorated) fans. He maintained that exuberance across the two-hour-and-15-minute set, from early number “Volcano,” during which he wore a deflated shark balloon like a hat; to closing songs “Migration” and “Tin Cup Chalice,” where he grinned and strummed his acoustic guitar alone on the stage. 

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band performs at Alpine Valley Music Theatre on Saturday.

The 72-year-old Buffett was so passionate Saturday that his effusive commentary about how lucky he was, and about how much fun he still had watching his fans having fun, seemed like the real deal, not crowd-baiting lines. 

That said, Buffett went the extra mile to court the Wisconsin crowd. Across 28 songs Saturday, Buffett frequently substituted lyrics for "Lake Geneva," "Cheeseheads," "Wisconsin cuties" and the like. At one point, he implored the crowd to moo for his guitarist, Mac McAnally. There was edited video of fans tailgating Saturday afternoon to accompany "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," and a photo on the big screen of Wisconsin farmland as he sang "it's pretty up here" during "Come Monday." 

And Buffett talked about the first time he was hit by a wave in Lake Michigan, and the lack of salt inspired "Margaritaville" — before he admitted he was lying and said he really wrote the song when he was drunk in Key West. 

There were other special accommodations Saturday.

"Fruitcakes" included a special nod to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with pictures from that mission and a recent photo of the surviving Apollo astronauts on the screen.

The set also included two new songs, "Half Drunk" and "The World Is What You Make It," that Buffett said he planned to record this fall for a new album. The laid-back "Half Drunk," performed during a midpoint acoustic set, turned into a chatter-and-beer-run break despite festive trumpet flare from John Lovell, but a full band rendition of "The World Is What You Make It" — dominated, like many songs Saturday, by Robert Greenidge's warm steel drums — was an instant crowd-pleaser.

And there were plenty of crowd-pleasing hits, of course. Fans pressed their palms together above their heads for "Fins" and shouted out "salt, salt, salt" for "Margaritaville," and a singalong for "A Pirate Looks at Forty" had a lot more heart Saturday than any song about a pirate is ever expected to have.

And after "Cheeseburgers in Paradise," Buffett made sure to thank Wisconsin for the cheese.

The takeaways 

  • While the weather was ultimately splendid for the Buffett show, no doubt loads of Parrotheads skipped the traditional afternoon of tailgating because of the storms. As a result, more people showed up closer to showtime, and the traffic on a mile-long stretch of Highway 120 and the mile of County Road D leading into Alpine’s lots was atrocious. What would have been a five-minute drive took 57 minutes Saturday. And then it took an additional 15 minutes to walk to the gate and get in. (Since I didn’t have any bags or lawn chairs with me, I got in through the “fast lane.”) 
  • Another consequence of the afternoon storm: some muddy patches in the lots and on the hill itself, resulting in some muddy feet and lost sandals.  
  • Despite the traffic issues Saturday, there were more people complaining on Twitter about the large crowd size on the hill and the poor sound. Pretty much everyone I saw Saturday appeared to be having a good time, and I could hear the show clearly in the seating bowl, but if you saw Buffett on the lawn, what was your experience like? 
  • Sights in the crowd: loads of leis, Hawaiian shirts and guys with coconut bras and grass skirts. A bounty of beach balls in the seating bowl (I got hit in the head with seven of them). Some guys wore giant shark fin hats that lit up on their heads and custom shirts proclaiming themselves the Fin Men. Costumes included parrots, sharks, pirates, a sea captain with a '70s stache, and an astronaut. And several people were clearly hammered in the parking lots well before Buffett's show began. 
  • This was billed as Buffett's only Milwaukee and Chicago-area appearance, but technically that isn't true. If you missed out on Buffett's performance Saturday night, you'll still get a chance to see him in Milwaukee this week — if you're a Northwestern Mutual employee. Buffett is performing a private gig at Fiserv Forum Tuesday as part of Northwestern Mutual's annual meeting of life insurance representatives. 

The set list 

1. "License to Chill"

2. "Holiday"

3. "Stars on the Water"

4. "Volcano"

5. "Fruitcakes"

6. "Son of a Son of a Sailor"

7. "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere"

8. "Life Is Just A Tire Swing"

9. "Come Monday"

10. "We Are The People Our Parents Warned Us About" (with a snippet of "Twist and Shout")

11. "Dreamsicle"

12. "Pencil Thin Mustache"

13. "Frenchman For The Night"

14. "Half Drunk"

15. "Cheeseburger in Paradise"

16. "The World Is What You Make It"

17. "Fins"

18. "A Pirate Looks At Forty"

19. "Knee Deep"

20. "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes"

21. "One Particular Harbor"

22. "Margaritaville"


23. "Southern Cross"

24. "Last Mango in Paris"

25. "Love and Luck"

26. "One Love/People Get Ready"

27. "Migration"

28. "Tin Cup Chalice"

RELATED:With Phish, the Who and more, Alpine Valley Music Theatre gets ready for busiest season in 15 years

RELATED:These are all the Milwaukee arena, amphitheater and stadium concerts happening in 2019

Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.

View Comments