For years, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band have visited Charleston for concerts, rehearsals, and vacations. But it's been years since Buffett has played a proper concert in town — long enough that the folks at the Margaritaville store on King Street couldn't remember the last time.
That all changes this week, when Buffett delivers a little summertime to February at the Coliseum — and, more than likely, vans with papier-mâché fins on them, thousands of guys in coconut bras who probably shouldn't be wearing coconut bras, and, if the weather holds, at least one blow-up pool in a pickup truck. Most of Buffett's eased-up-but-still-lively touring schedule takes place outdoors in the hot months, of course, but he also schedules winter dates in the Southern climes.
Conjuring up a vibe of well-lubricated islanders might not be the easiest thing to do on a Thursday night in February, but someone's up to the challenge: The show sold out almost immediately. And according to Buffett's longtime guitarist/producer/songwriting partner Mac McAnally, the love goes both ways. "Charleston's one of the best cities in the U.S.," McAnally says. "It's a rare treat for us to play a show there. There's probably five or six meals that I pretty much know I'm gonna have."
McAnally has been front and center with Buffett's Coral Reefer Band since the early 1990s, serving as backup singer, guitarist, and on-stage foil. He's also penned a host of songs for the head Parrothead, including "License to Chill," "It's My Job," "Coast of Carolina," "Last Man Standing" and more. As a very tall dude with a massive mane of red hair and thick Southern baritone, he seems less eager to hit the beach with a surfboard than to search for barbecue with a very large truck.
But in his downtime (the winters, presumably), McAnally's also crafted a mighty fine career of his own as a prolific songwriter and performer. He's essentially a collector of CMA Awards, having been named Musician of the Year for four years running. He recently charted big with Kenny Chesney, who recorded his songs "Back Where I Come From" in 1996 and "Down the Road" in 2008; the latter scored the duo a 2010 Grammy nomination.
"I don't know that I'm the best songwriter, but for whatever reason, things come out fairly well formed," McAnally says. "Honestly, until six albums in, I never wrote things down. My premise was always, 'If I couldn't remember it, I didn't have the right to inflict it on the public,' and that saved me pretty well for a while."
Writing is still a joy for McAnally, if a slightly trickier one. "The nature of writing in music is that there's only 12 notes, and after you've been doing it for 10 or 20 years, the things that are most urgent and most natural occur to you," he says. "You have to tip-toe through a minefield of your own. You can't write 'It's My Job: The Sequel.' So you have to sort of unnaturally avoid what you've naturally said."
Much of what he's said and sung over those years are collected on the live record Live in Muscle Shoals, which he released last year on Buffett's Mailboat label. It's a document of his performance at that year's W.C. Handy Festival in his Alabama homeland and a CD heavy on McAnally's penchant for story-spinning. The album is something he's been wanting to do for years, but never got around to — partly, he says, because of the amount of time he'd have to spend listening to himself, and partly because he's been busy with work.
"In the past 25 years people have been gracious enough to ask me to do stuff, and I've never been able to say no," McAnally says. "I enjoy not being able to say no."
And he's answered the Buffett call dutifully every summer for more than 15 years, becoming not only a guitar man, but a coral confidant. "I think my function is that we're old friends," McAnally says. "We're both farmers, and all of our lives came from performing the solo set, the singer-songwriter talking to a crowd, where you have to pace a show, and there's nobody there ending it except you."
Despite his boss turning 65 on Christmas Day, McAnally, along with the Buffett nation, sees no reason to get this show off the road.
"I think it'll end up being a good work year in the Buffett schedule," he says. "And I don't do anything different. Whichever aspect of my job I got tomorrow, I just try to get a little better at it. No matter the rewards, the travel, whether someone thinks you're cute — you're playing music. Those benefits are cool, but music by itself is one of the best things in the world, and I get to do that every day. I'm the last guy that's going to complain."