MIDDLETON, WI – On a typically frigid January evening, the most tropical thing at a private and pricey mini-concert here by Jimmy Buffett was the 200-plus fans.
The audience, after all, went bananas.
Buffett’s nine-song, 50-minute show on a tiny stage in suburban Madison’s Greenway Station served two purposes: It raised about $55,000 for Habitat for Humanity of Dane County and it promoted the new Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant, a chain co-owned by Buffett’s Margaritaville Holdings.
To see musical party host Buffett, who turned 57 last month, perform Wednesday in an intimate but bubbly atmosphere wasn’t cheap. The lowest-priced tickets, $150 a pair, could only be purchased after winning a radio station call-in contest.
Four tables seating six people, meanwhile, cost $5,000 each. Amy Nichols of Chicago and her Madison-based family didn’t wince at the four-figure price tag.
“It took us five seconds to decide,” Nichols said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Arriving in a stretch limo after his private plane landed in Madison, Buffett entered through the restaurant’s kitchen and reached the stage with help from bulky bodyguards.
He sported a foam cheesehead for the first song, “Stars on the Water,” and proceeded to offer a cheerful performance, marveling at the 50 or so fans who braved Wednesday’s chilly winds to watch the show from outside through the place’s glass wall.
“I’m going from Madison to Hawaii this week,” Buffett told the crowd. “I’ll send a car for you.”
Playing with a five-piece regional band he had never seen before called the Beach Bums, Buffett delivered a set filled with singalongs. Buffett’s trademark Caribbean-lite rhythms hardly changed from “Boat Drinks” to “Margaritaville” to the set-closing “Volcano.” “Cheeseburger in Paradise” was performed near the show’s end with a pitchman’s flair.
Afterward, Buffett’s fans, affectionately dubbed Parrotheads, were content.
“Jimmy lights up a stage better than anybody,” said Muskego resident Paul Osen, who has seen Buffett 15 times.
UW-Eau Claire student Chris Burnell of Oshkosh attended the show with his father. Burnell, 22, wore a grass skirt over his jeans. He said he remembers hating it when his father played Buffett’s music. Now the young man has seen Buffett 11 times in concert.
Kathy Reible of Madison raised her pants leg above her ankle to display a parrot tattoo in Buffett’s honor.
“He makes you feel good,” she said.