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Jimmy Buffett thrills locals in a rare Key West homecoming. He's opening his new tour here

Rob O'Neal
Monroe County Tourist Development Council
Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett plays during a concert at the Key West Theater on Feb. 4, 2023. Buffett and the band are scheduled to perform two more shows that will kick off his “Second Wind” tour at an outside amphitheater in Key West Thursday, Feb. 9, and Saturday, Feb. 11.

The man who made a fortune singing Margaritaville is thrilling his Key West fanbase—including some who knew him back when he landed here more than 50 years ago—with an extended visit back to the island.

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band will launch their Second Wind tour, here, on Thursday, Feb. 9, and Satuday, Feb. 11, at the city's amphitheater. But the band played two surprise shows downtown on Saturday and Monday.

The arena star certainly built his multi-million-dollar brand out of Key West lore—hangovers and flip flops included. But aside from popup and private shows, Buffett, 76, rarely plays here. In 2011, he did a Duval Street show that drew a mass of fans.

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In the intimate show Saturday night at the Key West Theater, Buffett treated the crowd of largely locals to an emotional retelling of his Key West story. He was a "nobody from nowhere," when he arrived in 1971.

Nick Doll
Hundreds lined up Feb. 3, 2023, for a shot at buying tickets to a rare, small-venue Jimmy Buffett concert in Key West. Tickets had to be bought in person, the limit was two tickets and ID had to be shown at purchase and at the door to get into the show. Buffett added two concerts at the Eaton Street theater, after locals were angered at having to deal with Ticketmaster pricing and policies after Buffett announced two shows in Key West at the Coffee Butler Amphitheater, Feb. 9 and 11.

The Key West he once knew was a dusty old funky beach town. It was long before the city pivoted to tourism, which today is its economic engine.

Buffett's story is one shared by many here: wash up at the end of the road without a plan or money, and wind out building a new life.

Even without the shared millions, Key West transplants like Buffett know the feeling of landing at Mile Marker 0 while on a losing streak and finding a safe haven from the mainland.

For the first act, he and his band played his first Key West-inspired record, A White Sport Coat And A Pink Crustacean, from 1973. Buffett saved the party anthems—Fins, Volcano, and yes, Margaritaville—which he wrote while stuck in traffic on the Seven Mile Bridge, for the second act.

Nick Doll
Susan Fike celebrates after buying tickets to see Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band at the Key West Theater on Feb. 3, 2023. Buffett announced two special shows at the downtown theater after two shows scheduled for the Coffee Butler Amphitheater on Feb. 9 and 11 quickly sold out online.

"These days I'm up about the time I used to go to bed," Buffett said, recalling the old days when the Full Moon Saloon in Key West, the Conch Flyer bar at the airport and the Boca Chica Bar on Stock Island were considered a real pub crawl by long-time residents.

"It was like Columbus crossing the ocean, that's what we used to refer to it as," Buffett said, as a crowd laughed at the old saw about the chore of leaving Key West proper.

Buffett's media team declined an interview with WLRN, but locals have seen the star around town lately—riding his bike along Simonton Street and stopping in a Stock Island restaurant for a hogfish sandwich.

He name checked Key West legends, starting with Coffee Butler, who let a young Buffett open for him at local bars, and he dedicated the show to his friend Tom Corcoran the Florida writer who died in January.

As Buffett strummed the opening of his tribute to the sea, A Pirate Looks at 40, on Saturday night, he had a moment.

"It's so cool singing this song in Key West," Buffett said off the cuff and without missing a note, to cheers. He released the song in 1974.

Provided by Tony Lazarus
Jimmy Buffett's set list for Feb. 4, 2023, at the Key West Theater. (He skipped "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and added "Fins.") It was the first of four Key West shows Buffett announced for February to launch his "Second Wind Tour," with his Coral Reefer Band. Buffett landed in Key West in the early 1970s and went on to superstardom on a brand he built based on the Keys laid-back lifestyle.

On Thursday, Buffett will make his debut at the Coffee Butler Amphitheater at the Truman Waterfront Park.

He had added the Feb. 4 and 6 Key West Theater shows, after locals fumed over Ticketmaster's policies and and pricing. Tickets were $99 plus some fees.

For these surprise shows; however, Buffett's team went old-school: People had to line up outside the Eaton Street theater until tickets went on sale at noon. Two per person, with ID required.

The ticket line, which started for a few fans before sunrise Feb. 3, lined a block between Eaton and Fleming streets. And, in Key West style, it turned into an impromptu street party.

Orderly and cheerful, fans chatted and caught up under a bright sun. Some had chairs and snacks to share, including rum cake, hand delivered from another local who runs a rum distillery.

Those whose luck ran out at the box office window weren't happy, but they were reminded over the hours by the promoter's staff they were risking walking away empty-handed.

Those who scored were also applauded by their pals.

"This is why people come to Key West now," said Sally Crane, a local who showed up at 6:30 a.m. Feb. 3 to stand in line and succeeded. "They just want to hang out, have fun with their friends. Kind of live this island lifestyle and that's what Jimmy Buffett represents."

Gwen Filosa covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. She has been reporting from the island chain for over a decade, from Cuban landings and the workforce housing crisis, to the oddities and charms of the Keys.