Nearly every summer for the past three decades, Jimmy Buffett has come to town to turn Pine Knob/DTE Energy Music Theatre into Margaritaville for a night or two.
This year, however, the veteran singer-songwriter has grander ambitions.
Buffett is bringing his Coral Reefer Band and his Parrothead nation back to Detroit proper this weekend, playing his first-ever stadium date in the area at Comerica Park, with the party extending from the stage to special parties in the parking long on Montcalm Street and at the Hockeytown Cafe.
"I love Pine Knob, but I was just interested in going downtown this time," explains Buffett, 65. "People had told me (Comerica) is a great place to play for a big show. We're not really doing many more of those, but I've heard there's a couple stadiums around that are places you want to play before I'm done, so I thought I'd play it.
"And now that we got Lionel, it becomes an event, and I think it's gonna be fun."
Lionel would be Lionel Richie, the former Commodores singer and 80s solo hitmaker who's had a resurgence this year with "Tuskegee." The album features remakes of Richie's hits with mostly country artists -- including Buffett on "All Night Long" -- and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, giving him his first platinum album in nearly 15 yeas.
And that success gave Buffett -- who seldom uses opening acts -- the "wild-ass idea" to make Richie part of this weekend's show.
"(The promoters) felt we needed an opening act...even though I trust my Detroit audience. I know the loyalty of that audience, and I thought we'd be OK," the Mississippi-born Buffett, who crossed paths with the Commodores during the late 60s when both were playing the southeast college circuit, explains. "But they said, 'It's a big venue. Let's go find someone who would be fun and compatible.' "
After bouncing around a number of ideas, including some acts that were already booked that night, "Tuskegee" hit No. 1 and gave Buffett a brain flash. "I said, 'Let's call Lionel and see if he'd be interested in doing it," he notes. "I don't think he's been out doing concerts, and I don't think he's been doing them the size that this is. I thought that to play the baseball stadium in Detroit would be special enough to get him. And he called back and said he wanted to do it."
Buffett has, in fact, been dropping "All Night Long" into his own shows this year. But at Comerica, it seems a safe bet -- though he won't commit -- that he and Richie will perform it together during one of their sets.
"He's a delightful guy and wrote a lot of great songs, and ('Tuskegee') is a great record," Buffett says. "So this could be interesting. I mean, let's face it -- I know how to whip a crowd into a frenzy at the end of a show. I've got a few songs that can do it, and then you drop ('All Night Long') on top of 'Fins' or 'One Particular Harbor' and they go even more nuts."
Engaging the Parrotheads, of course, is what Buffett does best. Evoking beaches, boats and the laid-back lifestyle of the Caribbean and Florida Keys, Buffett has built an empire that goes beyond music to include restaurant chains such as the Margaritaville Cafe and Cheeseburger In Paradise, both named after his most popular songs, a beer brand (Landshark Lager) and a Radiomargaritaville.com Internet service. His books have made the New York Times fiction, non-fiction and children's best-sellers list, and he teamed with Herman Wouk to adapt the author's "Carnival" into a stage musical.
Buffett also co-owns a label, Mailboat Records, that's released titles by Dan Fogelberg, Boz Scaggs and Poison as well as his own.
His last album, 2009's "Buffet Hotel," debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200, and its successor is already in progress, Buffett says. "I've got a lot of songs and I'm gonna go in this year," he says. "I'm happy with the material 'cause I've been working at it for awhile." Among the new songs' titles are "Useless and Important Information" -- which he says is "in the running for the album title" -- as well as "Einstein Was a Surfer," "I Want to Go Back to Cartagena" and "Clueless People in a 'Fraidy Cat World."
"It's kinda piling up on us here, so I'm ready to get back in and do some recording," Buffett says.
That, of course, means the Margaritaville spirit is alive and well, and despite dialing down his touring a bit, Buffett, who sings about a pirate looking at 50, isn't ready to retire at 65.
"Am I slowing down? A little," he acknowledges. "I may take a little time off here and there. But it's still rolling. I'm not ready to go to the beach full-time yet."
Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band, Lionel Richie and Roddie Romero & the Hub City All Stars perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 28, at Comerica Park, 2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Some tickets remain at $39-$179. Call 313-962-4000 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band may not hit the Comerica Park stage until Saturday evening, but the party will start in the morning.
The official Lounging at the Lagoon Tour Party begins at 10 a.m. in Comerica Park's Parking Lot 3 at Woodward and Montcalm. The bash will feature carnival rides and games, a sand barge wtih a margarita bar, a beer hall, a FinMobile promoting Buffett's Landshark Lager beer brand, misting stations and contests. Admission is free and open to the public.
The Hockeytown Cafe also plans to be hopping during the day and will host performances by the Real Deal at 2 and 5 p.m.
Comerica Park is also setting up special parking areas for RVs in the stadium's lots 4 and 5; the latter will open at 4 p.m. Friday, July 27, for overnight parking. The RV fee is $160 per vehicle per day.
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