While Jimmy Buffett is best remembered for his tropical rock hits like “Margaritaville,” he’s always held a special place in the country music world — from getting his start as a singer/songwriter in Nashville to teaming up with Alan Jackson for the CMA Award-winning 2003 duet “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”
So it’s fitting that the 2023 CMA Awards paid tribute to the late superstar on Wednesday night (Nov. 8), with Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band and Mac McAnally — a longtime member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band — teaming up for a medley of his hits.
Chesney and McAnally kicked things off with “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” trading lyrics and acoustic guitar licks on the 1974 number’s first verse before beautifully harmonizing on the second verse. “Jimmy made a whole world full of friends,” McAnally sang in lieu of the lyric “just a few friends,” before Chesney wrapped up the duet by hollering “Thank you, Jimmy!”
Zac Brown Band — with their namesake frontman appropriately barefoot in shorts — and Jackson were up next, singing “adios, my friend” to Buffett before launching into his signature hit, 1977’s “Margaritaville.” The crowd got in on the party by calling out “Salt! Where’s the damn salt!” during the tequila-soaked chorus.
Buffett died Sept. 1 at his home in Sag Harbor on Long Island, New York, from skin cancer. He was 76 years old. In addition to winning a CMA Award for vocal event of the year with Jackson for “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” he also won two ACM Awards for the duet: single of the year and vocal event of the year.
In his career, Buffett scored 13 Billboard Hot 100 charting singles — including seven top 40 hits and one top 10 — as well as 40 entries on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Ahead of Wednesday night’s show, Billboard‘s Lyndsey Havens caught up with McAnally on the red carpet, with the musician promising an emotional tribute. “Everybody taking part in it loved Jimmy and he loved everybody taking part in it – and that’s an easy call, because Jimmy loved everybody and he made everybody feel better every time he was in front of them for his whole life, all the way to the end,” McAnally said. “The thing we’re trying to convey is that he was not a fictional character. He was really the guy that you thought he was. He’s gonna be smiling down on us tonight. Because he’s gonna hear some people that loved and put their hearts right up against the microphone and gave it all we got.”
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