Fans were transported to Margaritaville during the 2023 CMA Awards’ tribute to Jimmy Buffett following his death earlier this fall.
Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Mac McAnally and Zac Brown Band all joined forces to honor the late musician on Wednesday, November 8, as part of the 57th annual awards show.
Chesney, 55, and McAnally, 66, began the tribute with a sweet rendition of “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” At one point, Chesney switched the lyrics to sing, “Jimmy made a whole world of friends,” and pointed up to the sky at the end, adding, “Thank you, Jimmy.”
Zac Brown and Jackson, 65, took the stage next. Brown, 45, sang, “Adios my friend” before Jackson joined him in performing Buffett’s most iconic song, “Margaritaville.” As the pair belted out the lyrics, photos of Buffett’s life on stage and with his musical pals played in the background.
Kelsea Ballerini, Luke Combs and more country musicians sang along to the track from the audience. “Salt! Salt! Salt!” they yelled in unison as the chorus rang out among the crowd. All of Bridgestone Arena was brought to their feet as the singers concluded the heartwarming — and moving — tribute.
Before taking the stage, McAnnally, — who was part of Buffett’s The Coral Reefer Band — gushed about what being part of the CMA Awards tribute meant to him.
“Well, it just lights up every pore in my soul. I stood shotgun next to the guy for four decades plus and [we’d] been working on the records back to 1980 and been on the road with him for the last 35 years,” he said during an On the Red Carpet interview on Wednesday. “And we just finished his final album that I didn’t know was his final album until we finished it. But Kenny, and Alan, and Zac and the guys, we’re all honored to know him and to get to honor him. And he’s gonna be laughing at us from right above tonight.”
Buffett died on September 1 “surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” according to a statement shared on his Instagram account. The “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” singer was 76.
Two days later, Buffett’s cause of death was revealed. According to an obituary, he had been privately “fighting Merkel cell skin cancer for four years.” Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare type of skin cancer that develops when cells grow “out of control” and can spread quickly to other parts of the body, per the American Cancer Society.
In the wake of his passing, celebrities honored Buffett’s memory with sweet social media tributes. Chesney was among one of the first stars to post a message, writing via Instagram, “So goodbye Jimmy. Thanks for your friendship and the songs I will carry in my heart forever. Sail On Sailor 🦜🌴🌊.”
Chesney, who performed with Buffett many times over the years, shared a video of himself playing the guitar and singing “A Pirate Looks At Forty” for the late singer.
McAnally waited a few weeks before finding the words for his public tribute. “The closest thing I ever had to a big brother left this world on Sept. 1,” he wrote via Instagram that same month. “What I can say in lieu of the right words that continue to evade is what an honor it is and has been to ride shotgun with a one-man fountain of positive energy that saw fit to take me under his wing 40-some-odd years ago.”
Jackson, for his part, has recently been dealing with own health struggles. The “Livin’ on Love” singer went public in September 2021 with his Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease diagnosis after quietly battling the disease for more than a decade.
“I have this neuropathy and neurological disease,” Jackson explained during a Today show interview at the time. “It’s genetic that I inherited from my daddy. … There’s no cure for it, but it’s been affecting me for years. And it’s getting more and more obvious.”
Jackson’s ailment didn’t keep him from taking the stage on Wednesday — or honoring Buffett when he passed. “Shores distant shores / There’s where I’m headed for / I got the stars to guide my way / Sail into the light of day,” he captioned a photo with Buffett in September, quoting their 2004 hit, “Boats to Build.” He added: “RIP my friend, @jimmybuffett.”
Zac Brown Band paid homage to Buffett in September by sharing the music video to their 2010 song, “Knee Deep.” The group, which is helmed by Brown, captioned the clip by writing, “Hope you’re knee deep in the water somewhere in paradise today, @jimmybuffett. We were honored to know you and to make music with you. Fins up. #kneedeep #finsup #jimmybuffett.”
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