Following an entertaining opening act, BB King’s 8-piece band took the stage and jammed out on solos for approximately 10 minutes. Then, it was announced that Mr. King was taking the stage. The crowd roared. This was the moment many of us had been waiting for! Mr. King sat down onstage, picked up his guitar and began plucking away at the strings. The crowd was still waiting for that guitar riff that would just ‘wow’ us. Mr. King leaned into the microphone. Wait, I didn’t quite catch what he said. Nonetheless, we’re waiting for the ‘wow’ moment!
Mr. King looked over his shoulder and was apparently introducing his band. Is there an audio problem? I still couldn’t understand what he was saying. It must have been an audio problem! Wait, Mr. King leaned closer to the microphone: ah! That was it: he was just too far away from the microphone – I can hear him now! But, I still couldn't understand the words that he was saying.
Did he just forget the name of one of his band members? Was he actually asking what the band member’s name was while they were onstage? The band member was smiling when he told BB his name. Ah. We all forget something at some point. I mean, if I were fortunate to make it to 88 years old myself, I’m not confident that I could have gone up on that stage and performed. That’s funny! Mr. King just pointed out the fact that he was 88 years old!
Wait. Did the first song just end? He was saying something into the microphone. I could hear him say something, but I couldn’t make it out. It’s very muddled. Some people in the front of the auditorium were laughing. He must have been cracking a joke! Shoot, I missed it – I’ll smile though because it must have been funny!
Another song begins. Mr. King is still plucking on the guitar. Unfortunately, this plucking continued throughout most of the night, and there never was that knock-me-down, mind-blowing, eat-at-your-soul guitar riff this evening. I was excited when at one point during his 75-minute set he grabbed the microphone and began singing ‘I Need You So’ but, as it was becoming apparent, Mr. King would go on to improvise much of tonight’s performance and oftentimes abort the song prior to its ending.
His band did very well to try to fill in the gaps, but we all slowly realized that the BB King we were there to hear, wasn’t going to be in attendance. The guitar playing wasn’t there, and neither was Mr. King’s vocal performance, as he lacked both range to hit the higher notes and endurance to hit the end of the songs. His impromptu dialogue in between songs made those in attendance uncomfortable because we weren’t certain if we had missed a punch line or if it was because we were witnessing how vulnerable even our immortal music gods really are to the fragility of life.
As Mr. King was about to thank the audience for attending, several audience members close to the stage were apparently aware that Mr. King has been known to sign autographs immediately following his performances while onstage. The first wave of autograph-seekers hit the stage before Mr. King was able to properly conclude the show. As such, instead of Mr. King receiving some semblance of an ovation from the crowd, he wasn’t even given the opportunity to even watch the audience members trickle out in silence.
I felt a big void in my chest after this performance. I had waited so long to see this man perform, and I wasn’t even able to give him the proper send-off of my clapping hands at the end of his show, and neither was anyone else that night. Probably the biggest letdown was that this was billed as a concert. The promoters would have done the attendees a favor by marketing this instead as 'an evening with BB King.' In that case, hopes would not have been up so high as we entered the venue.
As I walked away from the Bob Carr into the cold, dark night towards my truck to go home I felt my own version of the blues. I saw the man who later became a legend with his guitar in hand, but I never did see a display of what made either of them legendary. With the lack of applause at the end, I felt like we had robbed this man of his much-deserved recognition. We should have thanked him, not for his performance this evening, but for what he gave to us all these years. Someday when this man moves beyond this earthly world, I pray that my downed feelings this evening will not be remembered as any part of the legendary blues that this great musician will leave behind.