The legendary B.B. King, who recently won his fourteenth Grammy, is on his "Happy 80th Birthday Tour."
Monday night I went to hear him and the B.B. Blues Band rocking the house up in Green Bay. It was one of those casino venue shows, so the seating was not good. It was a stuffy large "ballroom" with many rows of tightly packed chairs flat on the floor, and we were on the next-to-back row. However, the show sold out in three days, so we counted ourselves fortunate to be there in any row.
It was an interesting crowd. Children, Baby Boomers, dating couples, seniors, bikers, etc. Quite a mix!
As we squeezed in and shifted around to try to get comfortable (I mean tightly packed chairs and my husband is a big guy), some slightly drunk and more-than slightly-loud concert goers filed into the back row right behind us. I had a moment of trepidation.
A few minutes later the house lights went down, stage lights went up, and the band came onstage. In seconds the crowd was enthralled. AWESOME musicians. Well, the King of the Blues would have the best in his band, after all. Wow. They were amazing. The drummer never stopped for just about the whole show. The keyboardist had a Hammond organ, a piano, and several keyboards. He often played the organ with his right hand and the keyboard with his left.
Jazz trumpets, guitars, the largest sax I have ever seen or heard (one of my favorite instruments), a bass guitarist that kept the place thumping, and more. It was fun! They played nonstop for nearly half an hour, and then someone introduced B.B. King. Out he came with his guitar, "Lucille," cradled in his arms, and the crowd jumped to their feet and gave this amazing old blues man a thundering ovation.
He sat for the entire concert, and he didn't play on every song, but when he did play it was obvious that he's still "got it." Amazing hands. Especially for an 80 year old diabetic. I watched him on the screen (being in the back rows I rarely caught a glimpse of him on stage) and marveled at his dexterity. He joked with us, rambled a bit (for which we all forgave him), and sang with that familiar gravelly voice which is only a shade different than in his younger years. Maybe it's better. He recalled his days picking cotton as a poor sharecropper, and he seemed genuinely grateful for the praise the crowd heaped on him after each number. He said that this was supposed to be his last tour--the 80th birthday finish to a long career spent mostly on the road. But he says he is not so sure that he will really stop touring.
I found myself thinking, "I hope those guys on stage really are still having fun, really are still enjoying making this amazing music." And I prayed for B.B. King. I remember reading an article by his daughter some years ago. Life was hard back home for the wife and daughter of a man they almost never saw and who was really married to "Lucille." His daughter is a Christian, and she prays for her dad, so I added my prayers to hers.
If you click on the link above you can hear just a few measures of B.B.'s signature song, "The Thrill is Gone." As we listened to him close the show with that famous number, I pondered the wonder of doing what you love at 80. He sang it with the full band backing him up, but the version you hear at the link is my favorite. Mostly just that voice and that guitar.
Even the guy talking loudly on his cell phone behind us, (really!) "I thought I'd share this experience with you!" couldn't spoil the moment.
May I be so blessed as to be 80 years old and still doing whatever I do with warmth and passion.