Yet, keep this in mind: To be able to witness the “King of Blues,” now 88 years old, perform and speak is a privilege and an experience. He has, if you can remember, won 15 Grammy Awards and been dubbed in TIME magazine as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. B.B King is the blues.
But it took King a good 20 minutes to introduce his band and much of that time his voice was inaudible, as he forgot to speak into the microphone. He was taken onto the stage by a green golf cart, then lead to his chair by a younger man who held him by the arm. The white button up shirt he wore hung to his knees as he waved to the crowd and introduced himself twice. The crowd’s standing ovation lasted for close to 5 minutes. King’s band played redundant riffs as he pointed out his bandmates’ names, at one point forgetting his drummer’s name, “What’s his name?” he asked. “He is one of the best in the world.”
If this was a joke, it was lost on the crowd.
“Laugh with me,” King said, continuing to ramble on. There was hesitance in his introductions, in his attempt to make noise.
Once the music finally did come, the audience was restless. Two older women turned to each other and asked: “Was he ever going to sing?”
The first song he performed: “I Need You So,” came out slow, like a warmup. The band’s momentum swung as King ached to keep time. But it wasn’t until “Rock Me Baby” when the Garden’s lawn was washed in the truth of King’s performance. King’s guitar left out measures and struck sour notes. The power in his voice has lost its rough Mississippi edges and gone dull in the night. The band lacked a confidence and boldness that blues begs.
It sounded like someone was telling a story in monotone.
In between each song there was heavy silence and audience members looked at each other as though King were asking them a question in which they had no way to answer. And once King started to perform “The Thrill is Gone,” people whooped and clapped. There was a sense of hope that with each song King’s age would slide off him, and he’d sound like the “King of Blues.”
As it neared 9 p.m., the crowd started toward the Botanical Garden’s installation pieces by Dale Chihuly, leaving the blues legend to weave his legacy into the cloudless night. There were conversations about what had happened to our legend, and where he had gone. Ticket payers shook their heads.
In 2012, when Buddy Guy was asked about B.B. King and his 76 years of playing, his endless years of touring, all he had to say was, “Blues musicians don’t retire, they drop.”
It couldn’t have been clearer, someone’s not being honest with B.B. King.
Lucas Dean Fiser is a published fiction writer, poet and holds an M.F.A. He writes freelance for The Denver Post, a staff member at the Cannabist and is regular contributor to Reverb.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.