PHOTOS: B.B. King Denver Botanic Gardens review - Reverb

PHOTOS: B.B. King Denver Botanic Gardens review

B.B. King’s a legend, hero, a breathing example of American musical history, and Monday’s performance at the Denver Botanic Gardens was a sobering reminder that he’s also just human.

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.

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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.

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  • Adam

    This show was probably the worst concert I have ever seen. And honestly, I don’t blame bb king. More just the assholes who convinced bb that he still had it in him and to go for one more tour. Yes, this was clearly some asshole’s way of making some quick dough for their kid’s future at Princeton.
    AND ALL OF IT came at the expense of a legendary performer’s legacy. I know it will be hard for me not to think about this performance the next time I hear his name. Sad

  • Leigh

    Exceptionally sad to see BB King in this state. All members who felt the BB King band /concert should never have been allowed at the Gardens and members should not have been charged for this, can call Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd, Director of Marketing & PR of the Gardens (720-865-3581) to get an interesting spin on her justification for allowing this/charging members for it. Be prepared to have the buck passed to ‘call the Membership Department or Swallow Hill.’ Apparently the Gardens disavows any responsibility for this?!

    • Matt

      Did you buy your tickets from the Gardens? No. You bought them from Swallow Hill or Ticket Fly with the express knowledge that tickets are non refundable. The Gardens just leases the space to Swallow Hill and is not a concert producer. Take some responsibility for your actions and just accept the fact that you’re out your money. Still, you got to see this legend. But what did you expect to happen. Are the Gardens supposed to interview each performer the day of the show to see if they are going to put on a performance to your liking. Maybe he was just having a bad night, or maybe it’s time to retire. But how were you supposed to be informed of his mental state so that you could decide if you wanted to come to the show?

  • David

    I had a great time at last night’s show. I agree about the introduction being way too long. But, overall, I was very pleased to see that B.B. could still sing and play guitar as well as he could. The man is 88 years old. Anybody, who was expecting him to sound like it was 40 years ago had unreasonable expectations for this show.

  • wigglytoes

    I have to agree, it was the worst concert that I’ve ever seen. But I’m more sad than angry at wasting $80. I also won’t point fingers. The Botanic Gardens and Swallow Hill might just have not known. Maybe the band or his handlers pushed him into this, but I’m betting that it was B.B. himself you insisted on touring. Like my dad (with dementia) there are good days and bad days. It could easily be that we just caught a really bad day.
    At the end of the show, one of the horn section just sat on the side, with his head hung down. Seemingly endlessly. I wonder what he was thinking.

    • laudace

      I echo the above. It was the worst concert I have been too. Always wanting for the magic to appear I patiently waited but after the second “song” (and I use that term in the broadest possible sense) it became clear that the thrill was indeed gone. The most coherent moments were when the audience was singing “you are my sunshine” in hope against hope that through their efforts some energy might appear on stage. Not to be. I was ready to leave early on, at first because I was so irritated at the thought of being charged for this but then upon reflect I needed to leave because I did not want to continue to witness the complete disintegration of a true blues legend I have watched and listened to over the many, many years. The band was terrific but lost and held at bay awaiting direction from the master. They should have played more and filled in the numerous blank holes. In hindsight I am just left very sad. This should end so as not to further detract from his legend, built up over a very long lifetime bringing great music and performances to millions of us.

  • Mark

    I was pumped up to see a good blues concert as well as my all time favorite legend BB King. The entire day leading up to the concert I kept thinking that at 88 years old I’m surprised BB is still playing. The venue was fantastic, the weather was perfect, the surroundings were excellent. The opening band, Delta Sonics, were spot on. A great way to warm up the crowd for what we hoped would be one of the last opportunities to see “The Legend”. The Delta Sonics finished up a great set and introduced BB King the way he should be introduced. That’s about where it ended for me. Clearly BB King has aged but he also seemed out of it mentally and not ready to admit he couldn’t do the show. As other here shared, there were large gaps in songs, the band didn’t know what to do most of the time and BB was slurring his speech and the lyrics. When he did play a few cords on the guitar they were off key and ragged. All in all I was disappointed and felt sad and embarrassed for BB King and the band. I think this was the last time I’ll ever be able to see BB King live and in person. It’s sad that I’ll remember this as the last concert. BB King has touched peoples heart and soul with his music. His music, voice and lyrics has been an inspiration to me over the years. This concert made me feel older than I am and I know “The Legend” is older as well. God Bless him for trying but this was a disappointment.

  • Johnny O

    screw
    this guy and all the people that have one negative thing to say about
    BB King..I saw him a few years ago at the botanical Gardens , in the
    pouring rain, and he was magnificent.. He gave his all and that’s what
    he always does..shut … up and sit in the presence of a master.

  • Tomy Prozach

    My hat is off to Lucas Fisher for his spot-on review and Seth McConnell for the accompanying photos. The posts to this blog so far are also accurate.
    Comparatively speaking, this was a really bad concert. And any future BB King concerts will likely be equally as bad and probably worse.
    Prior to purchasing the tickets, I read the reviews of BB’s performance in St Louis and other venues. My expectations were quite low and therefore my ultimate satisfaction was positive as determined by the formula “Satisfaction = Reality – Expectations”. If you go to a future BB concert, lower your expectations. You’ll be happier.
    I first saw BB at the Rainbow Music Hall in Denver at a Barry Fey promoted concert in the mid-80’s. BB was two hours late but when he arrived he made up for his delayed flight by a magical performance. Hail to the King of Blues.
    I went to the Botanical Gardens concert with my early 20’s daughter. Despite her age, she has a “bucket list” that included attending a BB King concert. Okay, check that off the list. Did that.
    Her expectations were similarly low, so therefore we both enjoyed the “concert”. It was worth $170 to me and she got some really good close-up pictures of BB.
    I have a deep respect for the band and I know they get it. BB is a legend and they showed their respect by letting BB be the lead. Their devotion was shown to me when there were several, extended periods of silence. They didn’t jump in to rescue BB. Right call guys.
    This will likely be BB’s last tour and I’m very happy to share his presence with my daughter.
    The bottom line is that this concert tour can not be compared to a typical tour. This is a farewell tour.
    Thanks BB from a fan.
    Tommy Prozach

  • Maggie

    The “concert” was an exploitation of a legendary, iconic musician…who wants to be remember him that way? It was painful and very sad…age and the years have caught up with BB King. He is slowly dying onstage…one beleaguered booking after another…his schedule is full of expensive venues well into October. “The Thrill is Gone” indeed and I wish like heck he could retain the dignity he deserves at this time in his life. Shame on those who are putting him through this.
    He is represented by Brad Goodman at: musicbookings@wmeentertainment.com

  • Atsuko Shichiji

    I have many wonderful memories of seeing Mr. King live over the years. I’ve attended his concerts almost every year since 1997. Most recently I attended his shows last month in DC, PA and NY. He and his band put on fantastic performances, and we, the audiences, loved him. I too noticed some issues, but I don’t regard them negatively as some people do. I accept the way things are, as we all get older, and I still love Mr. King and his music.

    Mr. King is a great human being and living legend who loves people, who cares about people, and who gives it his all at every show he plays. I feel blessed to have seen him in many concerts over the years. I will always remember him fondly with wonderful memories of his concerts in the past, present and future (hopefully).
    Thank you Mr. King for all you do.
    May God bless you and yours.

  • Scott

    The man has 15 children by 15 different women. No judgement, but now you know why he’s still touring. He’s not being exploited. He needs the money… The Gardens are always beautiful, though…