B.B. KING BLUES FESTIVAL
(featuring B.B. King, Buddy Guy, John Hiatt)
August 24, 2001
Chastain Park Amphitheater
It looks like the upper crust Buckheads get the blues, too. While show opener Tommy Castro failed to excite the crowd with his perfectly played but utterly soulless brand of white boy blues, the other acts on the bill showed that the wine and cheese crowd was perfectly capable of enjoying something other than their drinks.
John Hiatt and The Goners:
John Hiatt and The Gonersdid a 7-song set laced with gritty redneck humor, darkness and heart. Johns mainly known as a songwriter for other country and blues artists, but nothing beats his own pure delivery of Have A Little Faith In Me. John was definitely the odd man out on this bill. While blues based, the rocking band was more in the vein of The Rolling Stones with a curmudgeonly vocalist than any blues Ive heard. After a raucous version of Memphis In The Meantime, he vacated the stage.
Buddy Guy was dressed, as usual, like a middle aged Jimi Hendrix in bright hippie colors as he extracted emotions from his polka dot Fender Stratocaster. After starting right with a crowd sing-a-long on I Just Want To Make Love To You, he slid into a nasty impassioned version of Have You Ever Been Mistreated that reeked of sweat and emotion. Acting as if the crowd didnt like what he was doing but he was going to do it anyway, he did the definitive cover of Muddy Waters Hoochie Coochie Man. By this point, the table dwellers were punctuating vocal lines with tell us about it, Buddy and thats right like they were in a Southern Baptist church. During the song Tramp, he took his guitar out into the crowd. He didnt do it like a lot of performers who just dash through the front rows and back to safety. He walked just about to the lawn and well out of the reach of the spotlights. The bluesman would stop and spend time here and there, sharing the mic with the audience until he eventually wound up back on the stage about ten minutes later. For a bit of fun, he did perfect musical and vocal impressions of other performers. John Lee Hookers Boom Boom Boom Boom led into Creams Strange Brew. Then he pulled out Stevie Ray Vaughns Cold Shot to rapturous applause. Later in the set he did a bit of Hendrixs Voodoo Chile before a complete (and stunning) version of Marvin Gayes Trouble Man. The crowd was most appreciative of Damn Right I Got The Blues and Mustang Sally. The clock forced him from the stage as the gathering darkness signaled that it was time for the King of the Blues himself.
After a New Orleans flavored intro led by musical director James Boogaloo Bolden who doubled on the trumpet, B.B. King emerged from the shadows and took a seat as an assistant strapped his faithful guitar Lucille around his neck. He looked every bit of 75 years until he hit the first gut-wrenching note, then he woke up and slung Let The Good Times Roll out like a bullet. After the tune, he said I know you sayin he done got too old to stand up and I say .you bout right. This led into a searing and meaningful Ill Survive.
Nobody has ever mastered the single note guitar theory to the effective and efficient extreme that B.B. has. His sparse licks cold cocked the crowd every time their attention would start to drift. Caledonia took us all to where the bastard rock and roll child was conceived and How Blue Can You Get was as pure as a song can get. B.B.s gut-bucket voice was intense and as painfully expressive as ever. One listen to his live version of Rock Me, Baby could convert any non-believer. By the time of The Thrill Is Gone, the chill factor was pretty constant. He took time to shake hands and give out gold guitar shaped trinkets and picks before his departure. He then approached the mic for his final goodnights stating, If you had a good time, tell everybody. If you didnt tell me. I didnt see anyone looking to speak to him about that matter after the show.
I chose B.B.'s show as my #4 favorite of 2001 because he provided me with one of those nice existential moments. I was relaxing on a beautiful Southern summer evening under the stars eating strawberries when B.B. bent one of Lucille's strings and made a sound that transcended life and time. I know that sounds pretentious as all get out, but that's the way it felt. It was wonderful. Later, I actually got to shake his hand and he gave me a golden pin with his name on it. I was glad I got to say "thank you." (Chris McKay/concertshots.com)