Words & Images by: Arthur Shim
B.B. King :: 09.25.08 :: Klein Memorial Auditorium :: Bridgeport, CT
The legendary king of the blues, Riley "B.B." King strolled into town, appearing at a small community theater in Bridgeport, CT, just 50 miles north of New York City. A long ways from the Chitlin' Circuit - the handful of venues, where black musicians like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimi Hendrix and even B.B. himself, were once restricted to during the Jim Crow days - B.B. appeared before a sold out crowd at the 1,400-seat Klein Memorial Auditorium. Virtually every seat in the theater was occupied by older fans that came to pay their respects to one of the greatest musicians of the 21st century.
The night kicked off with New England singer-songwriter Joel Zoss, backed by bassist Guy Devito and local drummer Billy Klock. The trio played a medley of acoustic tunes, most notably a song Zoss wrote for Bonnie Raitt, "Too Long at the Fair."
After a quick intermission and word from the night's sponsors, the B.B. King Orchestra emerged, sans King. Dressed in full tuxedos, B.B.'s entourage warmed up with a round robin of solos featuring every member of the eight-piece ensemble. After a ten-minute intro, the theater's spotlight finally caught a glimpse of the 83-year old legend, being ushered onto the stage by his manager. The sight of the full-bodied King, sporting a highly reflective smoking jacket, set off an eruption of cheers and applause.
B.B. performed a riveting 100-minute set, full of spirited classics including "Let the Good Times Roll," "Everyday I Have the Blues" and his hit duet with U2, "When Love Comes to Town." Despite the years, his voice was sharp, and the big sound of his beloved guitar "Lucile" easily filled the two-story venue. B.B. stretched out songs and opened up jams for extended solos by both himself and his band members. He would often bring his band down to a quiet lull to recount one of his countless stories or to take a jab at any one of the modern day idiosyncrasies he found amusing - all while keeping tempo and firing off his signature licks. During one of these moments, he professed his unyielding love for all women of the world and even conjured up a song about Viagra and Cialis.
In a nod to New Orleans, the show closed with a poignant rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In." The crowd, appreciative as ever, rose to its feet to celebrate the Bayou spirit. Before the standing ovation lost steam, B.B. approached the edge of the stage and threw hundreds of golden "Lucile" pins into the crowd. Eager fans quickly abandoned their seats and crowded the orchestra pit for a chance to catch a lapel, score an autograph or shake hands with the legend.
|B.B. King Orchestra :: 09.25 :: CT|
After the show, the Klein's backstage area was crowded with roadies and an army of B.B.'s personal security guards. But here, amidst the chaos, B.B. was just as jovial. On the bus, he continued to captivate a group of lucky fans with the story behind the naming of his guitar "Lucile." B.B. willingly complied with any requests to sign autographs, snap photos with fans and give away more "Lucile" pins. Despite being named the third Greatest Guitarist of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine, despite winning several Grammy awards and numerous accolades, B.B. King still bears a remarkable humility and kindness that has endured more than sixty years in music. With these qualities, it's no wonder that a small town boy from Mississippi went from playing street corners to being one of the most recognized musicians in the world.
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