There are good concerts and there are bad concerts. Then there are concerts you know you are going to remember forever.
From the moment B.B. King walked on stage at Penticton’s South Okanagan Events Centre, it was clear that the 86-year-old bluesman loved being in front of an audience. His eyes twinkled as he picked up Lucille, the latest guitar to share that name in a line of Gibsons stretching back to 1949, and set out to show how he had earned one of the top spots on Rolling Stones’ list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, launching the concert with Baby, I Love You.
And when King and the band finally got round to playing one of his signature songs, The Thrill is Gone, it was clear that the thrill wasn’t gone for the King of the Blues as he played the Roy Hawkins/Rick Darnell song fluidly to a cheering audience.
But it would be wrong to think of this as just another concert with a big star. King, with incredible showmanship — honed by some 15,000 concerts over his 60-year career — made it personal, eventually insisting that the house lights be turned on so he “could see who he was singing to” and even encouraged female audience members to give their partners, or neighbours, a kiss during a bluesy, smooth rendition of You are my Sunshine.
It was also a tribute to King’s showmanship that you quickly forgot you were sitting in an arena that had recently been filled with ice and cheering hockey fans. The arena walls faded away as King drew the audience close, making it seem less like a concert than sitting in the kitchen listening as Granpa Riley chatted and told stories while playing a few songs for you with his friends.
It would be nice to say that King still had everything he once had. But time robs us all, little by little, and so it was with King, who at one point couldn’t remember the song he planned to play next. With some artists, such a failing might have brought jeers, catcalls or anger from the audience. But there were no recriminations — though there was more than one bittersweet, sympathetic tear shed — as King struggled to remember the music for a few moments before moving on.
“I hope you didn’t stay with me out of courtesy, I hope you stayed because you wanted to,” said King, as he let the audience know how much he appreciated their patience. “May I come back again?”
All good things must come to an end, though, and King eventually pointed out that he had been given the cue to wrap things up. Still he lingered, seeming to not want to give up the stage and the connection he had forged with the audience.
“If I do one more, will you sing with me?” he asked the audience filling the now brightly lit arena, before launching into When The Saints Go Marching In. And sing we did.
King did one more encore, Rock Me Baby, before putting on his hat and signing autographs from the stage.