November 23, 2007
Playing at Cincinnati, Ohio’s historical facility, Music Hall, on the night after Thanksgiving, B. B. King brought the legacy of the blues to a two hour performance infused with jokes, storytelling and inspired guitar riffing.
The now 80-plus King walked onto the stage and sat down front and center. Immediately, he captivated his audience with stories of his upbringing, and the difficulties of working crops in the South at a very young age. When he launched into "Love Comes to Town," he stopped the band, and asked "Do they know that U2 wrote this song for me?" The crowd responded, clapping and shouting the lyrics back to King’s satisfaction.
One highlight of the evening came when B.B. played the opening notes to a smoldering "Key to the Highway" that left ample room for a towering King solo as he raised his guitar skyward in appreciation. Another was "The Thrill is Gone," which he must have played thousands of times every night in his long, illustrious career, but which, on this night, King brought fresh energy and a keen musical insight to every lyric sung and fluid guitar line played on his trademark hit.
Toying with the post-holiday crowd, King thanked them for coming out to his show after filling themselves up with food the previous day, then sang "Nobody Loves Me But My Mother" which added into the lyrics, "And she could be jivin’ too!" King’s connection to the blues community is deep and wide, evidenced by the packed house that filled up the symphonic hall, arching their heads and ears while trying to catch a stray, floating solo, or one of King’s anecdotes about relationships and life. The ages ranged from preteens to senior citizens, yet they all grasped King’s influence on their world, and the totality of the weight his musical catalogue carries even as the icon has been regulated to a sitting position to perform.
"I’m a Blues Man," B. B. King sang to his devotees in Cincinnati. To which, those in attendance must have thought, oh no, Mr. King, you’re much more than that.
You’re a national treasure.