News Column

The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill., Gary Sawyer column

June 8, 2014

By Gary Sawyer, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

June 08--There's a risk in attending a concert by a legend.

To achieve true legendary status, the performer has to be in the business long enough that you run the risk of seeing them past their prime. At the same time, there's certainly joy in seeing a legendary performer, even if they aren't what they once were.

A recent concert by blues legend B.B. King at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts was the perfect example.

King, who is 88, is not the performer he once was. It was obvious during the performance that he has some memory issues and his guitar playing is no longer stellar, although he's undoubtedly one of the best 88-year-old guitar players in the world.

At Tuesday's concert he was also suffering from a throat ailment. He gave it a valiant effort, but it was obvious he wasn't feeling well.

There have been reports of recent King appearances that have been near disasters. At a St. Louis concert he apparently finished very few songs, rambled through several stories with no apparent end and left a lot of ticket holders disappointed.

Tuesday's concert teetered on that precipice a couple of times.

King took a long time to introduce his band members, most of whom appeared well past retirement age. He lost his place at least once and began a story that never finished.

He also had the audience sing along with "You Are My Sunshine," for several verses. His band, which generally tried to help him out, stopped a couple of times, but King kept going.

But King managed to pull the evening back. He did an admirable job on his big hit, "The Thrill is Gone," and that energy carried over into a few other blues numbers. He obviously doesn't take on the more difficult songs in his library any longer and anyone expecting King to run through his repertoire of hits probably left disappointed.

But King also spent a good deal of time bantering with the audience and the band and he seemed to truly appreciate the admiration of the audience. The end of the show was bittersweet. King received a heartfelt standing ovation and he should have been helped off the stage with that appreciation ringing in his ears. Instead, he stubbornly engaged in conversation with those in the front few rows and his handlers -- he needs help to get out of a chair and assistance walking -- couldn't get him off the stage. The evening ended with him walking off stage after the concert hall was already half empty.

Still, it was a joy to see King still enjoying the audience and the audience appreciating his years of performances.

At the end of the night, the sell-out crowd seemed satisfied. There had been enough moments when King and his beloved guitar, Lucille, performed well enough to remind everyone of his ability to captivate an audience during his prime.

And the sell-out crowd had the experience of seeing a legend perform.

Sawyer is Pantagraph regional editor and can be reached at


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Source: Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL)

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