I saw BB King the other night and I have a feeling that it may be the last time. He’s 85 now and touring still like a house-afire but he doesn’t play Lucille as much as he once did nor does he sing more than song or two straight through. I’m not complaining by any means. I love BB and his band and anytime I see him is a pure delight, but asking for any more at this point seems like wanting too much. I’m grateful for what he’s already given. I remember fondly when he could stand for the whole show, and sing up a storm. Nowadays, he does a lot of talking between songs, although when he sings or plays, he’s right on his game. He’s still a charmer in every word he speaks, but I spend a lot of the show remembering what once was and missing out on what’s happening now.
While I was at the show, I started thinking about the first time I saw him and how much it meant to me. I thought it was important for my kids to see him as well, and was especially happy to introduce him live to my oldest son who truly loves music. It was the first seated show, I believe, he had ever been to and mid-show he confided that it was also the first show he had been to that someone hadn’t spilled beer on him.
Over the years, all three of my sons have seen and loved BB as well as my mom (my daughter, alas, had no interest – his music is just not her thing). I wanted my mother to see what it was I loved about this man and his music. I remember during a family road trip, playing one of his CDs and she hadn’t been overly impressed (it hadn’t been lively enough for her). Nevertheless, I got her a ticket to his next show. When BB hit the stage, tears started rolling down her cheeks. There was something about him that resonated even with my mom and she is so glad that she went to his show. He thoroughly charmed her.
I’ve been to countless shows over the years and I’ve been in the company of many ‘greats,’ from writers to presidents and plenty of notable people in between. There’s only been a handful that has moved me the way BB King does. He’s the real deal.
As I watched the crowd at this most recent show, I was noticing the expressions different people had as various songs played, struck by how moving it was at times. BB and his band were dressed in casual garb, which isn’t their norm. This was also a fairly casual venue and many men were in Hawaiian type shirts. One walked by with an unusual print, with lots of small American flags as part of the design. As I listened and took note of the flags, I was transported back to another BB King show that had plenty of flags at it. It was the evening of 9/11 and I was at his show.
That day started much like any other. I was a marketing director for a hospitality group at the time and I had to stop by one of the restaurants either to pick up some paperwork or drop something off; I really can’t recall. What I do remember though is leaving the manager’s office and walking toward the door only to see several staff members in the bar area glued to the TV. We watched in horror as the second plane struck the tower, stunned at what we were witnessing.
The corporate office had been in the process of moving throughout the week before and this morning of 9/11 was the very first in which we were operating out of our new home office atop one of the restaurants. I remember calling home as I drove to the new office to see if my husband had the news on and was aware of what was happening.
Three of my children were at local schools, one in elementary, the other in middle school and my daughter a junior in high school. My oldest son had just begun his sophomore year in college, about an hour away. I quickly called him as well.
Needless to say, little work got done that day. Instead of settling in at our new digs, we were drawn to the TV in the bar of the location where our office now was. We were spellbound, disbelieving what we saw as the brutal images played over and over. I remember there was a fundraiser event being held at the restaurant that night, and I had a brief thought that this was not going to be a night that anyone felt like going out to dinner, regardless of the cause.
Everyone ended up leaving early that day, going home to embrace family and talk with loved ones about what had transpired earlier that morning. It was more than horrific and of course, as the day unfolded, there was far more than just what had happened in NYC to digest.
Then there was a phone call from my oldest son. He wasn’t sure what to do. He had tickets to see BB King that night down in Manchester, N.H., and didn’t know if he should still go. I had almost forgotten that I also had tickets, as did some of my friends. We had all purchased tickets earlier that summer to see him and the venue was not equipped for bad weather. Thunderstorms had threatened that evening and the show was canceled and rescheduled for September 11, 2001. We didn’t much mind, although we were certainly disappointed at the time. I remember my son’s concern that he would be back at school at that point, but since he was going with someone from the school, he didn’t think it would be a big deal. They’d simply drive down for the show.
Should he still come? Was it even safe at this point to go anywhere, particularly to an outdoor show? I wasn’t sure what to say, but eventually, I said, “You should go, but only if you feel comfortable in doing so.” I had to decide, too. What did I want to do? Some of the friends that also held tickets decided not to go. I decided I would. In the face of everything that had happened that day, I couldn’t think of anything more life-affirming than gathering with friends and other music lovers and seeing BB King.
So I went with a friend and met my son there. Her daughter also came as did a friend’s husband and their daughter. The crowd was a bit thinner than it might have been but yet those who were there truly wanted to be. Cars and trucks had American flags affixed to roll bars, antennas, or simply in the passengers’ hands. People entered the outdoor venue carrying American flags and dressed in red, white and blue.
When the occasional plane flew overhead, you could see people tense. Our locale was far from one that had any political implication really or terrorist threat, but who knew at this point?
There was a sense of community, a sense of fellowship, as the seats began to fill. The opening act came on stage, a musician by the name of Tommy Castro, who I believe filled in for John Hiatt who was stuck in NYC. Buddy Guy followed and then finally, BB King and his band. After a day of terror, of heartache, of unbelievable sadness and shock, this flag-bearing crowd stuck together and enjoyed the blues. There were messages of hope and of course of patriotism and sorrow over what transpired that day. This was uncharted territory for all of us and yet we assembled that night and felt some relief, had a bit of comfort.
We had front row center stage seats at this show, which in itself was a thrill, but everyone there seemed to have a front row seat on how to keep on, how to move forward and understand that in the midst of this terrible, terrible tragedy, we still had each other. Flags were waving, patriotism was strong and we believed in ourselves and most important, our country. We would prevail.
The opening notes to “The Thrill is Gone” began to play and the crowd went wild – wait a minute, I was back at the present-day show. I looked around once again, thinking about how far we’ve come since that awful day and wondering when the thrill of our patriotism and solidarity disappeared. Is the thrill of being American also gone?
I don’t know where or when the divisiveness really began or what can be done to put an end to it. It seems like every day we hear more and more about what the other side has said or done wrong. We can’t seem to find any middle ground these days, and I think back to 9/11 and the days that followed when we didn’t need to search for middle ground. We banded together and proudly stood our ground and believed in who were and what our country stood for. It wasn’t us and them, this party or that – we were united as a country, showing the rest of the world who we were and what we were capable of. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to bring out the best in us.