The year is 2014 and I was still living out in San Francisco. At the very last minute [same day], I heard BB King was playing reasonably close to me at the Marin County Veterans Auditorium. Since I seemed to have missed him every time he played at his club in NYC when I lived there, I had to take a shot in the dark [no pun intended] and try to get in to see/shoot his show. I had so many hurdles to clear in trying to set this up BEFORE i could even request my media credential…but somehow I pulled it off.
My excitement was building anticipating the introduction of BB King. He was escorted out to his chair by his handlers to a raucous [older] crowd. His infectious smile just lit up the entire auditorium. He took a seat and immediately his charm and persona was beaming into the crowd. BB King just loves the stage, the blues, his band, the audience he is playing for. I can’t think of anyone in recent memory that genuinely enjoyed and savored every second they were on stage. He was so charismatic and eager to interact with the crowd and share a few jokes and stories. Actually he shared quite a bit throughout the evening.
When photographers are shooting a live music performance, we more or less get to shoot the first 3 songs….which at times goes by very quickly when in the photo pit with the other media. That wasn’t the case on this night. There was no photo pit. We had to shoot from quite a ways back. The good thing about the first 3 songs in BB’s set was that they lasted for a total of 36 minutes! And in most cases, unless I have a ticket and I absolutely love the performer…I never stay for the full show. Not on this night. I stayed for the entire show and soaked up everything BB King was putting out there. It was absolutely magical.
He played a relatively short set. At 88 years young, he was still giving it his all…and loving every second of it…as was the crowd. At the end of the show, his handlers came back out to assist him with his exit. The crowd eagerly wanted more…and I think BB King was ready to give it back to us. Instead of an official encore, BB was throwing out what looked to be gold bracelets from where I was standing. He also gave away a signed replica of “Lucille” to one very lucky fan. And just as his handlers thought BB was ready to make his exit, he sat right back down with a huge beaming smile and continued to crack jokes and interact with the crowd. And then he stood up, his handlers put his jacket on him and…he sat right back down for some more jokes, stories, accolades and attention. It was just awesome.
I have to say that this has been one of my top sets of photos that I have EVER taken and one of the most special shows I’ve ever been too. I believe BB King played his last show only just a few short months later in St. Louis in April of 2014, only to pass on a year after that.
May God bless you Mr. BB King.
Photos and Review by Joe Russo