A Memory Of A Lifetime

Courtesy The Chicago Tribune

Facebook memories gave me a real gem yesterday and it made my day.

The statement from ten years ago simply said “I just saw B.B. King in concert. Wow.”

That one line summoned a rush of memories from an epic road trip to Memphis and Nashville. This was the trip where I stayed in a wigwam. We studied Corvettes, toured Graceland and paid our respects to Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel. In all, we celebrated the music, history and bbq of the region for over a week.

The B.B. King concert was unplanned and dumb luck. The day we rolled into town, driving down Beale Street for the first time, we saw a banner on the side of BB’s club announcing that he was doing a show the next day. We called and got the last two standing room only tickets.

We had lunch earlier in the day and scoped out the ideal place to stand – in front of the bar where we would have no seat but would have the bar to lean on.

And it was perfect.

We were at the center, in the back of a room that really isn’t that big. We had a fantastic view of the stage but we had to get there early to secure our spot in this very intimate space. Then there were literal hours worth of amazing opening acts before B.B. came out.

I don’t recall how long we were there – six or seven hours, I think, but it was so much fun I didn’t even care that I was dead on my feet.

The only wrench in the works was an older Australian man with the biggest backpack I’ve ever seen. He stood in front of me most of the night. He seemed to forget that he had the ginormous pack but the lapse in memory may have been caused by his drunkenness. Luckily, he was friendly and jovial and glad to be alive even if he was a nuisance.

Incidentally, at some point a couple of guys standing next to us got tired of seeing him stumble into me and encouraged him to move on. We got to talking to them and they were also from southern Ohio. It was nice to meet someone from home and to know that chivalry isn’t dead. At least, it wasn’t dead ten years ago.

B.B. played well into the evening with the energy of a man much younger than his 85 years. When he was done, they wheeled out a birthday cake and everyone sang Happy Birthday to the man who defined blues music for generations.

My only regret is that I didn’t hop in the autograph line. WHY didn’t I hop in the autograph line??? It was late and I was tired and my feet hurt but when you have a chance to meet a music legend, you can sleep when you’re dead. You can rest those feet later. Stand in the line. Express your admiration and get your picture taken with the legend.

B.B. is gone now but he lives on through his music, through the countless musicians he continues to inspire and through the memories of all the fans who love his music.

Incidentally, B.B. didn’t allow any kind of photography or videography during his shows. So I have no photographic evidence that I was there. But that also means I wasn’t looking through a sea of hands in the air taking pictures all night and that his audience was fully present in the moment, fully engaged in the music.

There’s something to be said for that.

A Walk Down Beale Street

P9289328.jpgLet’s go to Memphis today, shall we? Writing about Sun Studios and the assassination of Dr. King earlier this year got me to thinking about my whirlwind trip through Memphis and Nashville several years ago. I loved Memphis and hope you will too so I’ll tell you a few things about that town in the coming days.

Known as the Home of the Blues as well as the Birthplace of Rock and Roll, it’s only logical that there is music coming from every nook and cranny of the city. Every restaurant, bar, hotel, store, museum and alleyway you pass you’ll hear some kind of music. Sometimes it’s a guy with a guitar, just hanging out and picking a tune. Sometimes it’s band on a stage and sometimes it’s just a radio blaring Jerry Lee.

If you like this style of music, it is Heaven.

Beale Street is a few city blocks of restaurants, clubs, stores and theaters where you’ll hear all kinds of music – rock and roll, blues, gospel, jazz – you name it. There’s a happening night life but plenty to do if you’re looking for family friendly fun. Among other things, there’s a great candy shop, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Soul Museum which I’ll write about another day.

A Schwab Trading Company is the oldest store on Beale Street and packed full of dry goods and souvenirs. Founded in 1876, it has a soda fountain, a Beale Street Museum  and lots of fun merchandise to browse or buy. Some might call it a tourist trap but, for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it.

The day we arrived, we learned that BB King was in town and playing a show at his club. We snagged the last two standing room only tickets and enjoyed a simply amazing night of music with BB and his band.

BB passed away in 2015 but you can still see other live performers and enjoy lunch and dinner at his club. It’s barbeque and traditional southern food. In fact, we had an excellent lunch here during our stay.

Bottom line, if you’re going to Memphis, you must stop by Beale Street to sample the barbeque and the local tunes. I loved just walking down the street here and soaking up my surroundings. We’ll talk Graceland and a few other fun things in the coming days. After all, you can’t go to Memphis without visiting the King!