How’d you like to see B.B. King play guitar for free?

Founder and executive producer Frank Malfitano talks about this summer's M&T Jazz Fest as two bright rising stars of Syracuse vocal music, Julia Goodwin and Nick Zobrio, look on today.

Founder and executive producer Frank Malfitano talks about this summer’s M&T Jazz Fest as two bright rising stars of Syracuse vocal music, Julia Goodwin and Nick Zobrio, look on today.

Allen Naples, Syracuse president of title sponsor M&T Bank, turns over the poster revealing B.B. King as the festival's July 12 headliner.

Allen Naples, Syracuse president of title sponsor M&T Bank, turns over the poster revealing B.B. King as the festival’s July 12 headliner.

Every time this gentleman walks to a stage to perform, he’s introduced the same way.

He’s played a lot of shows and heard a lot of introductions.

And, really, he’s a man whose recognizable face, ringing guitar sound and gritty vocals need no introduction.

That’s “Mister B.B. King” to you and me.

There’s been a palpable buzz in the building the half-dozen times I’ve seen the American blues legend play. And, no matter that he’s getting way up there in years — the man is 89 — he’s fed that buzz every time.

By the way, he did not require me to call him Mister when I talked to him on the phone for an interview to preview one of his Syracuse shows when I was the music writer and reviewer for the big daily. But I did anyway. And I listened hard as he told me how he ran into a burning bar to save his beloved guitar Lucille. But I digress. And maybe brag, just a little.

The community of Central New York will get to see King headline the second of two nights of free music, July 11 and 12, as the 32nd edition of the M&T Jazz Fest unfolds on the campus of Onondaga Community College.

If you’d like to read my story with all the details about the M&T Jazz Fest on Syracuse Public Media site, click the link below.

Have you ever seen B.B. King perform? How far would you drive to see the blues legend play for free? Who do you consider the most legendary music act you have seen perform?

62 thoughts on “How’d you like to see B.B. King play guitar for free?

  1. I saw B.B. King in 1989 at the Westbury Music Fair. I was in heaven because as you know there are no bad seats there. What a presence. Such a big man.

    I also got to see Bobby Blue Bland. I went to a lot of music festivals in Chicago in the 80’s. I’m grateful I got to experience that especially since he is gone from us now.


      • Wow, was that when he was older? I haven’t been to a lot of concerts myself, so the ones I did go to were special, usually festivals or small venues or bars.

        Another one I should have mentioned was Etta James. Wow that girl was amazing and I hadn’t heard of her before so I had no idea the legend that was there in front of me.


  2. I’ve seen B.B. King play. But I would drive from Ohio to New Orleans or somewhere that’s about the same distance. If I liked driving more, I would drive further. I could always take a bus. 🙂 It was one of the best shows I’ve seen. You know I’ve been to a lot of concerts. He was about 74 then and still rockin’,


  3. You deserved to be able to interview him! You are an awesome writer and you have had an incredible career, that is still being ‘defined’ and we ‘have not heard the last of you!’ I am in awe of your hearing and feeling the buzz attributed to a live performance of Mister B.B. King! Awesome! Thanks for this cheerful post, Mark!


  4. Saw him with my Dan a dozen years ago at the Landmark in Syracuse. He sat for the whole show because, I believe, he had injured a knee getting off his tour bus. I have the vinyl and CD of his live show with Bobby Blue Bland from the Coconut Grove in Fla., circa 1976. Every time I listen to it, I wish I had been at that show.


  5. I loved the post! I really loved the article! And I would love to be there! It sounds like a LOT of fun. Even the food trucks (though I prefer the carnival style vendors) and the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, whatever that is. 😉


    • The Big Bad Voodoo Daddy band goes along with the Hipster food trucks, Rachel. Soundtrack for retro hip. You’d love the whole scene. If you still lived in Kingston, it would have been an easy drive up to Syracuse. Florida, not so much!


      • In my previous professional life covering and reviewing music for the Syracuse daily, they sent me to that area for a long July weekend in 1994 to gather information to write stories for a special section to come out the Sunday before Woodstock II in Saugerties.

        I went to Bethel for part of a day, Woodstock for part of a day and Saugerties for a whole day to interview Michael Lang, get a tour of the fest grounds, and interview towns folk.

        Anyway, it was obvious to me that Woodstock was where I had to go that night to have a few beers and unwind.

        It had a great bar.

        I don’t remember the name of it but maybe you and I were there at the same time … Nah, you wouldn’t have been old enough to drink in the bar 20 years ago.

        But I loved that area, and covering that festival was a real hoot.


      • LOL! Actually, yes, I was old enough 23 years ago. 😉 SHHH! In Woodstock, I also loved driving up the mountain by the cemetery and watching the Buddhist monks at their monastery and going on those walking trails back there. I did NOT like driving back down the mountain! It was TOO steep!

        What was surprising, though, is that Woodstock had one radio station…that played elevator music! While the rest of the town is themed for the hippy-loving tourists, you’d think the radio station would be the best highlight, wouldn’t you?

        It’s always so funny to me that the Woodstock festival was actually held in Bethel because there is NOTHING there. Saugerties also didn’t have a lot going for it. But then, the actual Woodstock would have been too small to accommodate, I’m sure. 🙂


      • Your secret is safe with me, Rachel, but I don’t know about my friends who might read your comment. Wait. Friends, Rachel asks shhhhh. There.

        Steep downhill would be scary, and so would a single radio station that played elevator music.

        All they needed for the first Woodstock was a big field and plenty of dirt ready to turn to mud. I was too young to go to that one, but I watched the movie. For the second one, they had a bigger field that ended up yielding more mud. That I experienced in person. For III in 1999, Rome Air Force Base had a gigantic field with enough dry grass to start brushfires. Yeah, I was there for that one, too.


      • LOL! Those ALL sound like FUN! I’ve done a ton of following “oldies” concerts all over the country, mostly The Monkees and Herman’s Hermits, but I love the outdoor venues best.


      • OK, Rachel, I think you should write a poem about following the Monkees and Herman’s Hermits around the country. There are plenty of rhymes available for Peter Noone and Jones, Nesmith and Dolenz … I want to know how you decided to travel to see them, by the way.


  6. Saw him for the first time at the Fillmore East nearly 45 years ago. Still have one of his guitar picks, with his name engraved on it, left on the stage!


  7. Dang, Sinatra and B.B.–and probably a ton more under your belt, that you’ll slowly divulge. I haven’t been to a live concert in years. I am old and don’t like noise and want a comfortable seat. But in my youth, I saw many 80s bands, in addition to some country acts and even Wayne Newton LOL. The most exciting was The Jacksons in 1984. Who knocked you off your feet? Did you shake their hands?


    • Oh, wow, the Jacksons is a great one, Kerbey. That would have been on my wish list.

      Wayne Newton I reviewed twice. The first time he sounded like he had a frog down his throat. And my review read something like “Wayne Newton can’t sing anymore. Not a note.” I went on to write about what a good performer he was, but still …

      So of course he’s booked to come to Syracuse again the next year, and guess who has to interview him on the phone to write the preview?

      Wayne is so nice on the phone, a real peach, and I’m starting fo feel a little bad for being so harsh.

      Show night comes. And Wayne sounds great, amazing, a new man. It dawns on me: The year before, he must have had a cold, a sore throat, and sang through it anyway. I’m feeling worse about myself.

      And so it comes to the point in the show where Wayne talks to the crowd. And he says something along the lines of “I’d like to thank the reporter who wrote that nice article in the paper about me for this show, Mark Bialczak, he’s a real class act.”

      So that night I felt a bit like a toad for that review I thought was so truthful the year before.


      • Ha! Well, all you can do is go off of what you experienced. It seems like he would have said, “Pardon my cold” or something. I might feel a bit like a heel as well, but he never knew you wrote the bad review, right? He only read the good review? Or am I confused?


      • He never said a word about the bad review. Probably he never saw it. Likely he’d taken his private jet back to Las Vegas and was home when the paper came out the next morning after the show. But he did see the preview story the next year and was so nice and gracious, adding to me squirming about bringing down the anvil with my lead paragraph the year before. Even though I had no way to know he had a coid that bad night, I could have made my point is a less vicious manner, is what I was thinking, Kerbey.


      • You are so kind-hearted, Mark. At least you balanced it all out, and he is none the wiser. And now I know he’s a nice person, to boot! See, you fixed it.


    • Love your comment on, Chris. Yes, Syracuse folks can grump about nothing to do, even while we have a fest like this, with free admission, and blues fest, and another jazz fest, and the long list of great things in Syracuse that you so wonderfully pointed out on your blog. Thank you.


  8. Way cool Mark!!! Wow. I’ve seen Tom Petty a couple times, a personal hero. One of those shows happened on his bday and Stevie Nicks came out with a lit up bday cake! After he blew the candles they sang stop draggin my heart around. Also have seen Jackson Browne, Chryssie Hynde, Willie Nelson…I think that’s all for the acts I would consider legendary. I love live shows! I want to see the stones. But they’re so pricey! Ever seen them?


    • First of all, I dig your list, Sandra. I’ve seen Petty with the Heartbreakers and Stevie with Mac and solo, but wow that Stevie-Tom combo must have been a blast. Jackson was great, in the 80s and 90s, and Willie was pure Willie in the 90s, too. Never for Chrissie Hynde, and I loved the Pretenders. I’m jealous of that one.

      Finally, yes, I’ve seen MIck and Keith and Ron and Charlie five times. They are ageless rock stars.


      • 5 times! Envy! Chrissie came to town with her boy toy when she was dating one of the Fairground Boys (FB). She was amazing! She opened with FB for Lucinda Williams. Petty and Nicks was a surprise. We had no idea it was his bday or that she would pop in to sing a couple songs. One of the most memorable shows I’ve ever seen. I love that you are into music too.


      • I do indeed, Sandra. My father was a drummer in a wedding reception band when I was growing up and we always had music playing in the house. I also had an inside track to concerts for a long time professionally. For 21 years I covered music and entertainment and reviewed concerts for the daily here, so I had great access to so many shows. It was quite the time.


  9. Since my new wheels will only travel 13 miles before needing a charge, Mark, I guess I could only go 6 miles safely to see him. As for concerts, hmmm, does it count if I didn’t actually SEE it? From the backup position it would have to be Lynard Skynard. From the audience, James Taylor wins hands down.


  10. so cool. no, i’ve never had the chance but went to his restaurant while in nashville last year and hear some mighty fine bluesmen dishing out a mess o’ hot music. i’d love to see him live and you are so lucky to have had the chance to talk to him.

    as for my legends: i saw the police, one of my all time favorites )


    • You got me there, Beth. I’ve never seen the Police, and not even Sting by himself. That’s a great one, Beth! And the blues are very hot. That must have been fun at BB’s in Nashville. In Nashville, I went to the Bluebird and thought it was the coolest little bar EVER and another place in Printer’s Alley that was the coolest middle bar ever. Yeah, I liked Nashville.


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