For the average 87 year old, New Year's Eve usually means a night of sleeping up-right on the couch at a family function. For blues legend, B.B. King, it's just another working night.
The undisputed King of the Blues was kind enough to grace the Broward Center with his presence this December 31, and while a night of the blues might not seem like the most joyous way to segue into a fresh rotation, a great time was had by all -- none the least, by B.B. himself!
Patrons sipped champagne as they filed into the Broward Center's lavishly adorned theater from the sprawling lobby area. Some were gussied up to the nines, others came as they were, most were smiling in anticipation. The audience was soon greeted from the stage by a young man that had previously been seen standing in front of a merch booth, noodling on an acoustic guitar as he greeted the early crowd.
Fingerstyle guitarist Shaun Hopper was given the distinct honor of warming the crowd for King. Hailing from the southern bits of Georgia, Hopper's exuberant display of guitar wizardry was the perfect way to shake the crowd loose, without being redundant in the way another blues artist might have been.
Hopper turned his single acoustic guitar into an entire band, a la guitarists Tuck Andress and Tommy Emmanuel. Hopper gave the treatment to songs that included Stevie Wonder favorites, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and even the theme music from the Mario Bros video game -- complete with iconic sound effects from the game!
Hopper was big on audience participation, addressing the crowd throughout the songs and making the performance feel as intimate as one of the pub gigs he said he was accustomed to playing in Georgia. The highlight of the young man's set was his rendition of the Leonard Cohen (and then Jeff Buckley) classic, "Hallelujah," which was the only number Hopper sang, but he certainly made it count. The arrangement of the song featured Hopper's heartfelt vocal playing off of the extended and flowing chords he played on his guitar, punctuated by unique taps, pinches, and plucks of his guitar's strings that captured the entire room's attention.
After Hopper requested to meet literally every one in the audience after the show, King's band made it to the stage. The seven-piece band laid into a swinging introduction number to warm up, get levels, and rile up the audience for Mr. Riley B. King's entrance. The legend made it out to the stage after another song of solos and swinging drums, courtesy of Florida native Tony Coleman. The audience was on their feet for his entrance, and King was in great spirits, taking a plenty of time to hand out guitar picks to all who ventured to the front of the stage. Decked out in his signature silk jacket, King took his throne and sorted-out some stinging stabs of blues from his black Gibson, Lucille.
King's guitar sound held in it the sort of impact that just doesn't fade with time: The man might move a little slower these days, and the songs lose a bit of structure to King's wonderful stories and crowd interactions, but there is simply no denying the incredible amount of soul that this man possesses. King's voice is as strong as ever, crying out over the deeply pocketed blues created by his backing band, King hit his stride during crowd favorite, "Rock Me Baby." King's guitar stabs, always phrased like a human voice, careened through the room as he bellowed through "Key to the Highway," and the night was as much a comedy routine as it was a blues review.
King is extremely funny, with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for the love of the ladies. Throughout the night, the Mississippi native took passes at women in the audience, told anecdotes about the ladies being compelled to disrobe in front of the band's guitarist Charlie Dennis (who was no slouch himself), and doing his well known chair-bound shake and jive frequently to the delight of the audience. Between classics like, "The Thrill is Gone," and Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave is Kept Clean," King rung in the new year with grace, style, and hilarity, and the world will no-doubt be a far worse place when the man finally hangs up Lucille and calls it a night.