Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorable Concert Experiences: Newport Jazz Festival 1989

I really enjoy going to concerts. Big venues or small venues, indoors or outdoors, alone or with others it doesn't much matter.

I've had some pretty neat experiences at shows, so from time to time I'll share some of those stories (read: when I can't think of anything else to write about). Here's the first:

I went to the Newport Jazz Festival (now known as the JVC Jazz Festival) at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center back in the summer of 1989 with my friend Bill Bichteman. We were pretty much only friends for that one summer. He and I were both performing in a community theater production of 42nd Street. Bill played the lead, Julian Marsh, and I played Andy the choreographer. But my musical theater "career" is a subject for another time.

Back to the jazz festival -- the lineup that year for the two-day event was tremendous. Ray Charles, David Sanborn, Wynton Marsalis, Illinois Jacquet and the Yellowjackets highlighted the first day. Grover Washington Jr., Spyro Gyra, Diane Schuur, Dave Brubeck and Branford Marsalis were some of the big names on day two. But the act Bill was most interested in was B.B. King. Not what you might expect from a skinny, pale musical theater kid, but Bill was a HUGE B.B. King fan. So even though we had lawn seats, when King's set began we had somehow clawed our way right up to the front of the stage.

I enjoyed the set, but Bill REALLY enjoyed the set. The guy knew the words to every song and sang right along. King must have noticed this, because when his set was done he came right over and handed Bill his guitar pick.

Needless to say, Bill was ecstatic. And if the story ended there it would be cool enough. But there's more.

King came back on for an encore. And when it was over Bill was waving something in the air trying to get his attention. King looked over with a puzzled expression on his face. Then he broke into a smile almost as big as Bill's, came over and took what Bill was waving and left the stage again.

You see, Bill was also a guitar player himself. And either thanks to dumb luck or because it's just something guitar players do, he had one of his own picks in his wallet. So he didn't just get B.B. King's guitar pick, he TRADED picks with him.

I don't remember much else about the show, and I doubt Bill does either. But I'll never forget the smile on Bill's face, or the moment he shared with a legend.

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