In an auditorium flooded with anticipatory baby boomers, all were abuzz with the thrill that soon, a legend would be seizing center stage. His name was announced and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy waltzed onto the Christopher Cohan Performing Art Center’s platform, waving around handmade peace signs.
At 77 years old, the seasoned blues guitarist doesn’t appear to have lost an ounce of his youthful eccentricity. His attire consisted of polka dots and a white beret; he didn’t wait for the cheers of the audience to die down before he ceremoniously shredded on his music maker.
Throughout the show this past Wednesday night, the music occasionally dimmed to a background beat, but it never ceased. Guy used those muted moments to rhythmically paint stories of his life in transition from being born and raised without running water in Louisiana to musically influencing everyone from the likes of Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix, as a trailblazer of Chicago blues.
While in Chicago, Guy was told by a fellow pioneer of Chicago blues, “If I go before you, keep that f***in’ blues alive!”
And from Wednesday’s show, it seems as though he has. The performance had only just begun as Guy flung his arms above him, allowing the electric sound to flow through his shimmying body.
“Oh shit!” he shrieked, “I’ve got the blues!”
Above everything else, Guy’s show was an impassioned, ear-ringing love note to blues music. He expressed his appreciation for each and every person in the room for coming to listen to a genre that is largely neglected by the radio.
“A lot of people don’t understand blues because they’ve had the problems of the good times, they don’t get it, but if you live a little, you’ll get it,” he said at the show.
For those unfortunate “fortunates” in the crowd, Guy invited them into the blues universe, if only for an hour or two, to make them feel it, know it, be it. At one point, Guy departed from the stage to perform an elaborate guitar solo within the audience itself.
By breaking the barrier between performer and audience, Guy merged the sweet sounds of an electric guitar screaming in one’s ear with the understanding that music is so much more than just what we hear.
Guy exhibited the drive to interact with his fans as often and as unconventionally as possible. During a rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man,” he sang, “You got a boy child comin’, gonna be,” and then directed his microphone toward the audience to complete the verse, but only heard a muddled mess of answers in return.
He commanded his band to silence themselves briefly, and then told his listeners that this past week he performed this same song in Brazil, and according to Guy, they didn’t “f**k it up like you just did.”
Guy allowed the crowd a chance for redemption by singing the cue once again, and this time, a sea of people sing in unison, “A son of a gun!”
In the typical fashion of Guy’s off-kilter showmanship, he proceeded to strum his guitar with drumsticks and mixed his scratchy mic into the music.
To close the show, Guy welcomed his pupil and opening act, 14-year-old Quinn Sullivan back onstage to play with him for the remainder of his performance.
Guy began mentoring Sullivan and honing his natural talent on the guitar since he was seven years old. Now a young man, Sullivan is Guy’s biggest hope for the future of blues music. Guy and his band don’t need to rely on special pyrotechnics, lighting or the smashing of their own music machines to declare themselves as rockers. The sound alone they are able to create says enough.