Buddy Guy’s show at the Vilar Performing Arts Center made 83 look like the new 43
Special to the Daily
Ya gotta really feel the blues, deep down into your soul, in your gut, to appreciate the genre, and Tuesday night, legendary bluesman Buddy Guy ensured that the Vilar Center audience experienced the music’s spellbinding allure by delivering the blues with vigor and irresistible personality.
The evening began with Guy walking on stage to blow out candles on a birthday cake the Vilar Center gave him as a gift. The Beaver Creek audience shared the joy of celebrating the eight-time Grammy Award-winner’s 83rd birthday, Tuesday. And what a party it was.
After receiving one of many standing ovations he earned Tuesday night, Guy returned to the stage as his band busted out a huge, full sound. As he belted out the blues and animated his electric guitar, he made 83 look and sound like the new 43. He hit high and low notes, killed it when it came to growling out deep blues lyrics, and absolutely blew the roof off with his guitar licks — and his charming personality.
The band’s high energy contagiously filled the Vilar Center, and soon audience members began participating in one of blues’ fundamental elements: call and response. And, when the audience wasn’t whistling, calling back or singing a chorus, Guy masterfully modeled Muddy Waters’ statement that, if your guitar doesn’t answer your voice, you’re not playing the blues.
Guy’s charisma showed from the beginning through the variety of facial expressions, in response to his guitar and in playing with the audience. In fact, “playful” is one of the best terms to describe Guy: He obviously loves interacting with audiences, through both his music and his comments — one of the first mentioning that the cake didn’t have enough candles. (And, when audience members shouted out “happy birthday” or held up a sign with the same sentiment throughout the show, Guy either cracked up or said, “Don’t remind me of my birthday,” immediately followed by, “(but) Thank God I’ve lasted this long.”
The legendary Chicago blues player, originally from Louisiana, has committed himself to keeping the blues alive. He laments the fact that radio stations don’t broadcast the blues anymore, adding, “so I got to bring it to you.”
Dressed in overalls, which reflects the photo on his latest album: “Buddy Guy: The Blues is Alive and Well,” he teased the audience, saying, “I came here tonight to mess with you and play guitar like nobody’s business.”
Play guitar like nobody’s business he did, proving that he’s not just the last of the great bluesmen of the 20th century but also one of the best. And, rather than messing with the audience, he easily connected, especially when he walked through the entire lower level of the Vilar Center, stopping to play to individuals, especially any kids, because, after all, he wants blues to remain alive in younger generations.
“I play for you,” he said, a motive he also expressed in an interview with Dan Rather, when he stated: “… I try to make everyone there happy, and I know that’s impossible, but I hope (people at least say), ‘He didn’t make me happy, but I can tell he gave it every damn thing that he had,’ and that’s what I do every time I go play.”
His showmanship came out as he played his guitar like a violin (using a drumstick) and later strummed with a rag, his elbow, his torso and eventually, his teeth. He drew plenty of laughs as he bumped his pelvis back and forth behind his guitar during “Hoochie Coochie Man,” along with other little “dances,” such as emphasizing each beat with one knee bent in a comical manner.
He jokingly chastised the audience, telling them to “pump that song up now” after they sang the first round of “I Just Want to Make Love to You.”
People hooted and hollered, danced as he walked through the aisles and gave plenty of long, well-deserved ovations.
“Wait a minute — I’m not done yet,” he said, late into the hour and 40-minute show, and proceeded to seep in the audience not only his illustrious licks and visceral vocals but also his band’s talent. Keyboardist Marty Sammon entertained with his airborne arms and fingers, which were so sprightly and wild that it seemed impossible for him to hit the chords he did, as his fingers literally flew over his Hammond keyboard. The rest of his band was just as accomplished and intensified the already robust show.
He also showcased his prowess by imitating renowned musicians he looked up to, such as John Lee Hooker, and those who emulated him, like Jimi Hendrix.
Guy is so friendly and seemingly approachable, his magnetism draws people into the deep world of the blues. Once in, his commanding stage presence mesmerizes.
And, rather than dwelling in the sadness some blues lyrics bring, he emphasizes the joy and humor, leaving audiences to bask in the beauty of the blues.