Concert Review: Buddy Guy at Beale Street Festival in Memphis
The Beale Street Music Festival was still muggy from the dense humidity on Saturday afternoon, but the clouds kindly tucked away the sun to provide some relief to the music revelers. The day was jam packed with acts across the musical spectrum on each of the three main stages and the lower profile Blues Tent. The Blues were born on the streets of Memphis so it’s only appropriate that Beale Street would feature one of the legends of the art form, Mr. Buddy Guy.
So who is Buddy Guy? For those who aren’t plugged into the Blues scene, he is only a six-time Grammy award winner, a member of the Rock’N’Roll Hall of Fame and number 30 on Rolling Stone’s greatest guitarist of all time. Oh, did I forget to mention that Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix cite Buddy Guy as a key influence to making them the musicians they are? People throw around terms like icon and legend too loosely these days, but Buddy Guy is the real deal.
At 75-years-old you wouldn’t expect a Blues legend to be strutting the stage in the warm Memphis midday heat, but here he was, soaking up the crowd of people who penciled in Guy on their schedule of must see performances. He wasted no time kicking off the show with “Nobody Understands Me But My Guitar.”
Age may have set into his body but he can still rip into a guitar like nobody’s business. He stretched most of his songs out with generous guitar solos that show why he is a world-renowned strummer. He just has such control and finesse. His face contorts and puckers as he mines the notes from the guitar. The guy is just fun to watch because you can tell he is having a blast doing what he loves.
There were a lot of notable moments during the set. At one point, he disappeared stage right with the guitar still playing then suddenly the backstage gate flung open, and here he was, guitar in hand, walking out into the festival crowd. The crowd was stunned with excitement as they furiously snapped photos with camera phones and patted his shirt on his way through the slowly parting crowd. He also called up to the stage an up-and-coming local musician Scott Holt to jam out on “Fever.” He knows the Blues haven’t had the success of hip hop and R&B, but he was working hard to introduce the next generation to his art, in hopes of breathing new life into this ailing craft.
At one point in the set, he commented about the state of hip-hop as it blared in from the Bud Light Stage behind him. You could tell its success, at the expense of the Blues, was rather tart in his mouth. He said he wanted to show everyone where hip-hop came from as he dug into “74-Years Young.” The lyrics allude to the fact that he’s 74 years young and still feels like he’s 21. No truer words have been spoken, as he has the youth and vitality of a man half his age.
He wrapped up the set with a collage of sounds by the greats like John D Hooker and Eric Clapton during his Cream days. He sat on the stool and told the story of the Blues as his ears had heard it over a lifetime of passion.
Buddy Guy is one cool cat and this was a special performance. He may not have had the glitz and pizzazz of some of the Beale Street headliners, but he outplayed them all in sheer talent. If Blues had the kind of following rock has, we’ve be buzzing about rumors of Buddy Guy’s next arena tour instead of the Rolling Stones. Regardless it’s a gift to see such a talented musician so at home with his craft, and I personally can’t wait to see him tame a guitar next time around.