Bangor received a visit from blues royalty Saturday night, as the King of the Blues, B.B. King, paid a visit to the Waterfront. A laid-back, appreciative crowd welcomed him to town, and King appeared to reciprocate the appreciation.
King, 85, remains the charming road warrior he has been throughout his six-decade career. He didn’t shy away from hits like “Key to the Highway” and “Rock Me Baby,” asking audience members to clap and dance and throwing large amounts of guitar picks into the crowd. A roar went up when King launched into “The Thrill Is Gone,” thrilling everyone with his distinctive, shimmering guitar tone. King’s last appearance in Maine was in 2008 in Portland, when the Portland mayor declared May 18 “B.B. King Day” and presented him with the key to the city. The man has played more than 15,000 gigs in his lifetime — he certainly deserves the key to the highway as well.
“If they could take that guitar sound and bottle it or put it in a museum or something, it would be like a shrine to the blues. It doesn’t get any better than that. That’s a national treasure,” said Chuck Smith of Westbrook, a self-proclaimed “huge blues guy.”
King’s unbelievably tight seven-piece band was equally impressive, with a four-man horn section that switched off between four different saxophones, trumpet, flugelhorn and flute. They riffed underneath him as King told stories and laughed. King pointed out his friends sitting in the wings, which he said included famed lawyer F. Lee Bailey — a Yarmouth resident. Later on, a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” developed into King playing matchmaker with the crowd, asking ladies to find somebody in the audience to kiss.
By the end of the night, more than 10 people were onstage, as the band played a funky 12-bar progression and King shook hands and made his way offstage. A King must address his subjects, after all.
Openers included local acts Mark “Guitar” Miller and Big Pete Pearson. Dickey Betts, who was brought in as a replacement for Gregg Allman after he canceled, was extremely well-received by the audience. He played a mixture of newer songs and Allman Brothers Band classics, like the freewheeling melodies of “Blue Sky” and a reggae-tinged take on “Ramblin’ Man.” Like King, Betts was unfailingly gracious and friendly. When King called out to Dickey during his set, there was a second that one could foresee a King-Betts duet — which wasn’t meant to be, but would have simply been icing on the cake on a great night at the Bangor Waterfront.
An earlier version of this story misspelled Dickey Betts’ name.