A show that most in the crowd had been waiting for over two years to see finally went down Friday, April 1, 2022, in Ashland, Kentucky. The Paramount Arts Center (PAC), a ninety year old theater in downtown Ashland, KY, is a beautiful fourteen hundred seat venue with excellent ambience and acoustics. The PAC has been getting back in the swing of things with full capacity shows like a lot of venues across the country. April First, Buddy Guy rolled into town with Colin James in tow to play a show that was originally booked for March of 2020.
I am extremely fortunate to attend and photograph numerous events at the PAC over the course of a year, and like a lot of folks in the near capacity crowd, had been waiting for this show to come to town for two years. From the opening notes of Colin James’ set to Buddy Guy tossing guitar picks into the audience and waving to the crowd to end the night, this show delivered everything that we had waited for impatiently.
Although Colin James has nineteen albums with the release of Open Road, seven Juno awards and twenty Maple Blues Awards, I was one of very few in the crowd that was familiar with Colin James, I stumbled across him in the mid-90s but had not listened to him recently, so unfortunately, I am at a loss for the song titles he played. He was joined on stage for a couple of songs by Marty Sammons (Buddy Guy’s keyboard player). What I can tell you is that James is a master of the blues and guitar. I spoke with a couple of regional blues musicians both before and after the show, neither was familiar with James before the show and enthralled with his performance afterwards. His interaction with the band and the crowd, coming off the stage on one side and walking between the VIP and general admission seats and back onstage on the other side of the theater. James definitely won over the crowd, as evidenced by the long line at his merch table between his and Guy’s sets. https://colinjames.com
While James is a master musician, Buddy Guy is a living legend, one of the last of the old time blues giants who influenced generations of blues and rock and roll artists from the Rolling Stones to today’s newer artists. From the moment he walked on stage, he held the crowd, both with his music and his banter between songs. Guy could have had a career as a stand-up comic, had he chosen, however, I will warn anyone going to see him this tour, it is an ‘R’ rated performance. He did address his use of the ‘F’ word during his set, informing the crowd, “I never cursed until hip hop came along, I figured if they were selling records, I could too.”
Guy paid homage to the greats, (Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King) playing at least parts of “Boom Boom,” “Mannish Boy” and other blues standards. Of course, he played a wide swath from his own catalog as well. In addition to the comedy, Guy was poignant and candid about growing up as a son of sharecroppers in Louisiana leading into “Skin Deep,” one of the highlights of his set.
I have never seen a guitarist play the guitar with a drumstick, followed by a sweat rag. When I say play, I mean a tease of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” with the drumstick.
Following the drumstick, he played the guitar with the rag by holding the guitar parallel to the ground and letting the rag slide up and down the guitar neck, once he strapped the guitar back to him, he proceeded to slap the rag up and down the strings.
“Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In” saw Guy go wireless and walk off the stage, stage left and proceed to play and walk out through the crowd to stand briefly under the PAC’s marquee before walking back into the theater and back onstage via the stage right stairs.
Buddy Guy is eighty-five years old, probably forgotten more about the guitar than most of us will ever learn. I along with many others in the crowd waited two years to see him perform, I can tell you that it was most definitely worth the wait. Guy is currently on tour of the US and Canada, if he is coming to a town near you, this is one you don’t want to miss.