ATLANTA — When the King of the Blues and the Redheaded Stranger team up to perform, the crowd turns out. Young, old, high society and working class — even business moguls and a former president — showed up Sunday (July 27) when Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheater played host to blues legend B.B. King and outlaw renegade Willie Nelson.
“Thank you for letting me sit in until the boss gets here,” King said as he took his seat on a chair set center stage. He went on to acknowledge and thank everyone for coming out, including two special guests — former President Jimmy Carter (who scored one of King’s guitar picks during the show) and businessman Ted Turner.
A large part of King’s hour-long set included storytelling which flowed much like a song, with his band keeping the beat as he spoke. From “Every Day I Have the Blues” to “All Over Again,” he took his audience through his set without lights or special effects, just his thunderous voice and stinging guitar riffs filling the amphitheater.
The last of a three-city tour together, King’s friendship with Nelson dates back to their first meeting at the Exit/In, a Nashville nightclub.
“He came back to me and gave me many encouraging words,” King told the audience.
With the first few notes of one of King’s musical staples, “The Thrill Is Gone,” Nelson joined his longtime friend onstage to assist in the number. They went on to perform Nelson’s “Night Life” to overwhelming applause from the crowd as it reveled in witnessing a jam session featuring two legendary performers.
All too soon, Nelson was gone, King was saying his goodbyes and Carter was at the bottom of the stage to shake King’s hand for a job well done.
Straight out of intermission, the stage lights came up, and Nelson nonchalantly strolled onstage without uttering a word, picked up his guitar and rolled right into “Whiskey River” as the Texas flag unfurled behind him as it has for countless performances.
While King warmed up the audience by incorporating storytelling into his songs, Nelson simply let the songs tell the story. After just an hour and 15 minutes into the set, he had breezed through 27 hits.
The Church of Willie was in session as Nelson directed his faithful fans through group singalongs of gospel staples such as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Amazing Grace.” And with a nod to the past, he yelled, “Anybody here like Hank Williams?” as he fired up “Jambalaya” and “Hey, Good Lookin’.”
Working his guitar like he did 40 years ago, it’s hard to believe Nelson had undergone carpal tunnel surgery in 2004. “The doc said I had to go home and shut up,” he said. “So I wrote some songs.” He then introduced two of the humorous songs he wrote during the time off — “Superman” and “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore.”
A collective “aah” overtook the Atlanta audience as he went into his famous version of “Georgia on My Mind.” Seconds later, Carter waltzed out and treated the crowd to some presidential-style harmonica playing.
The final song of the evening was born after Nelson’s daughter, Amy, told him of a dream in which she had written a song called “Peaceful Solution.” The father and daughter ended up writing the song together, and she joined him in Atlanta to sing with him, proving that dreams do come true.
Before his final exit of the evening, Nelson shook hands and signed autographs for the masses who had found their way to the front of the stage. Each time he’d start to head backstage, he’d turn to his people and then sign a few more. President Carter must’ve been proud.