Three songs

When shooting most professional concerts photographers usually only get to shoot the first two or three songs and then are hightailed out of the venue. We never get to see a majority of the show, let alone all of it.

The Carrie Underwood/Hunter Hayes concert at the Stockton Arena, for example, allowed the four photographers covering it (myself and three others) to photograph the last two songs of Hayes’ set and the first two songs of Underwood’s. An SMG (the arena and Bob Hope Theatre’s management company) PR escort walked us out to the arena floor and, due to a mistiming of the songs, we were only able to catch Hayes’ last song, which lasted about 5 minutes.

There was about a 10- to 15-minute layover between performers as the road crew reconfigured the stage. Then Underwood came on. We shot our pre-approved two songs and then were out of there in about 10 minutes or so. The whole thing took us about half an hour.

The next night I got to shoot the B.B. King concert at the Bob Hope Theatre in downtown Stockton. Again there was a similar predetermined song limit agreement. This time it was the first three songs of the opening act, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, and the first three songs of B.B. King himself.

It took about 10 minutes to shoot Castro’s first three and then we (the SMG-hired photographer and I) waited out in the lobby for King’s show to start. We could hear the loud booms of the bass as we stood among the ornate golden columns of the theater’s foyer. Finally the set was over, and we re-entered the hall for King’s show. By the time we walked in the stage was already reset for King’s performance so we didn’t have to wait long.

The music began with King’s band pounding out a great Blues instrumental number. We waited for King to come out on stage, but he didn’t. The song was then over and I wondered if that counted as one of my three allotted sings (if it did, I was going to be very put out). Our SMG handler then assured us that we got to shoot three songs with B.B. King on stage (whew!). The band began another song, and we waited again. And again there was no B.B. King. It wasn’t until the end of the second song that King finally walked out on stage.

He gave a heartfelt acknowledgement to the crowd’s standing ovation, sat down in a folding chair at center stage, strapped on his electric guitar, Lucille, and began to play. At 87 years old, if he’s lost bit of the speed at which he used to play you couldn’t tell, and all of his bluesy soulfulness was still as sweet as ever. He stopped often to banter with the audience as his band kept the groove going in the background.

The photographers were located along the wall to the right of the stage as he played that first song, which, with all King’s verbal detours from the tune, must have lasted around 10 to 15 minutes. I hustled back out to the theater’s lobby, around to doors on the left side and shot from a spot on the opposite side of the theater from my original position.

The second song started up, and, like the first song, King joked and joshed with the audience between playing blistering guitar riffs and belting out heart-rending verses. That song lasted at least another 10 to 15 minutes or so. I was beginning to think that they weren’t just songs but mini-sets. He seemed to be taking his sweet time, and at his age, no one was going to tell him to speed up; not that anybody was complaining.

The third song followed in the vein of the first two. At about the midway point, our handler asked if me if I was ready to go. In my head I was thinking: “They said we get three songs, I’m going to stay for three songs.” But I said: “Just a couple of more minutes.” A couple of minutes turned into another five or so, and then the song was over. We were led out of the theater, and I headed back to the office (I had a deadline, after all).

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers went on at about 7:00 p.m. with B.B. King’s show starting about 8:00 p.m. With the band’s two solo tunes and King’s extended three songs, I left the theater a little after 9:00 p.m. Record photo editor Craig Sanders, who took his wife to see the show, said it ended about 9:30 p.m..

So B.B. King’s concert at the Bob Hope Theatre was like many others in that I only got to shoot the first three songs, but thanks to King for making them three very long songs.

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