I got back in the wee hours . . .

. . . from St. Pete, Florida, where we saw B.B. King on tour with Robert Cray, Tower of Power, and Magic Dick and J. Geils Friday night. (No Jonny Lang on this stop.) It was a hot and steamy day, but thankfully no thunderstorms developed, and it turned into a mostly idyllic evening in Vinoy Park along the shores of Tampa Bay.

Semi-lurker Jerri Gibbs and I met up with P.W. Fenton high atop The Pier in St. Pete at a Caribbeanesque club called Cha Cha Coconuts -- known locally for its (must-be-kinda-mild) alternative and reggae nights and to tourists for its Jimmy buffets and observation deck over the bay. P.W.'s eclectic entourage gradually arrived, and after some proper hydration we battled our way by car past a half-dozen security checkpoints and swarming golf carts over to the concert entrance. (P.W.'s limo driver was by now off the clock, but P.W.'s orange walking stick and dark glasses made patsies of the park police.)

So after a few anxious moments at will-call -- not to be our last major obstacle -- we were in, just in time to see Magic Dick and J. Geils wrap up their 30-minute set and to learn that the $3 beers were being sold by the ticket. With all in hand and butts in the fourth row, left of center, we settled in for a fully funky set by Tower of Power -- with songs like "What Is Hip?" and "I Still Be Diggin' On James Brown." Fantastically precise horns, of course, and the lead singer (what's his name?) has a soul to die for.

Robert Cray, with the Memphis Horns, was next up. He played a fine, sturdy set, opening with "Smoking Gun"; including "I Guess I Showed Her," "Still Around," "I Wonder," and all those; adding a few new ones from his new CD "Sweet Potato Pie"; and returning once for "Right Next Door (Because Of Me)," I think. But distracting as hell was his roadie, who ran out with a freshly tuned strat after every song, and strangely, Robert and the band had set up way back from the edge of the stage, some 40 or 50 feet. We thought at first that maybe he had some fear of heights, but we also noticed that the security around us had been beefed up to hold photographers at bay. So, gee, Robert, no offense intended.

Then as day turned to dusk and a soothing breeze ensued, B.B. King and his band took the stage. I didn't pay much attention to the set list. It could've included "Rocky Mountain Way" and the "Theme From Star Wars," for all I know, but I do seem to remember "Every Day I have The Blues," "How Blue Can You Get," and "Worry, Worry" (maybe). B. was full of energy and sounding as good as ever. He is a spry 71. He bopped and boogalooed while featuring his band members liberally. He delivered one great line after another. He tossed out guitar picks like appleseeds.

Security breaches became evident about midway through the set as the bolder of the throng of 20,000 pushed their way past the ropes and to the stage. (Rumor had it that some gate crashing was going on, too.) P.W. and a faction retreated backstage, while the rest of us stayed to hear "The Thrill Is Gone" before testing our own passes. Alas, we were a song late and a few steps short. Passes or no, we weren't getting back there. We did our best "long-lost children" routine, but the guy wasn't going for it. So next time I want one of those really, really backstage passes, or I'll dye my hair and get me a Dick Waterman vest.


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