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Fans of Country and Blues Never Had It So Good

Vince Gill and B.B. King put cap on summer season

THE kings of country and blues both jammed here recently, closing out the summer outdoor concert season.

Country star Vince Gill performed at the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts on Aug. 31. The lyrics from one of Gill's newer ballads, ``Face of an angel, pretty eyes that shine...'' could aptly describe the Country Music Association 1993 Entertainer of the Year's low-key looks and angelic, choirboy-like tenor voice.

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But beyond his voice, his virtuosity as a traditional bluegrass musician dazzled the audience. In his opening number, ``Oklahoma Swing,'' he took off on an extended guitar solo, roaming the lengths of his guitar neck as well as the stage, to the delight of his totally engaged audience.

Son of a banjo-picking judge, Gill grew up on music. He played in a bluegrass band in high school, and at age 16 opened a concert for Pure Prairie League (with whom he later played and recorded three albums).

Unlike fellow country stars such as Garth Brooks, who set off spectacular fireworks and execute demanding physical feats, Gill is unimposing, almost shy. He was dressed in black jeans, black-and-white-print shirt, and he doesn't wear a cowboy hat.

And the man with just about as many awards as hit songs (five Grammys, 11 Country Music Awards, among others), sang several tunes from his new album, showcasing his range from bluegrass to country swing, and even blues. Among the crowd pleasers: the ballad ``Whenever you Come Around,'' and the country swing tune, ``What the Cowgirls Do.'' He encored with the Stevie Ray Vaughan blues number, ``This House is a Rock.''

Mr. Blues himself appeared as the featured star in Blues Fest '94. In a tribute to blues great Muddy Waters, B. B. King, the Muddy Waters Tribute Band, Dr. John, and Little Feat performed at Great Woods on Sept. 9.

Classic blues from the the Muddy Waters Tribute Band progressed to New Orleans-style rhythm and blues with Dr. John and heated up with the rock-and-rollin' blues of Little Feat. When veteran Feat keyboard player Bill Payne soloed in ``Oh Atlanta,'' the crowd rose to their feet.

With a primed audience, King ambled onto the stage. With his Gibson 355, affectionately known as ``Lucille,'' strapped over a black and gold brocade jacket, he strummed his classic blues. As he soloed in ``My Life,'' his face conveyed how much he loves this music. His eyes closed, lines relaxed, and his mouth curved in an ear-to-ear grin.

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But King didn't hog all the attention. He amply showcased his extremely talented band members, cupping his hands to his ears after each of their solos so the audience responded with clapping at the proper moment.

He sought the spectators' participation in ``Since I Met You Baby,'' and they happily replied. He then pulled up a chair, faced the audience, and said, ``I've been 44 years tryin' to play these blues - this is my way of reminiscing.'' He began some old blues licks: ``She had the nerve to leave me, you know just what I'm talking about....''

Through this simple change, King transformed the large outdoor theater into an intimate club. He chatted with the audience and sang songs from different stages of his long career. He completed his set with, ``Someone really loves you - guess who? Someone really cares - guess who?'' And looking like a giant teddy bear, he said, ``It's me.''

King will perform about 250 shows this year; Gill has 300 engagements booked.

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