I wouldn't normally write about such things, but the following story is the only way to illustrate one of the reasons I consider Joe Bonamassa such a great guy and someone worthy of praise.
I would have given almost anything to see the Joe Bonamassa Band perform their entire set down at Humphrey's By The Bay Friday night. The Fates conspired against me, but I didn't let circumstances stand in the way of getting my son down to the venue to meet Joe, Bogie, and Mark. No, I did what any good mother would do: I broke every rule in my "Dealing With Bands" handbook and managed to arrange a meet and greet for my nine-year-old child, the adoring fan boy that he is.
Despite the pre-Padres game traffic, we managed to arrive before official load-in for the band and spent a few moments with the guys poolside. My son, we call him Little Dude, was eager to meet his guitar hero (sure, he also worships Roy Book Binder, but Joe Bonamassa is, in LD's words, "The Man") and didn't hesitate for a minute to rush over to get close to Joe. However, Little Dude was a bit tongue-tied and shy. Nevertheless, his hand was thrust forward for the initial handshake, the handshake that would later cause him to proclaim all Marcia-Brady-meets-Davy-Jones-like, "I'm never washing my hand again!" I begged to differ and did, of course, prevail – it's a mother's right to demand such horrible things of her child, isn't it?
I carefully led my offspring through the initial conversation and, after Joe prompted me to retrieve my boy's guitar from the car, I left him in the band's care for a couple of moments. When I returned, they were chatting like old friends. God bless these wonderful musicians for reaching out to an enthusiastic kid! Bassist Mark Epstein was the first to sign the guitar – he hesitated, but my son was insistent he sign. When it was Joe's turn, he carefully tuned the little Washburn Rover (it desperately needed it as we'd allowed the guitar to sit for many months while we pursued other activities) before signing it. Bogie Bowles (drummer) was off on an errand at the time, so we held the drumstick for later (and yes, Bogie signed it).
Joe headed off to tend to business and Mark kindly sat with us, talking about the nature of life on the road (this will be covered later in depth). Little Dude looked at Mark, first with a sort of star struck awe and then with comfortable admiration, and Mark was quite at ease talking with him. Again, I can't thank the band enough for their kindness – my son will be one fan who'll remain loyal for years to come.
When the time came for sound check, we headed out to take our place in front of the stage. As we sat and watched the stage crew loading amps and gear, I explained how the gear was being placed closer to the edge of the stage because Foreigner would be playing after "our" band. Little Dude wanted to know if Joe usually got more stage to work with other places and I replied in the affirmative. He looked up at the stage, assessed the situation, and pronounced, "they definitely need more stage, Mom. Especially if Joe's going to be able to show the audience what he's really made of."
Now, mind you, my son's never seen the band perform live before, so I can only assume he'd paid close attention to my photos and/or the A New Day Yesterday Live DVD. Either way, the kid got the concept and also understood that Joe and the band will be headlining at Humphrey's soon enough. "Next year, they're gonna have the whole stage. I know it. I feel it, Mom. Joe's gonna be HUGE! 'Huger' than he is now." I can't say I disagree. Joe is going to be 'huger' than he is now. Very soon, too.
One of the special treats of the early evening occurred when Jason Bonham (son of the late John Bonham and currently touring with Foreigner, also recently seen on VH-1's Supergroup) got behind the drums for "Bridge To Better Days." For those who are unaware, Jason played drums on Joe Bonamassa's latest CD, You & Me. Consider this: the CD was recorded back in October 2005, it was a one shot sort of deal, and yet, the guys knocked it out like it was something they did on a daily basis. Now this, this is what I keep telling folks when I'm educating them on Joe and his band: these guys are MUSICIANS, musicians with incredible talent and even greater work ethic. They only surround themselves with the best.
Another sweet surprise came in the form of Joe's manager. He took a seat right in front of us, struck up a conversation with my son, and I sat and watched the interaction in amazement. From shy fan boy to networking pro in less than an hour, the kid was warming up to the whole idea of hangin' with musicians. He's no stranger to the music world, but it's always been on a different level and never with someone he's held in such high esteem. (It makes a mother proud to see her child blossom before her eyes.)
With only a little of the sound check left, Little Dude and I decided it was time to head home. The drummers were switching places again as we made our way to the stage. We thanked Joe for his time, shook hands, and my son said, "that's my favorite song off You & Me! I couldn't remember earlier, but that's the one." Joe smiled and chuckled a bit and then handed Little Dude the guitar pick he used just a few minutes earlier. I don't think there's ever been a bigger smile on my kid's face. We said our goodbyes to everyone else, walked out toward the parking lot. The crowd was gathering and it was a rather sizable crowd at that. (The show was sold out.) We noticed a man with a "Joe Bonamassa Always on the Road" t-shirt and stopped to talk with him. He mentioned how much he was looking forward to the show and my son assured him it was going to be a great night for music.
While we were talking, the band had officially finished their sound check and we saw Joe once again. I had to hold my son back from rushing "The Man," a considerable effort, I must say. Finally, I got my son in the car and we spent the rest of the evening talking about what a thrilling time he'd had. I actually fought back tears as I listened to the little boy chatter happily away. "My whole life has changed. I GOT TO MEET JOE BONAMASSA!" He again declared his refusal to wash the hand Joe shook. Everything about Joe was "the best!"
It's in these moments when my admiration and respect for Joe (and everyone involved with him) are reaffirmed. My son is just one child whose "life has changed" because the man's dedication, drive, and humility have kept him so well grounded, so accessible, and so generous with his time and talent. This wasn't a one time occurrence. In Vegas, I've watched my friends' children stand in awe before the band, shake their hands, and walk away proclaiming they've met the greatest guys on earth. I've met young adults on Joe's official site's message boards, inspired by his music and kindness. I've witnessed Joe's mentoring in action as LD Miller (who you can see competing on America's Got Talent on NBC) took the stage at the end of May, with the two of them dueling it out musically. And the time Joe gives to the Blues in the Schools program is further proof of his commitment to the next generation of music lovers and musicians.
You can't fake the sort of warmth Joe shares with these kids. Children are quick to pick up on insincerity and each of the kids I've encountered have all had the same reaction when it comes to Joe Bonamassa, even if they're simply listening to his music. Absolute awe, enthusiastic interest in the music, and a sudden desire to become a musician is the typical reaction. Come to think of it, most adults react similarly.
Earlier in the evening, as Little Dude and I talked with Mark, he mentioned what a genuine, generous heart Joe possesses and what a great gig he has these days. It's obvious the feeling's mutual in the way the band plays and interacts onstage. They're having fun, more fun than I've ever seen in the years I've been following Joe. It's this playfulness and joy kids of all ages pick up on at shows. It's the reason I had to make my son's dream of meeting Joe come true.
I wish we could have seen the whole show Friday night, but that'll happen soon enough. For my son, meeting the band was all he needed to keep him smiling the whole weekend.
Thanks to all in Joe's camp for making a little boy's dream a reality. In the age of pre-packaged, over-engineered, phony as a three-dollar-bill music "superstars," it's a blessing to have Joe Bonamassa around to show that real talent and a down-to-earth attitude aren't mutually exclusive. And, if our kids are going to look to the music realm for heroes, I can't think of a better hero than Joe.