|Chuck Berry on the State Theatre stage. (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum/Janet Macoska)|
“Very happy to be here,” Chuck Berry said to the crowd, the tribute concert to himself winding to a close. “I’m 86 years old. I’m happy to be anywhere.”
The sentiment was certainly appreciated by the sold-out crowd that packed the State Theatre on Saturday night, all of whom were there to see the living legend and pioneer of rock ’n’ roll live onstage. Concluding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s weeklong American Music Masters celebration, Roll Over Beethoven: The Life and Music of Chuck Berry, the tribute concert featured a lineup of musicians playing Berry’s original songs in recognition of the hall’s flagship honor. Fellow Hall of Fame inductees Ernie Isley and Darryl McDaniels took the stage, as did Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, Ronnie Hawkins of the Band, country music legend Merle Haggard and many others over the course of three-plus hours. Each musician played one or two of their personal favorite Chuck Berry selections, covering the wide gamut of his massive song catalog.
“The Rock Hall’s first inductee” as stated by president and CEO Terry Stewart, Berry was a member of the initial 1986 induction class and performed at the museum’s opening ceremony. Stewart also told the crowd of Berry informing him earlier that day that he still had the shovel from the site’s original ground breaking, his longtime connection to the museum making the festivities all the more meaningful.
Each musician brought their own creativity and distinct voice to Berry’s many masterpieces, including a particularly enjoyable Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Roll Over Beethoven.” But Berry was the man that everyone came to see, earning a standing ovation when he was introduced as the night’s final musical guest. The toll of 86 years and rock deification were obvious during his two songs on the stage, fumbling through “Johnny B. Goode” and “Reelin’ & Rockin’ ” with a great deal of help from his backing band, which included his daughter on harmonica and vocals and his son on guitar.
Not that the crowd seemed to mind. There’s something undeniably special about seeing a legend like Chuck Berry perform live, regardless of how much Mother Nature has slowed him down. Time certainly hasn’t diminished Berry’s showmanship or sense of humor though, evidenced by him nailing the quippy one-liners during “Reelin’ & Rockin’ ” that had plenty of parents shaking their heads in shock once upon a time, or doing a toned-down version of his signature “duckwalk” across the stage to ruckus applause. All things considered, the fact that he can still get out there and tear through those seminal rock songs is award-worthy in its own right.
Stewart presented the American Music Masters trophy to close out the evening, with Berry walking off stage accompanied by his wife of 62 years, Themetta. He paused to wave back at the crowd one last time, cracking a wide, appreciative smile, before turning to make his final exit — arguably the greatest pioneer of rock music disappearing behind the curtain as the crowd stood and cheered.