NOTE: Freelance writer Jason Duarte books shows in Elgin and Chicago, is part of a band and occasionally blogs about the local music scene (usually Wednesdays) on Between the Bylines.
Octogenarian rock n' roll icon Chuck Berry collapsed in disappointment at his keyboard about an hour into his set on New Year's Day at the Congress Theater in Chicago.
He opened the show with "Roll Over Beethoven," but it quickly took a turn for the worse as Berry would just stop playing mid-song. He became obviously frustrated with his backing band, whom he never practiced with.
The band seemed to do everything it could to follow Berry, but it wasn't enough. Berry kept changing songs mid-song and then tuned his guitar for half the show, either stalling or being legitimately out-of-tune the entire time. He walked over to the keyboard player, and would hit the keys, to tune to the notes and then told the keyboard player his keyboard was the one out of tune.
"I'm not saying it's your fault," Berry said.
It was horribly sad witnessing an 84-year-old man's intent and then watching him struggle and fail to deliver. He walked over to the keyboard, sat down and started playing/hitting keys, and then slammed his hand on some low notes and put his head down for a minute before being walked off stage by the Chicago Fire Department.
When he came back out later, he said he had "no strength." He looked defeated.
We were all thanked for coming out. Most of the people left. My friends and I stuck around with a bunch of others, and towards the back of the stage, Chuck suddenly walks out, puts his guitar on, and tries to play.
What happened next, after the jump.
Every one of us who was behind the fence in the pit hopped or ran through it, rushing to the front of the pit, standing on chairs and crowding the front of the stage. The Chicago Fire Department took him off stage again, and we were told they were running some tests,
and if we could wait for 15 minutes, he might come back out and play for us. We roared, cheered and applauded for Chuck as the Fire Department took his blood pressure and ran some tests.
As we all hoped, he came back out about 15 minutes later, saying someone took his guitar. He took the microphone and apologized. He said when he collapsed over the keyboard, he felt he had no strength. He then said he felt like he was "at a 10, maybe 15." He said after they ran the tests on him, he now feels like he's at "a 65 or a 70."
We cheered him on more. People were shouting, "We love you, Chuck!"
The Fire Department and what looked like his manager among others were alertly watching him as he took the microphone and said, "You wanna see me do my scoot?!"
What was left of the crowd, which previously rushed through the barriers and to the front of the stage, roared with applause. Chuck Berry did his signature duck walk, despite being told he shouldn't and for the last time, was escorted off the stage.
I felt like everyone held their breath, afraid he might fall in his weak state, but after
he did it, I felt a burst of happiness. Here's Chuck Berry -- the man who created rock n' roll -- at 84 years old, struggling to deliver a performance on New Year's Day in Chicago. He couldn't, and it seemed like the night changed when he did his "scoot." He didn't admit
defeat. It seemed like he knew what might happen if he did the duck walk, and he did it anyway.
This may not be at all the case, but in his face, I saw a man who would rather take a big risk doing what he loved than succumb to old age and be carried away in front of his fans.
Hail hail, rock n' roll, Chuck Berry.
-- Jason Duarte, Freelance Writer