Written by
Richard Skelly
For the Asbury Park Press

The unflagging B.B. King and his orchestra pull their tour bus up to the State Theatre in New Brunswick tonight for what should be a memorable show with co-headliners and relative youngsters, Robert Cray and his band.

King, who turned 88 in September, told me at the BlueNote (jazz club) in Manhattan back in the ’90s that he thanked God for the suburban white kids who were interested in blues – as music to listen to and buy in record stores, as well as music to go out and play in bars and at festivals. Despite a lingering recession, blues festivals are held all over the U.S. and Canada in warmer months, often combined with wine and beer tastings and barbecue or seafood.

These festivals are recognized by tourism officials for helping to fill otherwise empty hotel rooms and make an economic impact at all kinds of businesses in cities east and west of the Mississippi. A small group of entrepreneurial women in Las Vegas continue to publish an annual Blues Festival Guide, which you can find at most outdoor gatherings or Google search.

King has slowed his touring schedule somewhat in recent years as he’s battled diabetes. He now performs sitting down, but the quality of his voice and his great guitar playing haven’t diminished one iota. Tonight (Friday, Oct. 18), he is sure to put in a rousing show, coupled as he is with Robert Cray, who began his career with the Hightone label in the 1980s and continues to issue excellent recordings that push blues and blues-rock in new directions.

Cray’s latest, “Nothin’ But Love,” reflects his diverse set of influences growing up in Eugene, Oregon. He tells us in the bio accompanying his new record, “When I first started playing guitar, I wanted to be George Harrison—that is, until I heard Jimi Hendrix. After that, I wanted to be Albert Collins and Buddy Guy and B.B. King. And then there are singers like O.V. Wright and Bobby “Blue” Bland. It’s all mixed up in there.”

Tickets to tonight’s 8 o’clock show at the State Theatre, 15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, are $35-$95. Call 732-246-7469 for more information.