March 17, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Jason Smith
I first came across Christone “Kingfish” Ingram a few years ago. Deep inside of a late-night YouTube rabbit hole, I was recommended a video of him covering one of my all-time favorite songs, “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King at a blues festival back in 2019. Within 30 seconds, I was transported to the subconscious plane where the true soul resides. His guitar sucked in his sonic poetry through the pickups and spit a sound back out that showed a prowess well beyond his 20 years of age.
Until this point, I thought true blues had passed away. Only faint reminders of what once was remain through its modern appropriators picking and choosing what they liked, leaving the 12 bar behind in grandpa’s chest, the attic collecting its dust. But this young man gave me hope.
Kingfish was brave enough to pull down the folding staircase from the ceiling and venture into the dimly lit and forgotten storage space of bygone eras to rescue one of the purest art forms known to man. Since that video, the now 24-year-old’s style has ascended to an even greater level of virtuosity.
I had the opportunity to see him in Denver in May 2022 with friends who were equally enthralled by his talent. The show was exceptional and left us with our ears ringing, yet still hungry for more. So, when we discovered he was coming to Boulder on March 1 of this year, the discussion of if we were going was brief.
As we stood in the main floor section of the Fox Theatre, a man in front of us asked if we had seen Kingfish before because he had never heard of him. I responded, “Yes, get ready to have your face melted.” This quickly became our reality. He opened up the same way he did at his show in Denver. His band was on stage playing while he was offstage setting the tone with a blistering solo.
This transitioned into the opening track “She Calls Me Kingfish,” a perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with his work. It’s a classic blues track about perhaps the most common topic in blues: a woman who’s got him down. This track is emblematic of his style as a whole. He is able to capture the essence and purity of classic blues while adding his own edge and flair. This combines perfectly into “a big pot of gumbo” (a metaphor he used to describe his music), which satiates the appetite of both the old guard and the new.
He continued his set playing some of his more popular songs like “Fresh Out” and “Empty Promises” (my favorite of his). The clamorous applause from the intimate crowd of 625 people couldn’t wait for a single song to finish, and deservedly so. The raucous cheers showed the deep appreciation everyone in the crowd felt for the current king of blues.
One man even begged for help finding his face after it had been (presumably) melted off by a boiling hot guitar lick. From the show’s start to finish, a grin as wide as the Cheshire Cat’s was fixed on my face. My smile combined with the expression you might make after taking a whiff of the sandwich you left in your fridge over winter break; you might know this as “stank face.” After only a few songs I felt there was no possible way this could get any better. I was proven wrong multiple times as the night carried forward.
At last year’s show in Denver, he ventured into the crowd for a song, soloing every step of the way. I didn’t think this would happen again because the Paramount Theatre in Denver had fixed seating, lacking any decent space in the packed pit of the Fox. I was wrong. He came down from atop his perch to give us mere mortals an even closer look. It was truly a new concert experience for me to not only be close enough to see the beads of sweat dripping down his face, but also being able to smell them as well.
I didn’t have to wait long to realize the night would get even better. As he re-entered the stage from the audience, he started talking, which is rare for him unless he is introducing his band. He said he had received a request for a song that was not originally on the setlist prior to the show, but a friend of his really wanted to hear it. That song was what led to my being at this concert in the first place, “The Thrill is Gone.” Unlike its title, I could not have been more thrilled; for the third time in the evening, I thought things couldn’t get better.
The rest of the show was just as spectacular. He concluded with an epic four-song encore that included an instrumental version of “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” by Michael McDonald (or “Regulate” by Nate Dogg and Warren G), and his legendary cover of “Hey Joe” by Billy Roberts (made famous by Jimi Hendrix). He forced his signature Fender Telecaster Deluxe into a screeching feedback loop and walked off while his band continued to play alongside the piercing drone.
Once all the lights had turned on and all the amps had been turned off, the four of us stood mouths ajar, almost unable to process what we had just witnessed. We stood pressed against the stage, unwilling to accept that it was truly over. Lucky for us, it wasn’t. My friend Andreas Bach ‘25 encouraged me to ask the man who looked like Kingfish’s manager whether I could do a brief interview with the star of the show.
I hadn’t prepared any questions and was wary of a biting “no.” However, I eventually worked up the nerve to ask, and for the fourth time in the evening, things got better.
His manager led us down the tight and slightly treacherous staircase to the green room where Kingfish was unwinding after his show. The four of us were trying to hide our starstruck bewilderment as we sat down on the same couch as the man who had just transported us to another dimension for two hours.
It dawned on me that I actually had to interview him, and the panic began setting in. Luckily, my friend Charlie Stacey ‘25 made a comment about his wah-wah pedal, and I took it as an opportunity to segue into a question. Through my nervous rambling, I asked about how he developed his personal sound.
He responded, “I’m just into players that, I guess, you can say play fast and also players who can mimic the voice on guitar like the B.B. Kings and the Little Miltons. I usually say my style is kind of smooth but edgy at the same time… like a big pot of gumbo.”
Next, I asked him, thinking about all of the great blues legends who preceded him, where he felt he fit into the history of blues. He told me he had never really thought about it, but he said, “I do want to be one of the vessels young black kids see that are doing this type of music. I’ve always had to hear the myth that young African Americans are only into hip-hop and Top 40 and shit like that, so I just want to be one of the ones to show that we’re into our history just as much as the modern stuff.”
I then asked where he sees the future of blues headed in the next five or, say, 10 years. His response surprised me. “From my lens, I kind of see the blues rock thing coming to a pause and more players focusing more on music that showcases their voice. Like mixing soul with blues or mixing RnB. You got girls like Valarie June that’s out here doing more folksy style with the blues so I see more paths taking that way. I think we’ve seen the blues rock thing at its peak now,” he said.
In fear of taking up too much of his time or blanking on what more I wanted to know, I asked him one final question about who his biggest musical influence was. His response, “I’ll say two. Number one I’d say, Eric Gales. The reason why I say Eric Gales is because he was like modern Hendrix to me. He’s better than Hendrix.” He laughed at his words. “He came from Memphis, Tennessee, which is the South, so he was kind of like a role model for me in that aspect. And number two I’d say, Prince. Prince is the G.O.A.T. for me.”
After I finished, we hung around for a little while longer, trying to squeeze every last drop from the unexpected fruit that fell into our laps. Before completely spoiling our welcome, we spilled out onto the street, where the brisk Colorado air brought us back down to Earth.
Each of us let out screams of joy and disbelief, aggressively embracing each other, still trying to process the night’s events. The night concluded at Waffle House where we washed down our all-star specials with conversation about his virtuosity, humility, and how any opportunity to see him in the future couldn’t be missed.