I first heard of Joe Bonamassa in the summer of 2008. I was 19 years old, and my band got booked to play a blues festival that Joe was headlining. After watching a few of his videos on YouTube, I quickly realized that not only is Joe in a different league as a guitar player, he’s not even playing in the same game. To say that I was intimidated was an understatement.
For those of you who might not be familiar with Joe Bonamassa, he’s perhaps the greatest guitar player alive. His career began when he opened for BB King in his early teens and hasn’t slowed down since. He holds the record for most No. 1 blues albums on the Billboard charts with 21. He is also an extreme guitar collector, with hundreds of vintage and unique guitars to his name.
I spoke with Joe briefly at the blues festival in 2008, but that was just at the beginning of my fandom, so maybe I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. He was kind and gave a young teenage guitar player some quality advice. Since then, I’ve continued to follow his career, and for the past 11 years, his music has played through the speakers in my house and car more than any other artist.
What I admire about Joe is that he knows what and who he is and doesn’t try to be anything else. He’s a world-famous blues musician who loves guitars, old cars, cigars and Diet Coke. He doesn’t get political, spout his non-guitar beliefs, or try to milk his celebrity status. He’s just Joe and I appreciate that. I don’t get overly excited about celebrities, athletes or most musicians, but Joe is different. He’s the one person, aside from my father, who I would say has changed my outlook on music and guitars for the better and made me truly appreciate the blues.
On Aug.11, I turned 31 and had one of the best birthday experiences I could ask for. The lovely Mrs. Dossi and I flew to Denver to watch Joe perform at the historic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, as part of a promotion put on by Joe, which included tickets and transportation to the show and two nights at the Four Seasons.
The show was amazing and I couldn’t help but tell the lovely Mrs. Dossi about each guitar that he played. Each note he played was inspiring and made me wish that I could play a quarter as well as him. When we returned to our hotel following the show, there was a crowd of people trying to get inside, so we decided to get some snacks at a 7-11 down the road. As we walked, I could smell the wonderful aroma of cigar smoke in the air. I looked to see where it was coming from, and I couldn’t believe who the cigar belonged to.
Sitting there on a bench, enjoying a cigar, was Joe.
There was the person whose music has brought me so much joy and happiness and he’s just enjoying a cigar on a warm Denver night. I didn’t want to bother him, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to thank him for the wonderful show. Knowing that I may never get this opportunity again, I asked if I could ask him a guitar question and he was happy to answer. We talked for five minutes or so about that night’s show, guitars and cigars.
As a fellow musician, although I am not and will never be anywhere close to the level of Joe, I understand how it feels to finish a show and just want to become another face in the crowd. On stage, I feel like a different person, full of confidence and swagger. But off the stage, typically, I just want to change back into my street clothes and not have to “be on” and be the entertainer, and just blend back in with everyone else. People always want to tell their story and, unless you enjoy being rude, you have to listen.
Joe could have easily said hello and then asked me to be on my way so he could enjoy his cigar in peace and I would have understood. But he didn’t. He was kind, friendly and the furthest thing from a diva. He was just a regular guy with a cigar and a Diet Coke just trying to relax.
There was so much more that I wanted to talk with him about, including letting him know that his song, “So, What Would I Do,” was our first dance at our wedding, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome and ruin the moment. Because of the kindness that he showed to my wife and me, he will always have a lifelong fan.
Between spending quality time with the lovely Mrs. Dossi, going to Red Rocks, seeing one of the greatest guitar players in the world put on a show second-to-none, and having one of the nicest interactions that I could have possibly asked for with a true gentleman, birthday No. 31 will be hard to top.