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Leslie McCarthy

Roll Over Chuck Berry

March 23, 2017
Six years ago, Tom and I did something a bit out of character for us: A concert in a small club – on a weeknight.

We're not that cool. We don't frequent clubs, and we're not your hip St. Louis music-scene people. But it was Tom's 49th birthday, and the tickets were stamped "Duck Room, Blueberry Hill." And so on March 16, 2011, we found ourselves just a few feet from the stage listening to rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry play the guitar.

And it was glorious.

It was the first thing I thought about upon hearing the news over the weekend of Berry's death at age 90. Seeing Chuck Berry in St. Louis was a bucket list item before the term "bucket list" became a thing. It was something we always said we'd do, but something always came up.

But Tom persisted. Thank goodness, he persisted. As I remember it, we weren't the youngest people in the room, but we weren't the oldest either. It didn't matter what your age was. Whether "Roll Over Beethoven" had been heard from a jukebox as a teenager or downloaded onto an iPod, the music was unforgettable to every single person in the room that night.

When Berry took the stage after a snappy, rockabilly opening act, the crowd became electrified. He played all the hits, and we were close enough to see his smile and watch how his hand fluidly slid up and down the neck of the guitar.

At times, he looked as you'd expect an 84-year-old to look, slightly frail and occasionally missing a beat or two. When that happened, his son and daughter who were playing alongside him picked up the chord and all was right again. But once he warmed up, Chuck played like he was 35 again, energetic and youthful. The opening riff to "Johnny B. Goode?" It was exactly as we had hoped it would be – a jumping juggernaut of sound wrapped up in pure joy. And the crowd gave its approval in return.

The night was surreal. That's the thing about extraordinary moments. You often don't realize they're extraordinary when they're happening.

On Delmar, even days after he died, folks were still gathering around the statue of Berry, leaving flowers and remembrances. There will never be another quite like him, and I'm grateful for the experience because I didn't want to say, "I wish I had seen Chuck Berry when I had the chance."

What's next on our St. Louis bucket list? A concert – any concert – by the St. Louis Symphony in Powell Hall, the newly opened Degas exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum, the holiday Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden, a Yadier Molina pick-off play at first base. Like Chuck Berry, all great works of St. Louis art.

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