A highlight of the 1987 Chuck Berry documentary "Hail! Hai! Rock 'n' Roll" was when the filmmakers followed the rock 'n' roll great to a one-off out-of-town show -- in which he flew in with just a guitar, rented a big-ass car, drove to the venue, played the gig with a local pickup band, collected his dough and peeled out.
Apparently, Berry's M.O. hasn't changed much since then. Below is an account of Berry's arrival for his Friday night Raleigh Wide Open performance, as told by co-organizers Billy Warden and Greg Behr.
Warden: I'm checking logistics near the Cherry Bounce stage on Hargett Street when I notice a black Lincoln Town Car parked where it shouldn't be. The driver's side window rolls down and an African-American man in a white captain's hat points at me. Oh brother, I think, now what??!! I walk over, and as I get closer a thought dawns on me. When I reach the car, I ask, "Are you...you?" And the thin guy in the captain's hat answers, "I'm Chuck Berry. Get in."
The closest door is the one to the back seat, so I tumble in and ask, "What are we gonna do, Chuck?" Perfectly poised, he says, "You're gonna get me to the Marriott because I'm tired of drivin' around lookin' for it."
It's really not that hard to get to the Marriott, but when you're Chuck Berry and you've decided to drive yourself in from the airport and you have all those amazing rock'n'roll memories duckwalking around in your head, it might get tricky. I don't make it easier when I whip out my mobile phone and, in between instructions -- "Turn here, Chuck!" -- start calling friends and loved ones. "Honey," I yell to my wife. "I'm in Chuck Friggin' Berry's car! Say 'hi,' Chuck!" And the Architect of Rock'n'Roll obliges with a guttural, "Hey! We're heeeeeere!!"
I tell him this rivals the time I had cinnamon toast with Muddy Waters. He likes that. I tell him how Keith Richards' endless plugging of Berry first made me check out "Let It Rock" and "Roll Over Beethoven." He offers an indifferent nod.
Then I call Greg Behr and tell him to get to the Marriott because Chuck Friggin' Berry is about to arrive.
Behr: So, we're at the front door of the Marriott with an army of debutantes and their folks downtown for the big deb ball. The black Lincoln slides up, but getting the cargo out of the car is tougher than expected. The driver parks exactly where he wants to park. Then a concierge gets her hand caught in the car's power window and starts screaming. But eventually, the driver emerges. Tall. White captain's hat. Gibson guitar case. Chuck Friggin' Berry.
In the hotel, the living legend says he's hungry. The porter offers a room service sandwich. "Hmmm," Berry says, lips pursed. "Got any ribs?"
The Marriott has lots of wonderful stuff, but not ribs. The Pit, on the other hand, knows ribs. We call the owner. Ten minutes later, in comes a guy from the Pit carrying the ribs of at least 10 recently laid-to-rest pigs. Up we glide to the 15th floor. We deliver the goods and leave Chuck Friggin' Berry in his room, surrounded by acres of cole slaw, collard greens, ice tea and those much-desired ribs.