The first day of the Chicago Blues Fest, 6/8/6, is in the books and we have a happy start to the story. The weather was great, sunshine and in the 80’s with a cool Breeze (& Freak) off the lake. Today was Chicago/ Cook County at one of its finest. Grant Park was a buzz with anticipation of summer and a weekend full of the blues.
The first person I met was The Blues Bunny and her husband from Connecticut and The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. People come from all across the globe to experience the Chicago Blues Fest. This City will not let it’s faithful down. The Blues in Chicago will embrace you.
One reason people come to Chicago is for the blues. A Blues Traveler can come to Chicago any time of year and they will find blues. Did you know that Chicagoland has a blues fest in Richton Park, IL the week before and in Aurora the week after? Many do not! Chicago is one of the reasons blues music is so famous. For decades it sat on the front porch until Chess Records and others picked it up.
This year’s blues fest was another celebration of the music form we love. Blues was center stage, with some soul and phunk. Chicago celebrated the St. Louis Blues influence, which was just fine with me. I’m a fan of Alvin Jett and the Phat Noise Band as well as a number of more famous greats possessing the “St. Louis Sound”.
There is a whole lot that happened in between here and the end of the fest; like Flyno, Tommy, Mountain Blues and other friends that made it by. The entire crew of the Dual Jolly Rogers enjoyed the music, and much of the time for all it was a great experience.
Thursday, at the best stage of Chicago Blues Fest, “The U.S. Cellular Front Porch Stage”, The Uppity Blues Women and Sapphire rekindled the fire from the year before. It felt so good to be back. Those women sang about a gray haired house cat, to things unmentionable in an R rated magazine. It was classic “Front Porch Stage” antics. Daddy Mack, on Saturday, would not let the ‘front porch’ fans down, as he exited the stage and jammed in the audience.
The after set Thursday was at Kingston Mines with Billy Branch and the Sons of the Blues. Rufus Neal Jr. was in town with his band, they jumped up there with Billy and another best night in the History of The Chicago Blues occurred. I believe Billy Branch to be one of the best blues harmonica players in Chicago today. A Blues Traveler can find Billy Branch and the Sons of the Blues on Monday nights @ Artis’s , 1200 something East 87th St. in Chicago’s 8th Ward., 1st Precinct.
I was disappointed in the schedule and missed a number of the afternoon acts. Ronnie Baker Brooks played a few times and I know for a fact that that man has the blues, and wowed the crowd. Ronnie is a son of the blues and has it with a twist of youth to insure the Brooks family blues music tradition. Ronnie was a highlight of the entire schedule, as was Bobby Blue Bland, and Alvin Bishop.
My blues friends tell me that the City of Chicago is saving up for the 25th Anniversary. I think Elvin Bishop put on a great show Friday night. I’d never seen Elvin Bishop, but I heard a lot about him. He put on a great show and was a great choice by Barry Dollins, (Blues Fest Director). Elvin Bishop is one blues mother for you (think as you will) and was a pleasant surprise.
The City unveiled a few other surprises like new sod, streamlined vending, easier artists music sales and autographs, to mural like porta potties. We had about 400,000 people all four days , which was a drastic reduction in last years attendance. The weather did not cooperate with nightly lows in the 50’s and heavy rains overnight Friday/Saturday. Blues fans from Connecticut, The Blindmans Blues Forum, Minnesota, and across the globe showed up none the less.
For the human being that loves the blues and summer, It begins in Chicago and ends around Helena Arkansas. We all know the significance blues holds in our lives and Chicago is an experience to plan for, blues is something we enjoy everyday. Supporting live blues music, and its vendors, is something we should do as often as possible.
Chicago is still the Mount Everest of the Blues. Don’t judge by the high hotel tax in Cook County, judge by the amount of enjoyment you will have here. Blues knows no politics yet sings about it constantly. Dorothy Moore, who performed Sunday night, sang, “Where has all the money gone”. She was right on key and her audience loved her for it.. Granted it “Dorothy Moore” is not a big draw name, but the blues fan I observed seemed to like her. Sunday night seemed to be the best night, line-up wise, for the Chicago Blues Fest.
Prior to Dorothy Moore was the “Platinum Band”. I gotta tell you here and now that this crew had the best energy of the entire fest. (The whole freakin stage was full of the “Platinum Band”). There was no telling which “Showcase Artist” would come out next, but with that band behind em’, they were bound to sound good.
Saturday night was almost beautiful, but I have stories to tell about Friday Night.
Friday started with some Duwayne Burnside at the Gibson Guitar “Crossroads Stage”. Duwayne and his Mississippi Mafia put on a great show for the Chicago blues lover. I have listened with joy to his dad, Mr. R.L. Burnside, but never heard the kid. I was so very impressed and proud of Duwayne. He was one of the musicians I most looked forward to seeing. Check him out as soon as you can, 5 stars!
Friday night was just about a full moon and we partied with the help of The State of Mississippi and those that created the blues. Without the roots, the blues wouldn’t be what it is. The State of Louisiana also put up a great showing the entire month while writing this story. Louisiana was musically featured with the likes of Joe Moutan and his group, Phil Guy, in Richton Park, Buddy Guys in Chicago, and The Neal’s throughout the month of June (Kenny in Aurora & Raful in Chicago). I hope we can feel the pain of those victims of Katrina States
Super Chikan played about 7 times (not that many) and my sources told me he was great. I apologize for missing him for you. Dave Spector on the other hand ran a jam station that I did catch. Dave featured some pretty kick ass artists! I witnessed Otis Taylor and heard stories of other greats that showed up on the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage.
Dietra Farr kicked things off at the “Petrillo Stage” with some pretty kick ass blues and a chic guitarist, with a cut off, just rockin the house. There were horns, and all kind of stuff going on. I was amazed ! I look forward to seeing them again. The Henry Butler Band with Vasti Jackson followed up nicely. Alvin Bishop absolutely kicked my blues all over the place. Maybe it was the venue, maybe it was me, but Alvin was damn near the best act of the entire fest.
Saturday night at the main stage “Eddie Shaw and The Wolfgang” kicked things off. All alone, these dudes jamm out fantastic with Vann Shaw on the get-fiddle and daddy Eddie Shaw on Sax.. They had a crew with them this night for their main stage appearance and the blues was on. It was the Saturday night celebration of “Thee” Howlin’ Wolf birthday.
Ya know I give pub to the South Loop of Chicago, because that is the best place to be. Ya have Buddie Guy’s, The Hot House, The South Loop Club (for eats), and hotels galore. This year I give MAJOR props to Kingston Mines (on the North Side) for hospitality of the week.
The best moment of the blues, for me, must have happened Saturday, June 9th (or so) 2006 at Buddy Guy’s Legends, Magic Slim was booked. Magic Slim did something special that night and I’m glad to share it with you. I can’t fully explain, but I knew it was the best music I heard this year. Two things we should all learn about the blues, 1) blues is about the ears not the eyes: 2) blues is our knowledge of knowing what goes into it that makes it so enjoyable for us.
Koko Taylor at Richton Park the week before prepared me for a blues lesion for the decade.
Saturday Night it was an angels from Detroit singing with The Segal-Schwall Band, Marcy Levy. Marcy is that angel and has the voice of the month, even better than Mavis at “Blues on the Fox” (river) and better than Slim at Buddy Guys. I have not heard Marcy sing since Chicago Blues Fest 03 or 02 @The Front Porch, I knew how it touched me then, and I was glad to be touched by it again. Marcy Levy , from Detroit is a great singer of the blues. Book her!
The after-set was at the Hot House for David “Honetboy” Edwards’s 91st birthday party. I believe it cost me $25 to get in but it was worth it . I got to eat some birthday cake and hear some greats like Louisanna Red and others including the birthday boy.
Sunday, as I mentioned before was the best line-up night, but was not a night I was willing to go see Lurrie Bell at Kingston Mines. Had I missed the entire blues fest, I would have bargained to see this set. Situation being what it was, I decided to recuperate, relax, and get ready for the work week ahead. I had seen Lurrie do an acoustic set the week before in Richton Park, and planned on Blues on the Fox (river) in Aurora the following week. A Sunday night after-set was out of the question but I know where I would have gone.
Bobby Blue Bland closed out the Chicago Blues Fest. I must say that was a great way to end it. Bobby has so much class and poise. He sang some great songs and blues classics. Bobby has got to be one of the Godfathers of the blues. His band was great and his fans loved all that he had going on.
Special thanks to Mayor Daley, The Mayors Office of Special Events (M.O.S.E), the fantastic staff for all the prep and operations work, The State of Mississippi, U.S. Cellular and Blues On Stage
See ya in Helena and Chicago Blues Fest 2007!