Last year's Chicago Blues Festival started on a bummer note. The festival was reduced from four days to three (stupid economy). And the death of The Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor, just days before the festival made the weekend, well, blue.
This year's festival started right after the Chicago Blackhawks paraded through the city, hoisting the Stanley Cup. The city was in high spirits for a fun weekend. The first day was heavy in humidity, making it fun to see so many people in hockey jerseys in near 90 degree weather. I chuckle, but I did the exact same thing the last time the Red Wings won the cup. Say this about the Cup, one heard about the Blackhawks more often then one heard "Sweet Home Chicago."
This year marks what would have been Howlin' Wolf's 100th birthday. Day one was filled with Wolf alumni (Eddie Shaw, Hubert Sumlin, Henry Grey, Sam Lay, etc.) playing classic Wolf tunes. The Wolf recordings from the 1950s through the early 70s still hold up.
Other solid performances were provided by Dave Weld, Jimmy Dawkins with Tail Dragger, Bobby Rush (acoustic), Carl Weathersby and Larry McCray (guitar jam), pianist Erwin Helfer and the team of Roy Roberts and Barbara Carr, who represented North Carolina.
An extra bonus this year (not on the original lineup program) was a performance tent sponsored by the Windy City Blues Society. The tent housed an intimate stage and fun performances by The Cash Box Kings, Filisko & Noden, Kilborn Alley Blues Band and Lil' Ed (acoustic).
On a certain Saturday night blues radio show, the term "something old, something new" is used. Case in point: Ninety-something David "Honeyboy" Edwards performed Saturday, and Sunday featured a cameo appearance by Ray Hundt, the two year old son of musician Gerry Hundt. Ray played harmonica for 30 seconds with pitch and focus.
As morbid as this sounds, a number of musicians needed to be seen because, for reasons of health or advanced age, we can't be sure if they'll be around next year. This list includes Edwards, James Cotton and Matt Murphy (all of whom were bandmates in the 1970s) and Hubert Sumlin (who jammed with the Wolf alumni and Zora Young).
The festival started hot and humid and rain marred the last two days. The music, however, is always better than the weather. Oh, and always tip your street musicians.
Matthew Socey is host of The Blues House Party, Saturdays on WFYI 90.1 FM