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Review: Chicago Blues Festival



Chicago Blues Festival
June 10-12, Grant Park, Chicago

Dear Chicago Blues Festival,

Thank you for still being free. I know you had to roll back to three days instead of four a couple years ago and I accept that (sort of). I also know the city is in the midst a financial suckfest and is trying to find ways to help relieve money problems.

One way you've cut costs is by booking more acts from Chicago. Many of these artists have played several times over the years, but their presence is still a reminder of how strong the Chicago scene remains. Billy Branch, Carl Weathersby, Dave Specter with Jimmy Johnson, Nick Moss and the Flip Tops with Curtis Salgado (one of the biggest surprises), the Cash Box King and John Primer all represented the city well.

Anyone complaining about the Chicago-heavy lineup obviously didn't see the Mississippi Juke Joint stage, which featured several artists from that state. The stage hosted a mix of artists who have appeared here before (Zac Harmon, Dexter Allen) and newcomers who made a solid impression (Jarekus Singleton, D'Mar & Gill). The most fun performance of the weekend came from this stage, courtesy of Super Chikan (proper spelling) and his all-female band, who played a crowing, bouncing, chugging hour of blues fun.

This was the first festival (in my memory) without Honeyboy Edwards, who was ill, or Pinetop Perkins, who died earlier this year. A lovely tribute to Pinetop featured Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith" and Barrelhouse Chuck at the piano.

There is still a feeling of loss without Koko Taylor, but that means all the ladies in blues have to step up and do something about it. Katherine Davis, Nora Jean Bruso, Donna Herula and Shemekia Copeland all represented the ladies well.

Speaking of Copeland, her hour-long blistering set Sunday evening was interrupted by female representation from the families of Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor and Jimmy Reed. All three ladies officially declared Copeland the new Queen of the Blues, even bestowing her with Koko Taylor's original tiara. It was a very emotional event for everyone on stage and in attendance.

Copeland's party may have taken a little wind out of the sails for Lonnie Brooks and Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer. June 12 was officially declared Lonnie Brooks Day in the City of Chicago. Iglauer received a letter for congratulations by the mayor for 40 years of Alligator Records. This was followed by an Alligator jam featuring Lonnie Brooks, his sons Ronnie and Wayne, Copeland, Eddy Clearwater, Rick Estrin and Michael Burks. Each did three songs separately before Brooks's big news was announced. The evening ended with, yes, "Sweet Home Chicago," but it was more than fitting.

Mother Nature obviously heard many folks' complaints about the heat in previous years, Two of the three days were, by June standards, pretty damn cold. (60s-50s with fog, mist and a wee bit of rain). This also led to the worst cold weather sunburn in my lifetime. Even in cold weather and cloudy, the sunrays can get to you.

This was my 17th Chicago Blues Festival, and it still recharges my blues batteries. The festival has had to change and adapt to its times. Many of us will keep coming back regardless of the outcome. Even if (looks around, whispers) the word "free" is removed. Shhhhhh.


Matthew Socey


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