The 35th Annual Chicago Blues Fest held on June 8th to the 10th proved to be three days of great blues music, both honoring the past and turning towards the future.
Billed as the worlds largest free blues festival, The City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) produces the event at one of the cities crown jewels, Millennium Park, with the headline acts on the largest of four stages: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Opening night headline show was a celebration honoring 65th anniversary of the Chicago-based Delmark Records, and the independent label’s founder, Bob Koester. The rosters included a talented line-up including Gerry Hundt, Corey Dennison, Jimmy Burns, Ken Saydak, Guy King, Billy Flynn and Linsey Alexander, Lil’ Ed with Dave Weld, Demetria Taylor with Tomika Dixon, Mike Wheeler, Lurrie and Steve Bell, Jimmy Johnson with Dave Specter, and Omar Coleman.
Saturday night, the main stage closed with a Tribute to Little Walter featuring a powerhouse of harmonica players hosted by Chicago's own Billy Branch. Joining him on stage was Corly Siegel, Rick Estrin, Sugar Blues (famous for his harmonica melody line in The Rolling Stones song "Miss You"), Billy Flynn, Magic Dick (The J Geils Band) and Sam Lay (83 year old Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who played with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Paul Butterfield).
Warming up the night was singer-songwriter Willie Clayton and the first act, Alligator recording artist and musical powerhouse Selwyn Birchwood.
Closing night Oakland, Ca performer Fantastic Negrito started things off in the pavilion working the stage with hi-octane energy and boundless talents. Another fine example of witnessing the future of the blues. Then into the next set by a one-time band member with Buddy Guy, Kenny Neal provided another dose of pure charisma.
But putting a bow on the weekend was the closing set by the living legend, and matriarch of Chicago soul, Mavis Staples.
Prior to the scheduled 5:30 pavilion performances attendees took in a wide range of blues, and blues-related artists at four other smaller stages including Vieux Farka Touré, Terrance Simien, Ms. Jody, Sonny Jandreth, teen protege Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, rising star Melody Angel, and the Eddie Taylor Jr. jam Cameo appearances by Sugar Blue and Anne Harris simply made these sets more magical for fans.
Further honoring the blues, President, CEO of Memphis' Blues Hall of Fame was on-hand in the pavilion to present a short video honoring the great artist that we had lost over the past year.
An international destination for blues fans around the world, this festival is an authentic, deep dive into the electric blues.