Worlds Largest Free Blues Festival rocks Chicago over 3 1/2 days
by Dan Hack
If you were among the crowd at Chicago’s 30th Blues Fest June 6-9th 2013 and heard the people talking in German, French, Italian and Spanish you may have mistaken the location for an international commerce convention at McCormick Place. But the conventioneers at this meeting were local and global, seeking a lesson in what real-deal blues music is all about. They got dose after lovin’ dose of it, from Thursday night’s opener at Millenium Park through Sunday night’s closing with the Muddy Waters classic, “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock N Roll,” at The Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park.
[pullquote]What the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office Of Special Events puts on is an incredibly accessible variety of local and national acts that showcases the many forms of blues music prevalent today.[/pullquote]
What the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office Of Special Events puts on is an incredibly accessible variety of local and national acts that showcases the many forms of blues music prevalent today such as Mississippi, Memphis, Chicago and New Orleans styles of blues. Most performers were of the electric (versus acoustic) variety of blues as that is the dominant style of present day blues musicians. Yet within that genre, there is a wide variety of performers demonstrating their own unique way of serving up the soulful stew that blues music is made of.
A great example is John Primer, who at one time in his long career was Muddy Waters’s guitarist. Primer performed tunes like “”Help Me,” “Little By Little,” and “Mannish Boy,” with his own band, then did a Magic Slim tribute set with Slim’s band on another stage, and was still running strong for a Petrillo main stage performance of “Call Me John Primer” during the finale Sunday night. You also got the sense that the hardest working drummer in town, Kenny Smith, who performed on various stages over many days also, was really enjoying himself, as evidenced by his perpetual smile when drumming the blues classics.
Great performances by Chicago’s own Lil’ Ed included a rousing “Mess Around” ( I recently saw Anthony Moser do that tune with Smiley Tillmon Band -he did it right) and Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater was heroic in his rendition of “Too Old To Get Married” which had a Chuck Berry beat that felt so strong, you could easily imagine that maybe “The Chief” taught Chuck how to lay that beat down.
Another Chicago set had Jimmy Johnson band doing their version of “Little By Little” again, with awesome keyboard work and Jimmy’s soft voice contrasting with his killer guitar solos. Ronnie Baker Brooks opened his set with his own “Born In Chicago” number and among his best work onstage was Muddy’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” Many classics were performed by Memphis groups, such as Otis Clay’s version of “Soul Man” and a fabulous run at “Cadillac Assembly Line.” Billy Branch’s extraordinary harp work on “Hoodoo Man” was supported by Matthew Skoller and had the crowd going wild. During that harp-centric section we were treated to a set with the senior master, James Cotton, who played his heart out for the Chicago fans.
Festival attendees could find heritage at every stage. The set by Eddie Taylor Jr., with Lurrie Bell and Harmonica Hinds was a wonderful lesson in traditional blues. They performed such classics as Muddy’s “King Bee” and the rockin’ “I’m Tore Down” with such feeling, you could actually sense their roots back to their own fathers. Lurie Bell’s later set with Matthew Skoller provided one of the festivals highest moments when they covered the awesome instrumental “Hideaway” by Freddy King. Their “tribute” set included one to Junior Wells with “Messin’ with the Kid” and Muddy with “Hoochie Coochie Man”, both of which had the crowd swaying ands singing along, as if they too were up on that stage enjoying the worlds greatest Blues Festival.
If theres a message to the readership out there, its plain and straight up: you should make an effort to attend as much of this world class event as you can, not because it’s free, but because it’s the best place and time in the world to get access to the real, original blues musicians who, as the closing song says, gave birth to rock n roll. Do it while they’re still around to school you.
A great big thank you to all the sponsors and the great City Of Chicago for putting on the greatest Blues Festival series of modern times.