Review: Chicago Blues Festival 2012 

Chicago Blues Festival
Grant Park, Chicago
June 8-10
click to enlarge Mavis Staples, Chicago Blues Festival headliner
  • Mavis Staples, Chicago Blues Festival headliner

This year's Chicago Blues Festival was a strong balance of paying tribute to the recent past and looking ahead.

There were more tributes to recently departed musicians this weekend than in the last two months of The Blues House Party. Koko Taylor, Honeyboy Edwards, Hubert Sumlin and the sidemen of Muddy Water: Pinetop Perkins, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Mojo Buford.

The sidemen tribute was particularly moving. Headed up by surviving Muddy sideman Bob Margolin with several current Chicago staples. Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith, the hardest working drummer in Chicago, saluted his dad by not only shuffling behind the drum kit but also taking the vocals and harmonica on a couple tunes, just like his dad.

Another special guest was singer Mud Morganfield, son of Muddy Waters. Dressed in an all-gold outfit, Morganfield got the crowd on its feet recreating his dad's vocal swagger. In the front section of the audience were members of the Smith and Morganfield family.

This year also marks the 100th birthday of Lightnin' Hopkins. The majority of the weekend line up was local or regional, but the festival did bring in three solid Texas acts. The raw and ragged Rev. KM Williams, guitarist Milton Hopkins and singer Jewel Brown and Texas Johnny Brown all brought their own style of Lone Star blues and hopefully more recognition.

Festival closer Mavis Staples reminded everyone that one of the sources of the blues is the church. Her strong voice and strong band played her best known songs like "I'll Take You There" and her version of "The Weight," which she dedicated to the recently departed Levon Helm. She even gave "Wang Dang Doodle" a stab as a tribute to Koko Taylor.

Tributes like these told two stories. Yes, the old ones are dying and time doesn't stop. However, the performances, tributes or not, prove that the blues are in capable hands if one looks for them.

The festival was also a showcase of new, young blood in the blues. Returning to Chicago was The Homemade Jamz Blues Band, a band of two brothers and a sister: guitarist and vocalist Ryan, age 19, bassist Kyle, age 17 and drummer Kaya, age 13. Jamiah On Fire and The Red Machine was another blues trio of teenagers.

Blues fans may need to calm folks, and the media, down when B.B. King and Buddy Guy eventually pass away. Will there be a new King of the Blues? No, but the powerful music performed by passionate musicians remains. It's like when someone from the kid's table at Thanksgiving advances to the adult table when one of the grown-ups dies.

Some of the acts that deserve more recognition outside the blues world includes guitarist/singer Joe Louis Walker, Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, Eddie C. Campbell, the Cash Box Kings, Nigel Mack, the duo of Liz Mandeville and Donna Herula and a Koko Taylor tribute featuring singers Nora Jean Brusco, Jackie Scott, Deitra Farr and Chick Rodgers backed up by Taylor's band The Blues Machine.

It was a long and hot weekend and a lot of music to consume. The blues isn't going anywhere and the Chicago Blues Festival is proof. Oh, and always tip your street musicians.

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