This year’s unofficial theme of the Chicago Blues Festival was “See Them While You Can.” The blues community has lost so many of its senior members over the last few years (Homesick James, Robert Lockwood Jr., among others).
B.B. King, Koko Taylor, Pinetop Perkins, Honeyboy Edwards, James Cotton and Johnny Winter all have health and/or time getting the best of them. Fortunately, they were able to rise above and put in a good performance.
Other notable events among the four days included …
A Round Robin acoustic performance (a nice phrase for a jam) by guys normally known for their electric powers. Jimmy Burns, Carl Weathersby, John Primer, Willie & Kenny Smith started the festival off on a fun and unplugged note, reminding people you don’t need to crank it to 11 for pure blues. John Hammond, Guy King (no relation), Steve Arvey and Otis Taylor also brought superior acoustic work.
As usual, there was a nice mixture of different styles of music from different eras. Guitar great Duke Robillard had a fun tribute to Louis Jordan. T-Model Ford brought the north Mississippi juke joint blast to Chicago. Speaking of north Mississippi, be on the lookout for Afrissippi, a group of Southern Americans mixed with acoustic guitar and percussion straight from Senegal.
Getting sweat in both your eyes when you’re trying to take pictures sucks. This happened for the first time during Johnny Winter’s set.
There were a few nods over the weekend to Bo Diddley, following his recent death. None better done than Bob Margolin, Perkins, the Smith family and Bob Stroger jamming out “Who Do You Love.” This was a great reminder of the bridge between blues and rock.
Seventy-two-year-old singer Sugar Pie DeSanto hiked up her dress and jumped into the photo pit. She’s at that Eartha-Kitt-don’t-give-a-shit-but-still-can-sing phase in life.
The jam of the festival belonged to Eddy Clearwater, who actually got all of the guest stars of his album “West Side Strut” (Alligator) on stage at the same time. Plus, he wore his Indian headdress on stage. Always a favorite while he combines his mixture of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry Chicago blues.
This year’s festival was marred by heavy rain on Saturday and Sunday. The gang at Indy Jazz Fest know all too well of how Mother Nature can deliver a beatdown. Fortunately, the bad weather ceased and music continued, despite many wearing garbage bags and squishy socks.
The Chicago Blues Festival always seems to be a vitamin B-12 shot for blues lovers. One cannot wait to go back home and listen, boast and support blues music (locally and beyond). It is also a warm-up for Indy Jazz Fest, which is this weekend. See you at Military Park.
Matthew Socey is host of The Blues House Party, Saturday nights at 10 p.m. on WFYI 90.1 FM.