Amuse Bouche - Chicago Style by chefjimi

Posted on 6/20/2010 by Chefjimi

The doors are open, oven is hot and we be servin' up some Deep Dish on the Chicago Blues Festival right here. So you better come on in my kitchen, cos it's gonna be raining outdoors !

The Chicago Blues Festival
It is a gi-normous site, spreading over Grant Park's beautiful grassy stretches, with stages located at various spots, just far enough away to not have a mix of compete ting music; but close enough to run over to the next stage to catch the end of an act that you wanted to see but got sucked in by the other act on the other stage! The City of Chicago closes traffic thru the park, allowing unfettered pedestrian traffic to stroll, dance and reconnect with nature. While providing some of the finest Blues music around. Yet the festival also reaches outward, into the the clubs located at various spots around the city where these clubs schedule special events for the week featuring acts from the fest.

The Chicago Blues Festival is the largest FREE Blues Festival on the planet.

In 1985 the Chicago Blues Festival was the site where the Grammy Award
was presented to Koko Taylor, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Hammond,
Sugar Blue, and Luther Guitar Junior Johnson.

The Chicago Blues Festival celebrates the heritage of the blues by remembering
the legends who created the music. The first was during the inaugural event in 1984-Muddy Waters, and continued in 1991 with Robert Johnson's 80th year. In 2008 it celebrated the centennials of Louis Jordan, Robert Petway and Tommy McClennan. In 2010 it celebrated Howlin' Wolf's centennial.

Quintus McCormick just layin' it out for all to see and hear on the Gibson stage on Sunday. Sporting a new Gibson guitar, the man gave it everything he had and then some. He also gets my award for the best faces of all the performers.

Side Salad
The Chicago Black Hawks winning the Stanley Cup and parade coinciding with Friday's kick off of the Festival. This serendipitous occasion brought tons of 'newbie' blues fans out to the park to enjoy some fine, fine music, with Black Hawk flags, hats, shirts and even aluminum
Stanley Cups abounding.

The much anticipated Chicago Blues Reunion, featuring Musselwhite, Lay, Siegel, Goldberg, Mandel & Gravenites - and it lived up to those expectations.

Buddy Guy, the Mayor of Chicago Blues was there in force at his newly opened Legends. The new version is a spacious, air-conditioned club with a great menu, beautiful sight lines from anywhere in the club and enough Award hardware to take up half of Fort Knox. This is a spectacular club that goes above and beyond the 'normal' accepted standards for Blues clubs – oh yeh, Leslie says it has to get the best bathroom award.

A fun event wherein Carl Weathersby & Larry McCray had a 'Guitar Throwdown'. Carl came out and wowed the audience with his sweet soulful singing and his exceptional guitar work (and good oral hygiene) busting out My Girl (everyone in crowd sang) and some Tyrone Davis. Larry shares stage then takes control for some serious McCray style blues, and they finish off with battle of axes, the winner was the crowd as we were treated to two fine players sharing with us their own unique styles and influences.

The array of booths were outstanding, some of the best were the Windy City Blues Society booth. Handing out buttons, and offering a spin of the wheel after joining WCBS for a chance to win some cool stuff. Guess what - I joined, and won some great music too ! The ZONE nutrition tent, where they not only gave you a cool, waterproof, yellow back tote, but inside were some good nutrition bars to scarf down between brews, but the waterproof tote was especially sweet with all the rain we got. The Chiquita banana booth, where you got a crown, and could take a pic of yourself in a banana costume. Oh yeh let's not forget the opportunity that Ocean Spray gave everyone to pose within a picture of the Cranberry guys. Also they did give out shots of cranberry juice and 100 calorie packs of craisins. Not to be outdone Shick had a booth where you could try out there new shaver, guaranteeing that the boys could be lookin' their best for the weekend.

Meat, Potatoes, Fish, Fowl and Vegetarian Selections
James Cotton, just showing everyone why he IS Super Harp ! Joined by Darryl Nulisch, Rico McFarland, Matt 'Guitar' Murphy and others he held court on the Petrillo Main Stage. His sound was a joy to all who attended the show – and there were a lot of folks there.

Playing on his home turf, Sugar Blue just smoked the crowd on Saturday afternoon. The harp bandelero was better than ever, as he played with his legendary incendiary verocity. There were times, good people, that we swore that there were two harps on stage. His dedication of 'Cotton Tree', off his latest release, Threshold, to James Cotton was quite possibly the
highlight of the festival.

Buddy Guy showing up at the Petrillo Band Shell on Sunday night to honor Barry Dolins for starting and organizing this festival for the last twenty-seven years. Thanks Barry for going above and beyond, and thanks Buddy, for showing some love.

The emergence of the Homemade Jamz Band . . .These kids, Ryan, Kyle and Taya, were so cute and fun a few years ago when I saw them on the Legendary Blues Cruise. They were just starting out and now….... Led by Ryan's strong stage presence and leadership skills, they have become a true Blues band. Kyle's improvement on the bass was astounding as he laid down some nasty bottom end to Ryan's much improved guitar and vocal work. But my vote for most improved was Taya on the drums, She has progressed so far in the year since I last saw them, it startled me. Look out world they gonna be HUGE, I'm tellin ya' HUGE ! Wait a minute, both Ryan and Kyle are over six feet tall, they are already huge !
Otis Taylor, and his unique style of Blues. A cross between acid jazz, Mississippi swamp music and country hoe-down he and the band were up to the task on Friday. One exceptional set, one cover song, and it was Hey Joe ! I believe Otis had his swerve on all weekend, reports that he was just great are still filtering in.

Harolds' Chicken Shack, a South Side institution, servin' up some Fried Chicken & Fries with sauce on side and lil' hot cayenne peppers jus' in case !

Guitar Blues Legend, Bobby Parker & the Blues Night Band in the rain on Saturday, bringing the old style sound to the band shell. Mr. Parker can still work the stage with the best of them, this man has a history that is incredible (look for future interview with him coming soon).

Cafe R&B on a hot steamy afternoon at the Front Porch Stage, dressed in suits, white shirts n' ties, just slaying the crowd (as usual). With Roach fronting the band, she is a cross between Tina Turner, James Brown and Ronnie Specter, and verry verry hot too ! Doing wind sprints on stage, standing on one leg for what seemed like three minutes telling the men to 'snatch and grab it' ! They explained that the reason they dress up is to honor Wolf, Muddy et al, since when they played they dressed the part and if the fore-fathers could do it, then it's the least they can do to honor the performers who made all this possible..

The spirit of Wolf was everywhere. From a show on Friday featuring Hubert Sumlin, Jody Williams, Sam Lay etc., and many of these artists performing on their own, to a discussion with these alum moderated by Dick Shurman. Even between acts we were treated to the Wolf singing and playing as we strolled or lulled along the paths. Taildragger made his presence felt, playing at the festival site, and then scooting up to play with Liz Mandeville at the Mayne Stage Theatre Saturday night. Some of the festival shirts featured Wolf towering over the town -which was pretty cool.

International Fare
Nellie 'Tiger' Travis featuring players from Japan, Argentina, North and South USA (hah hah) just channeling the spirit of Koko Taylor with Cookie by her side.

Chris Harper from 'Swiss-a-sippi” (Switzerland), playing some fine harp at the Windy City Blues Society Tent with his band, at the festival and at B.L.U.E.S. On Halsted, with Toronzo Cannon, and a sax player from Italy, Mr. Gianluca Baroncelli. Oh yeh, and Rachel from North Dakota was there.

Family Style Serving
So you know how when you go to one of these events you plan out your schedule and decide ahead of time who you REALLY want to see, who you would LIKE to see, and so on and so forth....So I had a plan – loose as it was – so Saturday AND Sunday I get mesmorized at the Gibson stage. Saturday I wanted to see Sugar Blue at like 1:45 so wandered over to check it out, and here is this guy...Toronzo Cannon and the Cannonball Express...????.....I'll be doggoned this brother just took over the place. A nattily attired lefty, sporting some serious threads and fine kicks is just singing his best and playing some amazing guitar. So check this out, he starts to apologize to the audience for his next action, saying he hopes he doesn't freak anyone out but he would like to dedicate the next number to the souls who have passed from us this year. So he comes off the stage and proceeds to smash his axe against the tarmac.

Ah yeah, the crowd went CRAZY, yes the Blues crowd went crazy, screaming 'n' yelling like a bunch of teenagers at a John Mayer show. But that act shouldn't over shadow this mans ability to play. We were so enthralled by his performance we had to hook up the next night at a club to see him again, OK, no guitar smashing there, but three solid hours of damn good music with guests galore and some of the best working of a crowd I've seen in years. I dunno if he ever gets outta Chicago, but if you get a chance to see him, go Nike on him, errh, JUST DO IT.

Dessert To Go:
The Chicago Blues Bus.

Dan 'Chili' Creed lacking his CTA Transit Card, boarding the #3 Bus at the Festival site, and proceeding to play some killer harp for the passengers,
driver and folks who stood at the
stops as we progressed toward Chicago Avenue. Nice bro'.

Chef's Special:
I gotta say, we all go to these festivals, pay our dime and enjoy it and move on. What I noticed about this one that makes it extra special is that it is FREE, and that it is in the CITY. What that means is that it exposes the Blues to soo many people who otherwise would not even give us a second look. What with the Blackhawk parade and rally on Friday bring at least 2,000 fired up hockey fans into Grant Park, it was the perfect spot for the festival to be. Weather held up enough on Saturday, but Sunday it was populated by families out for their walk and it is just great to see different people at these shows. In order to keep the Blues alive we need to reach the non-fans, the non-believers, if you will, those who think the Blues is dead, or sad and depressing all the time. Preaching to the choir is useless cos we all know that the Blues is all right, but there are more of those who don't know that and need to see it and hear it
and learn what the Blues really is.
To that I say, THANK YOU Chicago for holding it again and again, cya next year.

Leslie with new Blues fan @ Chicago Blues Fest

Until the next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

If you enjoyed this Chicago Style serving of the Blues, you might want to check out my Memphis report at

or my interview with World Blues Fusion player Harper at

copyright © 2010 – bluesuitspeaks, all rights reserved.
photo credits: Leslie K. Joseph, chefjimi, Michael Jackson/Chicago Reader, Dan Creed
all photos used with permission.

Questions, comments email me:

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