The 31st Annual Chicago Blues Fest, this year sub-titled “Blues by the Lake”, was the weekend of June 13-15 in Grant Park. The panoramic views from this Lakefront park are extraordinary—Lake Michigan, Buckingham Fountain, and the magnificent Chicago Skyline to the north and west. The views and the music are free.
- “Willie Mae” by Big Bill Broonzy
- A Robert Johnson tune: “You might call the law babe, and they might shoot me down; when I’m dead and gone, you might mess around. You might bury my body, down on the Greyhound line; so that my spirit, can take a Greyhound ride.”
- “South Bound Train” by Big Bill Broonzy
- “Whiskey Blues” by Muddy Waters. “I ain’t drinkin’ no more whiskey; instead of makin’ my baby happy, it’s bringin’ tears to my eyes … you done took all my money, you done took my baby, too.”
- “Tallahatchie River Blues” by Mattie Delaney
- “Crossroads Blues” by Robert Johnson
- “Boogie Child” by Ben Payton. This is a relaxed, easy flowing original that had the huge crowd swaying.
- “Malted Milk” by Robert Johnson. “I keep drinkin’ malted milk, tryin’ to drive my blues away.”
- “Dust My Broom” by Robert Johnson.
And for an encore, “Smokestack Lightnin’” by Johnny Otis. The performance on the huge Petrillo Stage that Friday night had ten high-standing microphones across the front line and, per my unofficial count, six or more performers blowing harmonica (Billy Boy Arnold, Marcella Detroit, Billy Branch, Omar Coleman, Mark Hummel, and Corky Siegel) at once, and others—Rollo Radford (bass), Jim Schwall (guitars), Billy Flynn (guitar), Johnny Iguana (keyboard), and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith (drums) providing rhythm and harmonies. Include suburban resident Harvey Mandel, “played with the Rolling Stones” per the night’s leader Siegel, as a walk-on observer. A terrific blues party—the other headliners that night were the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Otis Taylor; a very interesting musical experience for me seeing Denverite Taylor playing with his band before huge crowds at his birthplace, while Chicago bluesman Lurrie Bell was playing the Greeley Blues Jam in Colorado.Additional weekend headliners appearing at the Chicago Blues Festival included Willie Clayton, Bettye LaVette, Aaron Neville, and Dr. John.