Chicago is home to the largest free blues festival in the world. It is amazing to think of the icons who have graced the stage every summer since 1984.
10/12-June-2016: The line-up for this three-day, five-stage festival is always outstanding, and the 33rd Annual Chicago Blues Festival was no different.
Every night, the Petrillo Music Shell stage had a different theme. Friday night was a celebration of the 45th anniversary of Chicago’s own Alligator Records featuring several of the label’s renowned recording artists.
First up was Tommy Castro & The Painkillers, who had a special guest appearance from Toronzo Cannon. Castro is a phenomenal blues rock guitarist with a gritty, soulful voice, who put on an impressive start to the weekend. It was a great match for the band, having Cannon perform with them. CTA bus driver by day, he is quick becoming the blues-performer-to-watch in the Windy City.
Next up was a fun and energetic set from Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, with Corky Siegel as their special guest. Lil’ Ed dressed for the occasion, with his bejewelled waistcoat and one of his iconic hats.
The energy from the stage permeated the audience. People danced in the aisles as they witnessed the effortless yet amazing blues guitar playing.
Headlining the night was 2015 Grammy nominee, Shemekia Copeland with special guest, Curtis Salgado, as well as a brief appearance from Alligator Records’ founder, Bruce Iglauer.
Shemekia paid homage to her father, blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland, by performing one of his songs. She did her father proud with her version of his “Devil’s Hand.”
With a strong gospel and soulful sound, Shemekia’s powerful voice made everyone stop and listen to the captivating performance.
Saturday was the time for Soul and R&B to take over the Petrillo Music Shell Stage. The night began with three-time 2016 Blues Music Award nominee, Wee Willie Walker and We “R.”
Next was “The Soul Queen of New Orleans” Grammy winner, Irma Thomas, whose band livened up the party by banging out the contemporary “Uptown Funk,” warming the crowd up for Irma to take to the stage. It is unbelievable to think that Grammy winners such as Irma can be seen for free at this annual event. At 75 years old, she still knew how to bring the NOLA carnival spirit as the crowd danced along.
Last but certainly not least was Fred Wesley & The New JB’s. Wesley is best known for being the music director, trombonist, and composer for James Brown and brought a good dose of funk to round out the night.
To close out the three-day festival, Sunday was a tribute to the great Otis Rush. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel started proceedings by announcing that June 12, 2016, was Otis Rush Day. The artists performing were all heavily influenced by Rush and were there to pay homage to the blues legend, who was there to witness the music extravaganza in his honor.
Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters started the musical performances for the evening. Earl brought some of the smoothest guitar licks of the weekend, which perfectly complimented Diane Blue’s beautiful voice. They were followed by a powerful set from Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater.
The highlight of the evening, and indeed the weekend, was the Otis Rush tribute which included a wealth of Blues masters in their own right: Jimmy Johnson, Abb Locke, Brian Jones, Carl Weathersby, Bob Stroger, Sumito Ariyoshi, Big Ray, Eddy Clearwater, John Kattke, Mike Welch, Rawl Hardman, Harlan Terson, Bob Levis, Billy Flynn, Mike Wheeler, Lurrie Bell, Shun Kikuta, Mike Ledbetter, Eddie Shaw, Sam Burton, Willie Henderson, Diane Blue, Ronnie Earl, Anthony Palmer, Kenny Anderson, Leon Allen, Henry Ford and Willie Woods.
Chicago blues legend, Buddy Guy, also made an appearance to support Rush and express his appreciation for his dear friend.
This festival attracts visitors from far and wide every year, not just from within the States, but from the likes of the UK and Japan to pay homage to the greats.
Get planning now for your trip to next year’s 34th Annual Chicago Blues Festival. If you enjoy Chicago blues music, there is no better place to see it than in the Windy City.