Chicago Blues Festival | 06.11-06.13 | Chicago

Words by: Mark Korosa | Photos by Norman Sands

Chicago Blues Festival :: 06.11.10-06.13.10 :: Grant Park :: Chicago, IL

Grant Park on Chicago's lakefront was home to the 27th Annual Chicago Blues Festival from June 11 - 13 of this year, celebrating 100 years of the late Chester Burnett, aka Howlin' Wolf. The Wolf would have turned 100 on June 10 and the theme of this years festival was to celebrate the life and music of the blues legend. Friday's theme was Smokestack Lightning and featured five stages of blues with artists like Jimmy Dawkins, Grady Champion and others, along with harmonica workshops and discussions with former Wolf bandmates and friends.

The main stage got underway at 5 pm and featured old Howlin Wolf alumni Eddie Shaw, Jody Williams, Sam Lay, Henry Gray, Abb Locke, Corky Siegel, and Hubert Sumlin. The set featured instrumental jams and boogies along with Wolf classics like "300 Pounds Of Joy," "Built For Comfort," "Shake For Me," and a set closing "Howlin' For My Darlin'." Eddie Shaw did most of the singing while also playing sax.

Next on the main stage was The Otis Taylor Band, which features a violin, electric mandolin, and banjo at times along with traditional electric blues instrumentation. Highlights included "Mannish Boy" and "Hey Joe" with great violin playing by Anne Harris. The Otis Taylor Band will appeal to more than just a blues audience.

Next up was The James Cotton Band with Matt "Guitar" Murphy. The two blues legends sat most of the set while playing songs like "Rocket 88," "That's All Right," "Got My Mojo Working," and "Don't Get Me Talking". I was really impressed with Cotton's harp blowing, as were most of the audience, who were cheering and dancing.

Closing out Friday night was Zora Young, a distant relative of Howlin' Wolf. She performed a tribute to Sunnyland Slim and Howlin' Wolf with some of Sunnyland's bandmates and was joined by Hubert Sumlin. "Forty Four," "Sitting On Top Of The World"and "I'm Leavin' You" were some Wolf favorites performed during the closing set. It was a great day for Chicago Blues and things were just getting started.

Saturday was cooler and Spoonful was the theme for the day. Smaller stage artists included Toronzo and the Cannonball Express, Sugar Blue, and David "Honeyboy" Edwards. Early evening rain cooled things off but everyone stayed and got weather and blues treats! Nellie "Tiger" Travis opened the main stage with a rainy but great set that paid tribute to the late Queen of the blues, Koko Taylor. Travis sung with her usual heart and soul on "Let The Good Times Roll," "I'm A Woman," "Wang Dang Doodle," and "Queen Of The Blues," a song about Koko Taylor.

The rain stopped, the sun came out, and it was time for a set by Bobby Parker and the Blues Night Band. His set was solid with the classic "Hey, Hey, The Blues Are All Right" and the Wolf hit "I Aint Superstitious."

Then came the big boys. The closing two-hour set featured a number of great bluesman billed as "Chicago Blues: A Living History", named after the 2009 2-CD release. The set featured the bluesmen from the album that included Billy Boy Arnold, Billy Branch, John Primer, Lurrie Bell, and special guest Carlos Johnson. The band also included Johnny Iguana on piano, Kenny Smith on drums, Fulton Crews on bass, and Billy Flynn on guitar. The set featured many songs from the album like "My Little Machine," "I Wish You Would" and "She's Love Crazy," all sung by Billy Boy Arnold. John Primer came out next with Matt Skoller on harp with "Your Imagination." After "Highway 49," harp master Billy Branch came out and did "Sugar Sweet," "Hoodoo Man," and "Hate To See You Go." Carlos Johnson and Lurrie Bell then joined in to finish an absolutely smoking set on a beautiful Chicago night.

Most of these great musicians are playing in Chicago on a regular basis and I would urge everyone to GO SEE LIVE BLUES!

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