The great thing about the Chicago Blues Festival is the variety and number of acts that one can see. There are six stages – The Petrillo Music Shell (main stage), Crossroads Stage, Front Porch Stage, Windy City Blues Society tent, the renamed Jackson Mississippi Rhythm and Blues Stage and the new Meet Me in Memphis Blues Pavilion.
The 2014 Chicago Blues Festival (31st annual) had near perfect weather. The first night featured a tribute to John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson and the super creative Otis Taylor. Betty LaVette and Willie Clayton provided a soulful flavor on the second night. The final night had a New Orleans flavor with Aaron Neville and Dr. John.
This writer’s bucket list of artists to see included Dr. John, Sugar Blue, Billy Boy Arnold, Marty “Big Dog” Mercer, James Armstrong and Mike Wheeler. Unfortunately the writer was unable to make it to the fest on Saturday and missed only “Big Dog” from the list.
Another nice thing is discovering acts that one has never heard of or seen before. When there is a break in the list of must sees, try to bounce around from stage to stage. Such acts witnessed were Low-reen & the Maxwell St. Market Blues Band, Mr. Sipp “The Mississippi Blues Child”, Cicero Blake, Willie “The Touch” Hayes Band, NuBlu Band, Smiley Tilmon, Lady L, Diamond Jim Greene and the Chicago Delta Blues Band w/ Bob Stroger, Barrelhouse Chuck, Billy Flynn and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith.
Impressing this writer immensely were Mr. Sipp, Diamond Jim Greene (steel guitar), Smiley Tilmon and Willie “The Touch” Hayes Band. The Chicago Delta Blues Band is an all-star group of sidemen who are some of Chicago’s finest musicians. They play alongside everyone, but it was nice to see them doing their own thing.
Oh yeah, there also was the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Not blues, but they were really entertaining and had a lot of energy.
Writer rank of the best:
5. James Armstrong – James kicked off the entertainment on the new Meet Me in Memphis Stage with a solo set then headed over to the Crossroads Stage with his full band.
4. Billy Boy Arnold – The veteran harp man is a true Chicago treasure. Billy took lessons from John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson and played as part of the tribute to him on the main stage on opening night. His own set took place on the Front Porch Stage.
3. Dr. John – The New Orleans legend brought his piano voodoo playing and unique vocal skills to the main stage as the closing act on Sunday evening. He did not disappoint.
2. Otis Taylor – The Chicago born multi-instrumentalist always brings a fresh sound to Chicago. His band consisted of guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart and violinist/tutu wearing Ann Harris. The energy of his band is awesome from start to finish. Living in Colorado now gives him a different perspective from most bluesmen.
1. Sugar Blue – Outstanding performance that so impressed this writer. The show was delayed several minutes by a brief shower. Seeing Sugar Blue is clear why he is head and shoulders above all other harp blowers. His sound is unique and tone is superior.
Honorable mention to Mr. Sipp, NuBlu Band, Mike Wheeler, Willie "The Touch" Hayes Band , Billy Branch, Diamond Jim Greene, and Smiley Tilmon. See the attached slide show of pictures from the fest. Click to subscribe at the top to get an e-mail every time an article published. It would be much appreciated.