What an outstanding day weather wise for the first night of the 2014 Chicago Blues Festival. Temperature was in the mid 70s and no wind. Taking the train down was the first right thing to do on this Friday the 13th with a near full moon. With the highway shutdown later that evening, why even attempt to drive.
The first stop was at the Windy City Stage where Low-reen & the Maxwell St. Market Blues Band were playing. Stuck around for a couple of tunes and then moved along. Too much good stuff, not enough time in the day. The next stop was to the new “Meet Me in Memphis” Blues Pavilion Stage. It’s a fancy name for a ground level tent with chairs and tables. It was good though and the nice folks at the sponsor table were great.
The group headed to this stage because this writer really wanted to see California blues man James Armstrong. Although the sound was not good, he was outstanding playing solo on his electric guitar. James was followed by the great Chicago Blues harp man Billy Branch. Billy was accompanied by a guitarist. Billy really had it going, even getting the crowd to sing along to Little Walter’s “My Babe”. In the audience were a couple members of the late John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson’s family. Billy would be performing later as part of the tribute to him.
Onto the Crossroads Stage that was moved south last year, closer to Buckingham Fountain. Nice setting with the trees creating a natural cover. Only problem is when the sun is needed to warm up, it’s not there. It also puts the performers in shadows and not easy to see. Taking pictures in another issue.
James Armstrong moved to the Crossroads Stage with his full band now. The title cut off his new CD “Guitar Angels” was one of the highlights. James explained what he has gone through to get back to playing again after being stabbed. He has many guitar angels watching over him. He even played a tribute to Eric “Guitar” Davis who was murdered last December. He said he would continue to do so in future shows.
After James, the group moved back into the sun of the Jackson Mississippi Rhythm and Blues Stage. Mr. Sipp “The Mississippi Blues Child” was performing a revved up guitar rocking show. He did a real nice version of The “Star Spangled Banner”.
Next, onto the Front Porch Stage (not Ravinia, although some think it is with their blankets). It was a good idea to get there early to get situated for Billy Boy Arnold. Cicero Blake was performing a horn laced soul set when the group arrived. Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout w/ Billy Boy Arnold started. Although Mark is also a fine harp player, the reason everyone was there was because of Billy Boy Arnold. Once Billy Boy took the stage, Mark stepped aside and Billy put on a great performance playing both harmonica and guitar as well as providing vocals. What a treat to see Billy Boy Arnold, a true Chicago treasure.
It was time to hit the main stage area where the Carolina Chocolate Drops would be opening at 6:00. Though not blues, they were quite interestingly entertaining, sounding more like electric Irish folk music.
Next was the main reason for being at the festival, the Otis Taylor Band. Guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart was his very special guest on this night. Also appearing with Otis was Chicago’s own Anne Harris on violin. Combined this was an insanely great performance. With Anne’s fiddling and dancing in a tutu, plus Alvin’s guitar and Otis’ guitar and banjo playing, it doesn’t get any better than this. The energy was high from start to finish. Even the bass solo of Todd Edmunds had the crowd grooving along. To call Otis a bluesman these days would not be giving him all the credit he deserves. He offers so much more.
There it is in a nutshell. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this great festival. It only comes around once a year. Any fool would know to be there Saturday and/or Sunday.