The 17th annual Sonoma International Film Festival is under way in the North Bay. The event’s producers have put together an impressive array of films covering a wide range of topics, formats and nations. That said, let me recommend you drop everything Friday to catch the 8 p.m. Sonoma Veterans Memorial Hall screening of the 2013 documentary “Born in Chicago" followed by a performance from some of its artists. (It also screens at 1 p.m. Saturday at Murphy’s Irish Pub, a fine establishment with or without the movie.)
In the 1960s icons of urban blues, including Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, passed the musical torch to a coterie of unlikely next generation admirers, among whom were Paul Butterfield, Michael Bloomfield, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel and Corky Siegel. These acolytes, in turn, spread the music most closely identified with Chicago around the world and back again. Their journey from the suburbs and well-to-do neighborhoods into the ghetto, seeking the blues at its source, truly launched thousands of bands over the years and kept the blues a vital musical force throughout the world into the current century.
The film includes performance and interview footage featuring the aforementioned artists as well as Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Steve Miller, Hubert Sumlin, Jack White, Charlie Musselwhite, Eric Burdon, Sam Lay and Elvin Bishop.
The New York Times ran a piece on the film last summer. Here is the lead:
Late in his career, Muddy Waters recorded a song called “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll.” That, in a nutshell, is the story told in the new documentary “Born in Chicago” – how he, Howlin’ Wolf and other black blues musicians working in Chicago in the '60s schooled young white acolytes from that city who went on to play on some of the most influential pop recordings of the era.
As the film makes clear, those lessons were transmitted not in a conservatory classroom but in bars, clubs, kitchens and even alleys. In a city divided along racial and ethnic lines, at a time when the civil rights revolution was just beginning, that made both the teachers and their pupils an exception to the unwritten rules.
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