Blues at Logan II
The Logan Center Blues Fest is not the typical music festival. There are live musical performances, but the programming is far broader in scope. Today, the Fest kicked off with a presentation by Barry Dolins, who ran the Chicago Blues Fest for 25 years He offered samples from his video and audio archives.
For those who were interested in technique, Bill Sims, Jr. conducted a guitar workshop where he both discussed and demonstrated the open tuning techniques used in country blues and the prevalent use of the E, A, and C keys. Sims is an authoritative ethnomusicologist, so he knows what he is talking about.
Later in the afternoon, Sims joined Rubben Santiago-Hudson for selected readings from August Wilson’s 10-play cycle recounting the African-American experience. Hudson is a Tony Award-winning actor, director, and writer. He certainly is familiar with Wilson’s work. Wilson created two roles specifically with Hudson in mind. And it was Hudson who recently brought Wilson’s Jitney to the Broadway stage. No surprise that Sims and Hudson would collaborate on this project. Sims wrote some of the music for the production of Jitney that Hudson directed. It was a terrific 60 minutes, with Sims playing guitar and Hudson undertaking the readings, with some nice harp playing thrown into the mix.
Sims then headed down to Cafe Logan, where he did a 60-minute solo set that featured acoustic blues. Prior to Sims sitting down at the mike, Fernando Jones, who is Chicago’s best-dressed guitarist, led some of his students in a Cafe Logan performance. Jones is hell-bent on keeping the blues alive, and it sounds like the handoff is going nicely.
At 7:30 PM, the day’s main event kicked off with a rollicking performance by Chicago gospel singer Leanne Faine, who brought four backup vocalists, two horn players, and a core group comprised of keyboards, drums, guitar, and bass. The words would have been appropriate in a Sunday morning church service, but the instrumentals would have fit nicely into a Saturday evening performance at any of the city’s blues venues. When you think about it, Faine offers convenient one-stop shopping—get saved and praise the Lord while sinning the night away.
Then it was time for Delta Farr to put her spin on the intersection of blues and gospel. And that is exactly what she did, with the help of Billy Flynn (guitar) and Felton Crew (bass). At one point, blues harpist and Fest co-director Matthew Stoller joined Farr on stage.
After Farr was finished, roots guitarist and vocalist Ruthie Foster took the stage in the headliner position. Foster has worked with such notables as Bonnie Raitt, the Allman Brothers, and Susan Tedeschi. She has been nominated for three Grammys and received a number of awards, including the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France. In all candor, I did not connect with her, but I’ve been on a non-stop tear for the last two months, so I was tired.
For those who wanted to go all night, there was a late-night jam session with Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, which I assume was lots of fun.
And so another excellent day of the blues.
Matthew Stoller’s Harps
Bill Sims, Jr. Plays Cafe Logan
In the Moment
Ruthie Foster: Focused
Guided By a Higher Power
Hank Ford with Delta Farr
Bill McFarland with Delta Farr
Another Moment of Reflection
Photographer’s Notes: Unfortunately, the Bill Sims, Jr and Ruben Santiago-Hudson performance was off limits to photographers. The lighting in the theatre was dramatic and both gentlemen were beautifully attired, so the limitation is unfortunate. I also regret that I did not get any photographs that did Leanne Faine justice, which is why I have included none. Sometimes things just don’t work out. I did have the opportunity to chat with her for about 15 minutes. She is a very nice lady who is still going strong at 78.