Sunny Day Blues
Apparently a lot of Chicagoans didn't know about the Blues Festival. The sun came out and the heat returned after a long, cold Spring, so Millennium Park was jammed packed. There were lots of festival goers, but there were also lots of people who wandered into the park to take selfies with the Bean as their backdrop, to eat box loads Giordano's deep dish pizza, and to pose for wedding portraits decked out in their June-bride and groom best.
Fortunately the Blues and its fans are accommodating, so the die-hard blues fans and those new to the Blues played well together as the mix of sunshine and music put everyone in a festive mood.
The day also offered an interesting mix of music. Late in the afternoon, festival goers were treated to an experiment put together by drummer Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith and Donda House an arts incubator nonprofit. The idea was to introduce young hip-hop performers to the blues, and then encourage them to write blues songs that incorporate hip-hop aesthetics. I had the opportunity to speak with Smith, congratulating him on an effort that produced notable results. I am convinced that one of the young performers, Ty One, could become a break out international star. That kid has charisma and dance moves that just ooze cool. He possesses an innate ability to connect with an audience.
Those who like more traditional blues were not neglected by the festival organizers. I enjoyed Alvin Youngblood Hart, who claims to be a cosmic cross between Link Wray and Howlin' Wolf, as well as Ben Paxton who lead an acoustic trio that included Paxton on guitar, a violinist, and a gentlemen on washboard. Once again, returning to pre-Fifties country roots was a worthwhile journey.
Also on tap was Sonny Landreth, a master slide guitarist from Louisiana. Before Landreth, we were treated to some blues by Vieux Farka Touré, who injected his Malian roots into the Blues. I was excited about the possibilities, but found the music rather repetitive and uninspiring, at least until Anne Harris took the stage with her violin in hand. She added some needed fire to the mix.
As for the evening: Selwyn Birchwood, another in a long line of guitar phenoms, opened the show at the Pritzker Pavilion. Candidly, Birchwood was a good natured performer, but he represents everything I do not like in a Blues performance: Too loud, too rock-like.
It was then onto Willie Clayton, who has been working the soul circuit for several decades. He is not as well known as Al Green, William Bell, Clarence Carter, or a half-dozen other Southern soul singers, but he was enthusiastic, making a strong case that he should be better known than he is.
After Clayton left the stage, it was time to pay tribute to Little Walter Jacobs. On hand were five master blues harpists: Billy Branch, Corky Siegel, Magic Dick, Rick Estrin, and Sugar Blue. As the night progressed, things just got better. Corky brought the great Sam Lay out for some added vocals. In a climatic final number all five joined in for a good-natured, old-fashioned cutting jam. Everyone was in heaven, including the performers.
So far, I have spent over 20 hours listening to blues music. I didn't like everything I heard, but the festival programmers have done an excellent job providing a snapshot of where the blues is at today. Lots of variety and many talented musicians.
Mr. Charisma, Ty One
Show a Little Love
Selwyn Birchwood Letting it Rip
Vieux Farka Touré from Mali
Anne Harris on Violin
Anne Harris Solos
Smiling Marshall Henry on Bass with Vieux Farka Touré and Anne Harris
Harmonica Hinds Reaches Into His Equipment Pouch
Sonny Landreth with Slide Guitar
Sliding With Sonny L.
Ben Payton Picking Away
Country Blues Violin
Alvin Youngblood Hart: The Cosmic American Love Child of Howlin' Wolf and Link Wray
Blow Your Harmonica, Son
The Great Willie Clayton Full Out
Cleaning up Before the Next Number
Gamma Ray Blues
Photographer's Notes: I wasn't doing so-called "Street Photography" today, but the time to head to Millennium Park is during a major summer event. I saw a million great shots as I walked back and forth among the six stages. The cover photograph for this post is just one example.