Reinvigorating the Blues

Reinvigorating the Blues

Earlier today, Texas-born Sharon Lewis kicked off the Chicago Blues Festival with a nice mixture of the blues, soul, and R & B.  Lewis is in a long line of journeymen blues players who have kept the music alive.  Yet, a case can be made that while their efforts are always enjoyable, these traditionalists aren't advancing the ball.  Tonight was different.

The City of Chicago has proclaimed 2018 the Year of Creative Youth.  Some 40 twenty-somethings joined Chicago blues scene stalwart Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith at the Claudia Cassidy Theatre in Chicago's Cultural Center for a program appropriately titled Bridges to the Blues.  Six groups were competing for the chance to perform Saturday on the Front Porch stage at the Blues Festival.

Smith is the son of Willie Lee "Big Eyes" Smith, who played drums in Muddy Waters' band, so "Beedy Eyes" is part of the long lineage of Chicago blues musicians.  Yet, like several other musicians who regularly work the bar circuit, Smith knows that the music will die unless it is transmitted to younger musicians and audiences.  Transmission inevitably means mutation, something that he was clearly happy about tonight.  

Most of the these kids come out of a rap/hip-hop tradition.  In the interviews that followed each performance, many acknowledged unfamiliarity with the blues until Smith and Donda House, an artist incubator organization named in honor of Kanye West's late mother, challenged them to create original blues music.  And that they did.  

Six groups each performed one number.  I am hardly an authority on rap and hip-hop, but I do have some familiarity with it.  To my ears, the long poetic monologues were gone, replaced by more familiar blues stylings and references, as well as shorter verses and more repetition.  But hip-hop's energy and movements did more than lurk, as the performers jumped up and down, waving hands in air and throwing down other familiar gestures.  The results were different from Lewis' earlier sultry performance, but were just as enjoyable.

My only beef was the one-song per group limitation.  I would have enjoyed seeing these kids in extended performances.  Fortunately, three of the groups will be performing Saturday at 4:00 PM until 5:15 PM on the Front Porch stage--the first place winner will play for 20 minutes.  I will be there.


Funk'in on Bass



A Nord Elctro 4D, a Groove, and a Smile

A Moment of Reflection in Chaos


Not Nervous Anymore

Throwing the Jaw

Joining Together

Here's Looking at You Kid

Stepping Up to the Mike

"Fear Is for Others"

Making a Point

Selfie Time

Photographer's Notes:  One thing is for sure.  These kids move a lot quicker than their elders.  I'll be upping the camera's shutter speed to at least 1/300 of a second.

Overall, hip-hop stylings make it more difficult to compose a clean shot.  With jazz and blues singers, I always shoot from an angle rather than head-on, which is how I avoid the mike covering the face.  Hip-hoppers seem to like to eat the mike throughout the entire performance, making it difficult to capture teeth, lips, and facial expressions.  They also move around a lot, making it difficult to eliminate overlapping performers.  On Saturday, I will be using a wider lens.

The lighting was certainly challenging.  An awful yellowish orange, which meant black and white conversion, is the only way to make the photographs work.  But just as bad, many parts of the stage were black holes, requiring a 12,800 ISO setting, but then there were a couple of brightly lit spots.

Tail Dragger Redux

Tail Dragger Redux

Father Pfleger

Father Pfleger