Local television stations will make their perennial visit to Millennium Park this weekend to snag 45 seconds of B-roll footage for their 10 PM quickie glance at the Chicago Blues Festival. The assignment editors, like much of Chicago's populace, don't realize that the first day of Blues Fest is five days earlier, and even that is late, because there are events throughout May leading up to the three-day weekend.
Today, in one of the only warm days Chicago may see this year, Texas-born diva Sharon Lewis took the stage in Daley Plaza (you know, the place where kids slide down the Picasso statue's sloping bottom) for what was an hour of straight-ahead bar room blues, with some soul and R&B thrown into the mix. All that's needed is a guitar, bass, and drums supporting the singer.
Unfortunately, the event was scarcely attended, which is hard to believe given that it coincides with the lunch hour. In total, maybe 100 bottoms covered the folding metal chairs that had been carefully arranged in front of the glass and rusted steel building.
Lewis, smartly dressed in white pants, silver sequined shoes, and a semi-transulent black top, hit the stage after her band warmed things up with Chuck Berry's No Particular Place to Go and Willie Dixon's Spoonful. She of course commented on what a lovely day it was, but by the end of the set, she and her three compadres withered just a bit from the heat.
With Bruce James accompanying her on guitar, Lewis opened with Blues is My Business. As the refrain goes, "and business is good," as it was for the next 50 minutes. Lewis followed up with Don't Let the Grass Grow, as well as Chicago Woman, a song from her new CD on the Delmark label entitled Grown Assed Woman. Things slowed down a bit, as Lewis took on Government Mule, a song that appeared on the 1995 debut album from an Allman Brothers offshoot band. Then came the afternoon's highlight, two numbers by Sam Cooke, Someone Have Mercy and A Change is Going to Come. The latter being Lewis' late sister's favorite.
Lewis and company then picked things up with a lively rendition of Grown Assed Women, followed by a nice version of Happy Birthday for all those in audience who were celebrating that special day. Lewis then introduced the band, which included Joshua Lane on bass and Javar Williams on drums. Both provided the necessary bottom to support Lewis in her vocal endeavors. She then concluded her all too short set with the late Otis Clay's If I Could Reach Out.
As the band packed its bags, Father Michael Pfleger took over, leading a small demonstration at the other end of the Daley Plaza against gun violence in Chicago.
Javar Williams on Drums
Bruce James on Guitar
Photographer's Notes: Many people think photographers are happy when the sky is bright blue. Nothing could be further from the truth. For portraits, I want light grey cloud cover, which acts just like a gigantic soft box. Today, the noon sun glared down on Daley Plaza, with no shield in sight. Without fill flash, it's a losing proposition. Bring up the exposure to capture shadow detail, and you have harsh, blown out highlights. Bring the exposure down to eliminate blown highlights, and you have blotchy black shadows. Well, I did my best under the circumstances.