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Chicago Blues Festival 2011 | Concert preview

As budget cutbacks hit the city festivals, Blues Fest turns to rousing tributes to dead legends and local labels, as well as pleasantly quirky bookings on the small stages.

Photograph: Randi Anglin
Lonnie Brooks

This is the year the recession finally walloped Chicago’s city festival scene. But if this is as bad as it gets, we’ll be okay. Viva! Latin Fest, Celtic Fest, Country Music Fest and Gospel Fest have each been reduced to one day at Taste, but we still get a free Loretta Lynn gig. And, sure, the Blues Fest lineup looks like the listings for a good weekend at local clubs, but you couldn’t have made it to all those clubs in a weekend.

One recurring theme promises solid sets despite thrifty budgets: Each night of Blues Fest is a celebration of local institutions and fallen friends. The long-gone and hopefully hellhound-elusive Robert Johnson is feted by one of his last remaining contemporaries, David “Honeyboy” Edwards (Fri 10), while Lonnie Brooks and as many guest artists as possible squeeze on a stage for a rousing tribute to Alligator Records on Sunday. Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (Sat 11) leads a toast to the recently departed Pinetop Perkins.

Until the last sideman is laid away, there will be apostolic reverence paid to musicians with one or two degrees of separation from Muddy Waters. This year we can enjoy separate sets from Muddy’s son, Mud Morganfield (Sun 12), as well as Muddy’s sidemen Sam Lay (Sat 11), John Primer (Sun 12) and the aforementioned Big Eyes—and even Big Eyes’ son, Kenny Smith (Sun 12).

The greatest results from the belt-tightening are the quirky bookings on side stages, which this year include eccentric R&B diva Holly Maxwell (Fri 10) and truck-driving chicken whisperer James “Super Chikan” Johnson (Fri 10), with his beautifully bizarre custom guitars.—Jake Austen

For times and stage info, visit chicagobluesfestival.us.

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