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Friday 9th June 2017

courtesy Pete Evans

This was the 34th Chicago Blues Festival but it was the first occasion for it to be located at Millennium Park having made the short move from nearby Grant Park. With temperatures soaring into the low 90s, it was a more compact location but turned out to be a very good location with the main stage, The Jay Pritzker Pavilion being a magnificent setting for the headline acts.

Friday 9th June

Demetria Taylor opened at The Crossroads stage with a who’s who of excellent Chicago musicians backing her including Mike Wheeler on guitar. An energetic singer she powered through some soulful blues classics including Little Red Rooster, Rock Steady, Proud Mary and Shake It Baby delivered from a walkabout amongst the audience.

Snooky Pryor’s son Rip Lee Pryor has been in poor health recently but he delivered a great set of blues accompanying himself on guitar and rack harp at the Front Porch Stage before a visit was made to The Mississippi Juke Joint stage to hear a powerful set of piano blues from Greenville’s Eden Brent, the stand out track being Memphis Minnie’s Take Me To The ‘Lectric Chair.

For some reason Jimmy Burns and his band only performed a short set at The Front Porch Stage but it was enough to see why he is one of Chicago’s favourite guitarist vocalists. He performed tracks from his acclaimed Delmark CDs including the brilliant Leaving Here Walking and Stand By Me.

Cedric Burnside is keeping the traditions of the Mississippi Hill Country Blues alive as laid down by his grandfather R L Burnside amongst others and at The Mississippi Juke Joint Stage on drums and vocals, he was joined by Trenton Ayers on guitar and between them they hit the ground running on classics like Junior Kimbrough’s All Night Long and R L’s Going Down South.

It was wonderful to see the senior bluesman at the festival 92 year old Henry Gray still performing so well at The Front Stage backed by a stellar line-up of Bob Corritore on harp, Bob Stroger on bass, Billy Flynn on guitar and Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith on drums.

Much has been said about Jarekus Singleton from Jackson Mississippi on The Mississippi Stage following his recent excellent release on Alligator and with his excellent soulful voice and sound guitar playing he delivered a great set although slightly hampered by volume and the balance of the sound.

To get a good position in The Pretzker Pavilion meant much of Mike Wheeler’s set and all of ex Wllie Kent guitarist Guy King’s set were missed but veteran of both Muddy Waters and Magic Slim’s bands, John Primer more than made up for that with a brilliant set of pure Chicago joy. Backed by his Real Deal Band with Steve Bell on harp displaying all of his late father Carey’s skills, he showed why he is still regarded as one of Chicago’s top guitarists. A superb version of I’m a Man was matched by the great closing number of Got My Mojo Working.

Rhymefest, real name Che Smith, has obviously made his name in the world of rap and hip hop and even met David Cameron so it was going to be intriguing to see what he would contribute to a blues festival. An hour or so later, he had contributed a considerable amount. Backed by a five piece band and three piece female vocalists and a superb soulful vocalist he mesmerised the audience with his hip hop lyrics blending in with a mix of soul, blues and gospel. It was magical stuff which came to a climax when Billy Branch joined him on harp for the Oscar award winning song “Glory” from the film Selma which he co-wrote with rapper Common and singer John Legend. It was a brilliant ending to a superb set.

Billy Branch has been gracing the blues scene and blowing great harp for 40 years and his headlining set commemorated this great achievement by bringing together his former band members from The Sons of Blues to join his current Sons which included Marvin Little on bass, Sumito Ariyoshi on keys and Dan Carelli on guitar with Bill McFarland and The Chicago Fire Horns. Mae Koen and The Lights provided backing vocals.

After a brief recollection of his days playing with Willie Dixon and some of his memories of the harp greats he looked up to like Junior Wells, Carey Bell and James Cotton, he introduced his first guest, his recently retired ex drummer of 30 years Mose Rutues who sang Have You Ever Loved a Woman. He was then followed by Willie Dixon’s son Freddie on bass who sang his dad’s I Ain’t Superstitious and guitarist Lurrie Bell who performed Please Give Yourself More Time.

Next up was Chicago stalwart on bass J W Williams with Hey Baby, See What You’ve Done to me and then the fantastic Carl Weathersby on lead guitar who performed It Will Be Alright followed by his other main guitarist over the years Carlos Johnson.

It was a magnificent session of all that is great about Chicago blues and a great testimony to Billy Branch.


Photo Gallery
courtesy Pete Evans


 Demetria Taylor



 Rip Lee Pryor  


  Eden Brent



 Jimmy Burns  


  Cedric Burnside




 Trenton Ayers  




  Henry Gray



 Bob Corritorre  


  Jarekus Singleton



 John Primer  


  Rhymefest (Che South)



  Billy Branch  


  Mae Khan & The Lights



  Marvin Little  


  Bill McFarland and the Chicago Fire Horns



  Mose Rutues  


  Freddie Dixon



  Lurrie Bell  


  JJ Williams



  Carl Weathersby   


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