Chicago’s Blues Festival returns with Mavis Staples and a celebration for Delmark Records’ 65th anniversary.

The 35th Annual Chicago Blues Festival kicked off on Friday, June 8 at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The festival celebrated the influence of the blues which can be seen throughout soul, R&B, hip hop and so many more. Year after year, people travel from around the globe to join in this annual celebration.

Melody Angel kicked off proceedings on the main stage with a Jimi Hendrix-infused National Anthem, which received a raucous response from the audience.

First up to perform as part of the tribute to Delmark Records, was The Corey Dennison Band. Dennison first’s release with Delmark Records was titled The Corey Dennison Band in 2016, followed by Night After Night in 2017. Hailing from Soddy-Daisy, TN, Corey grew up being surrounded by country and western music but also had a fascination with blues and soul. Upon moving to Chicago, it was the blues that grabbed his full attention. 

Corey had an infectious smile on his face as he worked every inch of the stage. He even jumped down off the stage at one point and walked through the crowd, bringing his performance up close and personal. This was a fun and tight performance from The Corey Dennison Ban. The ample crowd were on their feet throughout, dancing along with the blues-rock grooves.

Next up on the stage were Mississippi Heat, who were also joined by Billy Flynn and Giles Corey. Despite the name, they specialize in traditional Chicago-style blues. Mississippi Heat was formed back in 1991 by bandleader Pierre Lacoque, and has featured many big names from the Chicago blues circuit across the years. Billy Flynn, a familiar face at the Chicago Blues Festival, was previously a member of the band but made a guest appearance with them tonight.

Throughout their lengthy career, the band have released an impressive 12-album catalog. Six so far have been released on Delmark Records. The numerous band members filled the stage and performed the second tight set of the evening. Inetta Visor’s soulful voice captivated the crowd, while Lacoque and the rest of the band had them swaying and dancing along.     

A staple part of the Chicago Blues Festival is the Tribute To Those Who Came Before. Tonight, it was also a tribute to Bob Koester, founder of Delmark Records, who was in attendance. One performer came out after another to each sing a song.

First up, Corey Dennison and Gerry Hundt returned to the stage for an acoustic tribute to Sleepy John Estes, followed by Jimmy Burns‘ tribute to Big Joe Williams. Ken Saydak took to the piano for his tribute to Roosevelt Sykes. Shirley Johnson‘s tribute was to Bonnie Lee, while Guy King honored Willie Kent.

Billy Flynn also returned to the stage with Linsey Alexander for their tribute to Jimmy Dawkins. Another familiar face at the Blues Fest is Lil’ Ed who joined Dave Weld to honor J.B. Hutto, while Demetria Taylor and Tomiko Dixon paid their respects to Big Time Sarah. Mike Wheeler performed in honor of the great Otis Rush, while Steve and Lurrie Bell paid tribute to their father, Carey Bell. Steve and Lurrie have recently teamed up with their brothers Tyson and James to record A Tribute to Carey Bell, which has recently been released on Delmark Records.

Jimmy Johnson and Dave Specter joined forces to pay tribute to Magic Sam, while Omar Coleman performed the final tribute of the evening, to the great Junior Wells.

The final two hours of the evening flew by as one great musician after another took to the stage to honor those who influenced their music. There’s nothing quite like seeing people perform songs by their heroes to bring out the very best in them. Tonight was no exception. It was also a fantastic opportunity to see a number of performers headline the first night of the festival. Another successful opening night in the books.

Sunday night at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion showed that despite the rainy, and cooler weather, and it being a Sunday night, they were certainly not taking their foot off the gas. If anything they were gaining speed. Fantastic Negrito was first up with a lively performance. This singer songwriter’s music has clear origins in blues, roots, and R&B, as he blends it together for his own unique sound. Xavier Dphrepaulezz put on a performance equal to that of a headliner for the surprisingly large crowd given the wet weather for the outdoor festival.

With a smile plastered across his face throughout, Kenny Neal‘s hour-long set was great, albeit not quite long enough. The southern Louisiana bluesman alternated between guitar, harp, and lap steel. Such a talented musician, it is clear to see how he is still pulling in the Grammy and BMA awards after all of these years. With performances like these, the Chicago Blues Festival 2018 was surely lining up to go out with a bang!

Wayne Baker Brooks, who is no stranger to the Chicago Blues Festival stage, joined Neal on stage for a special guest appearance. 

It was finally time for Mavis Staples to take to the stage. Not many people could pull a crowd to an outdoor show on such a rainy, dismal evening, but Staples isn’t just anyone. With a career spanning 60 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find an award this Grammy winner and Blues Hall of Famer hasn’t won. And rightly so. 

Chicago was out in force to welcome one of their own with open arms. Staples clearly had them hooked from the very first note. Her soulful voice and poetic lyrics captivated the hometown crowd throughout the hour and a half set. 

At 78 years of age, Staples is showing no signs of slowing down, with US, Canadian and European tour dates scheduled throughout the rest of the year. She is touring in support of her current album If All I Was Was Black which voices feelings that the ghosts of our past are not gone, and that we are still encountering the same issues we were in days gone by.  

With 2018’s Chicago Blues Festival now on the books, we look forward to hearing who will be performing at next year’s festival. 

The 35th Annual Chicago Blues Festival
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Event Date: 08 – 10-JUN-2018