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LIVE REVIEW -- Chicago Blues Fest 2018
GLT blues radio


June 8-10

Millennium Park, Chicago

baby Vivian Ford Ghera
Baby's first Blues Fest
Vivian Ford Ghera enjoys the music at Chicago Blues Fest.
photo: Ivy Ford Ghera (blues women/ mom)

By Linda Cain

photos: Jennifer Noble & Dianne Bruce Dunklau

To see more photos visit our FB photo albums HERE

The 37th Annual Chicago Blues Fest, held in Millennium Park for the second time after over three decades of being hosted in Grant Park, was not guilty of sophomore slump.

Welcome Improvements included:

Ceiling fans in the sweaty Mississippi Tent, security checkpoints with metal detector wands, better movement flow due to rearranging the placement of beer and food stands.

Rosa’s Lounge live stage, which last year caused massive blockage on the South Promenade passage, was moved to an open plaza on the north side of The Bean, which made for nice visuals and photos. Some of the artists who appeared on the Pritzker stage in the evening stopped by to jam at Rosa’s in the afternoon.

Acts on the side stages didn’t stop at 5:30 like they did in the past, which was a nice option for folks who couldn’t stay late for the Pritzker Stage acts or who didn’t like some of the acts on the big stage.


Missing in Action:

Fernando Jones Kids’ and the Windy City Blues Society no longer have a stage at the fest. When the fest was in Grant Park, each had its own spacious stage which always packed ‘em in. Last year both groups shared a stage in Wrigley Square, on the lower street level of the park. This year, the Front Porch stage has been moved from its former location on the Harris Theater Rooftop Terrace Stage. Unlike the other major side stages, the Front Porch stage has no seating, so it’s SRO shoulder-to-shoulder if you want to see or hear any of the acts. L


New This Year:

Park Grill Stage, located farther away from the action on the west side of The Bean and closer to Michigan Avenue, was a last minute addition that wasn’t in the printed brochure schedule or the DCASE website. Acts included: Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings, Morry Sochat & The Special 20s, Marty “Big Dog” Mercer, Oscar Wilson & Joel Paterson and more.


Rooftop Lounge replaced the relocated Front Porch stage this year and featured acts like Rockin’ Johnny, Gerry Hundt, Devil in A Woodpile and Vino Louden -- plus a cocktail bar with fruity exotic drinks. And the best food at the fest was Robinson’s Ribs, set up by the entrance of the Rooftop Lounge


As always, blues fans gathered from around the world for a happy reunion during the music-filled three day weekend.


Friday, June 8

Pritzker Pavilion stage

Delmark Records 65th Anniversary

Bob Koester’s venerable blues and jazz label turned 65 this year. To celebrate the landmark occasion, Delmark just released Tribute, A Celebration of Delmark’s 65th Anniversary. The album features newly recorded tracks by current Delmark artists who are paying tribute to the label's past icons who influenced them or have a historical connection with them. The music is heartfelt because of the special connection each of these artists have with those that came before them.

Delmark 65th Anniversary Tribute CD

Omar Coleman covers Junior Wells; Lurrie Bell and his brothers cover their dad Carey; Jimmy Johnson & Dave Specter cover Magic Sam; Lil' Ed & Dave Weld cover J.B. Hutto, Demetria Taylor covers Big Time Sarah; Shirley Johnson covers Bonnie Lee; Mike Wheeler covers Otis Rush; Jimmy Burns covers Big Joe Williams; Corey Dennison covers Sleepy John Estes; Linsey Alexander & Billy Flynn cover Jimmy Dawkins; Ken Saydak covers Roosevelt Sykes.

The first evening of Chicago Blues Fest was dedicated entirely to Koester, Delmark and the above artists past and present, plus special guests.


At age 85, the longtime label boss decided to retire from the record business and sold Delmark, along with its subsidiary labels and back catalogue of masters from the 1920s to current, and its Riverside recording studio plus all inventory. Steve Wagner, after working 30 years at Delmark, will stay on as producer, recording engineer and studio manager. The new label execs are Julia A. Miller (President and CEO)and Elbio Barilari (V.P. and Artistic Director). Both Julia and Elbio are musicians and educators. They took the stage during the tribute show to introduce themselves and to assure the fans that under their direction, Delmark will stay the course and remain focused on recording and releasing the best in blues and jazz, both new releases and reissues from the vaults. Meanwhile, Koester hasn’t entirely left the record scene as he continues to operate his record shop Bob’s Blues & Jazz Mart at 3419 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago.


Corey Dennison Band

Corey Dennison by Jennifer Noble
photo: Jennifer Noble

Corey Dennison Band kicked off the tribute with blues and soul songs from their sophomore Delmark release: Night After Night.

The Memphis style soul of “Nothing’s Too Good (For My Baby),” featured Corey Dennison’s dynamic stage presence, hot guitar licks and soulful, wide-ranging vocals; this got the crowd clappin’ and boppin’ along from the get go.

Dennison’s booming voice and commanding stage presence kept the momentum going, as did second guitarist Gerry Hundt’s killer solos, along with the slammin’ rhythm section of drummer Joel Baer and bassist Aaron Whitter.  A seasoned performer after working with Carl Weathersby for eight years, Dennison likes to instigate choreographed moves with his bandmates, that always gets the crowd excited. And if that weren’t exciting enough, Dennison left the stage to play his guitar in the photo pit and then moved into the crowd for the irresistibly bouncy “I Get The Shivers.” It was only the second song, but the towering, tattooed and pierced bluesman already had the fans dancing and cheering.

Dennison dedicated the next part of his set to recently departed Chicago blues legends Eddie Shaw and Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater. The remainder of the music was short on song titles but long on jammin’ and crowd-pleasing solos by the songwriting team of Dennison and Hundt that also touched on songs by B.B. King and Jeff Beck.

A lengthy, show-stopping version of Tyrone Davis’ soul blues classic “Are You Serious?” closed the band’s show, as the members left the stage one by one, leaving only Dennison and his guitar to play the last notes on his blonde Gibson hollow body. The Corey Dennison Band left no doubt that they are a major force on the world blues scene, as well as a crowd-pleasing festival act that has been earning well-deserved international attention and bookings.

Mississippi Heat

Mississippi Heat by Jenn Noble
photo: Jennifer Noble

Bandleader, songwriter and harmonica virtuoso Pierre Lacocque founded Mississippi Heat in 1991, a band dedicated to the classic Chicago blues ensemble style, with some extra seasoning on the side in the form of jazz, gospel, calypso and Cajun. Over the decades, the Heat has counted among its members some blues heavy hitters including Deitra Farr, Billy Flynn, James Wheeler, Bob Stroger, Katherine Davis, the late drummers Robert Covington and Bob Carter, and others.

Mississippi Heat’s current lineup was on stage to celebrate Delmark’s 65th: Lacocque, guitarists Giles Corey and Michael Dotson, bassist Brian Quinn, drummer Terrence Williams, and vocalists Inetta Visor and Carla Denise Stinson. In addition, the band was joined by a three-piece horn section, plus Chris “Hambone” Cameron on keys. And some extra guests joined in the festivities as the show went on.

Inetta Visor & Carla Denise Stinson by Jenn Noble
Inetta Visor & Carla Denise Stinson
photo: Jenn Noble

Singers Inetta and Carla wore festive matching outfits and sang together on most of the songs, taking turns on the verses, with Lacocque adding his “voice” with some wailing blues harp. The ladies got our backfields in motion and our stomachs growling as they sang the praises of special guy who can cook a mean jambalaya and gumbo on “New Orleans Man.” Lacocque jammed with the horn players as the rhythm section played some properly funky New Orleans style beats.

The mood shifted for the Delta style guitar of Michael Dotson on the slow, sad blues of “Wipe Away My Tears,” featuring Inetta’s sorrowful vocals. Dotson bent the blue notes as Lacocque came out front for a soaring harp solo.

Giles Corey kicked off the next number with some upbeat rhythmic strumming, as he belted out “Hit The Ground Runnin’ on the Mornin’ Train” to the accompaniment of the punchy horn section. They were joined by bassist Darryl Wright and the song built to a fever pitch with Lacocque jumping up and down as Giles strutted about the stage, both of them wailing on their respective instruments. The crowd cheered and applauded its hearty approval.

Pierre Lacocque & Billy Flynn by Dianne
Pierre Lacocque & Billy Flynn
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Special guest guitarist Billy Flynn stepped on stage to perform a tune from his Delmark release Lonesome Highway titled “I’ve Never Been The Lucky Kind.”  Flynn displayed his renowned prowess for playing his heart on traditional Chicago blues stylings as he squeezed and bent notes from his signature red guitar.

The ladies and bassist Brian Quinn returned for a rousing, polyrhythmic excursion to the Caribbean with “Rosalie.” Inetta and Carla belted it out, the horn section blazed and the rhythm section pulsed to the Calypso beat. Inspired solos were served up by Flynn on guitar, Lacocque on harp and Hambone on keys. Caught up by the excitement onstage, the crowd clapped, danced and cheered them on.


The next segment of Delmark’s 65th Anniversary Tribute consisted of the label’s current artists paying tribute to the legendary blues artists from Delmark’s glorious history.

Corey Dennison & Gerry Hundt at Chicago Blues Fest by Dianne
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Corey Dennison and Gerry Hundt performed a country blues style tribute to Sleepy John Estes that transported us to the back woods of Tennessee, where both Estes and Dennison were born. This connection no doubt helped the guitarist conjure a foot-stompin’, front porch feeling with his acoustic guitar and gut-bucket vocals. You could easily imagine a jug of moonshine sitting next to him on the Pritzker stage! With the most perfect assistance from multi-talented partner Hundt on mandolin and harmonica, the duo delivered a stirring opening number with the desperate plea of “Broke And Hungry.”


Jimmy Burns by Dianne
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Both Jimmy Burns and Big Joe Williams came from Mississippi and moved to Chicago. So Jimmy knew precisely how to bring it down home for Big Joe’s oft-covered classic “She Left Me a Mule to Ride.”  Performing solo, Burns picked an electric guitar with the volume down low as he sang the sorrowful tune about the woman who left him with only a mule that went and died on him. Bummer!

Ken Saydak by Jenn Noble
photo: Jennifer Noble

Blues pianist  Ken Saydak paid tribute to Roosevelt Sykes on a grand Steinway with his exhilarating rendition of the bouncin’ boogie woogie “Boot That Thing.” Saydak’s gruff, commanding vocals got the message across that he wanted to see a whole lotta shakin’ on the dance floor. He certainly got our heads bobbin’ and hips shakin’.


Guy King by Dianne Dunklau
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

When Israeli guitarist Guy King first arrived on the Chicago blues scene, he was mentored by the late bassist, vocalist and songwriter Willie Kent, serving as his lead guitarist and bandleader for six years.  Joined onstage by guitarist Billy Flynn, keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist E.G. McDaniel, and drummer Marty Binder, King paid tribute to Kent with the bouncy shuffle “Think (In Case We Both Are Wrong).”

Shirley Johnson & Guy King by Jenn Noble
photo: Jennifer Noble

Singer Bonnie Lee was another artist nurtured by Willie Kent. Her friend Shirley Johnson joined Guy King and the band to duet on “I Need Your Love So Bad,” a song from Bonnie’s Delmark album Sweetheart of the Blues. Shirley and Guy traded verses while Billy Flynn and Guy exchanged sparkling, melodic guitar solos on this tale of yearning.

Linsey Alexander & Billy Flynn
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Linsey Alexander was “All For Business” as he quickly took the stage to sing his tribute to Jimmy Dawkins. Billy Flynn, who learned his chops from Dawkins, played some superbly soulful, melodic lead guitar; he was joined by smooth sax man Hank Ford for this slow dance R&B number. The Hoochie Man belted it out, waving his hands as he moved about the stage, helping to raise the excitement level. As soon as the last note hit, Linsey exited as quickly as he arrived, and the crowd applauded its approval.

Dave Weld & Lil' Ed by Dianne
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Linsey’s performance was a great warm up for the next act: Lil’ Ed (on loan from Alligator Records) and Delmark artist Dave Weld paying tribute to their mentor the legendary fez-hatted slide guitarist J.B. Hutto (Lil’ Ed’s uncle). Former bandmates, Lil’ Ed and Dave tore through “Speak My Mind,” propelled by a thumping lump beat from Binder and McDaniel. Grinnin’ from ear to ear, his eyes bugged out, Lil’ Ed played a slippery, stingin’ slide guitar as Dave’s fingers flew across his faithful vintage Fender for some scorching Maxwell Street style Chicago blues. Both of them were drippin’ sweat by the end of this high-octane number!

Willie Hayes by Dianne
Willie Hayes/ photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

A tribute to the late blues belter Big Time Sarah called for a personnel change: guitarist Mike Wheeler, drummer Willie “The Touch” Hayes, bassist Melvin Smith, piano man Ken Saydak and Billy Flynn again on guitar.

Demetria Taylor by Dianne
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Demetria Taylor is the daughter of late guitar legend Eddie Taylor (who played with Jimmy Reed) and singer Vera Taylor. She was friends with Big Time Sarah who encouraged her to pursue a singing career. Although she didn’t write “Riverboat,” Sarah certainly knew her way around a casino. Demetria and the band whipped out the gambling blues song that reminded us of “Wang Dang Doodle” with a similar guitar riff and bass line. Demetria’s vocals are clearly influenced by her mom and Koko Taylor.

Tomiko Dixon
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

After a hurried performance, Demetria briefly exited the stage, while Tomiko Dixon, the granddaughter of another legend, rushed onstage to sing her Grandpa Willie’s song “I Make Love.” Mike Wheeler played a tasty guitar solo and Demetria returned to help her finish the tune.  Big Time Sarah recorded this sensuous song on her debut Delmark album.

Mike Wheeler, Dave Specter by Dianne
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Living legend Otis Rush was paid tribute with an all-star lineup at Chicago Blues Fest in 2016. While Otis watched from the side of the stage, Mike Wheeler got to perform “So Many Roads,” with Jimmy Johnson. Tonight’s Otis tribute was most likely less nerve-wracking as Wheeler shared guitar duties with Dave Specter for this inspired, string-bending version of Rush’s oft-covered song. Wheeler’s strong, smooth, soulful voice rang out like a bell across Millennium Park as the fans cheered him on.

Lurrie Bell by Jenn Noble
Lurrie Bell, Dave Specter
photo: Jennifer Noble

Brothers Lurrie and Steve Bell joined Dave Specter, bassist E.G. McDaniel and the band to pay tribute to their late legendary father Carey Bell.  The brothers don’t perform together very often as Steve plays harmonica with John Primer’s band and Lurrie tours the world with the rhythm section of Melvin Smith and Willie Hayes. Hearing them play Carey’s song “One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky” was the highlight so far of the night’s lengthy Delmark Tribute.

Steve Bell by Dianne
Steve Bell/ photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Lurrie plucked and pulled his guitar strings like they were on fire and he sang from the depths of his heart. Steve matched his elder sibling’s torrent of emotion and blew like hell on his harp. The Bell brothers killed it as they jammed and soloed to a big finish. The fans roared approval and gave them a standing ovation!

Hank Ford by Jenn Noble
Hank Ford
photo: Jennifer Noble

Guitarist Dave Specter was joined onstage by sax man Hank Ford for a tribute to the recently departed blues giant Eddie Shaw, who played sax and served as Howlin’ Wolf’s bandleader. Shaw went on to enjoy a long career as a recording artist and the leader of his own band, The Wolf Gang. The band paid homage to the mighty man with the instrumental “Riding High,” which featured soaring solos by Specter and Ford.

Dave Specter by Jenn Noble
Dave Specter
photo: Jennifer Noble

Specter was then joined by living legend Jimmy Johnson (who is 89 years young) for a tribute to Magic Sam, one of Delmark’s most esteemed blues artists of all time.

Jimmy Johnson by Jenn Noble
Jimmy Johnson/ photo: Jennifer Noble

 Longtime musical partners, Specter and Johnson served up Sam’s haunting “Out of Bad Luck” featuring Johnson’s trademark high lonesome vocals, with both gents contributing West Side style guitar licks. Pianist Ken Saydak tickled the 88s for a sparkling solo.

Omar Coleman by Dianne
photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau

Omar Coleman’s homage to his musical influence Junior Wells is the lead track on the Delmark Tribute CD. But on this night, the West Side singer/songwriter and harp blower was the show’s closer. The band personnel changed again, with Neal O’Hara on keys, Nic Byrd on guitar, Mississippi Heat’s bassist Brian Quinn and Nellie “Tiger” Travis’ drummer Dujuan Austin. Omar’s punchy harp playing on Junior’s “Train I Ride” (a variation of “Mystery Train”) was propelled by the chugging train beat from the rhythm section. Bassist Quinn even got in a thumb poppin’ solo. It was an exhilarating train ride that lived up to Omar’s credo: “Make it funky!”

chicago blues fest 2018 by Jenn
L to R: Pierre Lacocque, Guy King, Billy Flynn, Corey Dennison
photo: Jennifer Noble

But wait, there’s more! The entire Delmark crew assembled on stage for the grand finale, another Junior Wells song, “Hoodoo Man Blues,” featuring a harmonica blowout with Billy Flynn, Omar Coleman and Pierre Lacoque dueling it out on the Mississippi saxophone. Guitarists Guy King, Dave Specter, Flynn, Corey Dennison, Mike Wheeler and Jimmy Johnson all brought out their axes for the final jam.

“Hoodoo Man Blues” was the title of Junior Wells’ Delmark debut, an album that made blues history and put the label on the world blues map. It was the perfect ending to a grand night of paying tribute to the blues (both past and present) and to giving credit to the important role that Delmark Records has played in the genre’s history for 65 years. May the force be with this venerable label to continue its journey bringing the blues into the future with Delmark’s proud new owners.

To see more photos visit our FB photo albums HERE



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