Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene

radio shows
record labels
Live Shows

Windy City Blues ad
LIVE REVIEW -- Chicago Blues Reunion 2017
Blues on the Fox 2017


May 12, 2017

Arcada Theater, St. Charles, IL

Chicago Blues Reunion stage shot Roman
photo: Roman Sobus

By Linda Cain

To see more photos, visit our FB page

The Chicago Blues Reunion is a reunification in every sense of the word for Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites and Harvey Mandel.

Chicago blues is what united them as teenagers in the ‘60s. It’s what they bonded over and what cemented their friendship for over five decades. Every time that Goldberg, Gravenites and Mandel reunite to perform as Chicago Blues Reunion, it’s more than a concert; it’s a synergy of the highest order – a joyful homecoming and a celebration of their camaraderie and of the music they carry in their hearts and souls. Although they left Chicago for various parts of California long ago, the blues music that they learned here in their youth has never left them; in fact it has informed every aspect of their lives and careers.

This fact was driven home, prior to the concert, with the showing of a 15-minute segment from the film documentary, Born in Chicago, by director John Anderson. Along with their like-minded young compadres, Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield, they learned about the blues directly from the architects of the electric Chicago blues: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin, to name a few. They -- along with Corky Siegel (who couldn’t make it to this reunion due to an engagement with Sam Lay in Milwaukee) --were the first white musicians to learn classic Chicago blues and bring it to a wider audience, including the Newport Folk Festival (where Bob Dylan famously “went electric” backed by Goldberg on keys) and to Woodstock (where Mandel played with Canned Heat).

Accolades for these influential Chicago musicians flowed throughout the Born In Chicago film trailer (which got its title from a song penned by Nick Gravenites for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band). No less than Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Keith Richards, Hubert Sumlin and Steve Miller had words of praise for them. The film is currently being re-edited in Chicago to include more live concert footage and is slated to air on Netflix in the foreseeable future.

The film clip ended, the stage lights came up and the sound of a harmonica was heard from the wings. The excitement in the audience was palpable, after being pumped up by the film. The band took their places as harp blower Rob Stone was joined by Barry Goldberg on keys and organ, Harvey Mandel on guitar, Gary Mallaber on drums and Rick Reed on bass and second guitarist Andrew Diehl. They kicked it off with an upbeat instrumental shuffle to warm up.

Chicago Blues Reunion by Howie
L to R: Nick Gravenites, Barry Goldberg, Rob Stone, Andrew Diehl
photo: Howard Greenblatt

Former Chicagoan Stone, who now calls Southern Cal home, led the next two numbers with his big tough vocals and robust, soulful harmonica playing that was reminiscent of Little Walter.  Goldberg and Mandel each displayed their considerable chops, while the thunderous rhythm section propelled the classic tunes “Blues With A Feeling” and “Gotta Find My Baby.”

Stone then introduced Nick Gravenites, who was given a standing ovation and cheers as he made his entrance. He grabbed the mic and walked about the stage as he gave a dramatic sing/talk narrative to introduce his oft-covered song “Buried Alive In The Blues,” while the band played quietly behind him. Gravenites wrote the song specifically for Janis Joplin to record, but she died before she made it into the studio. The band then launched into the tune as the songwriter belted out the emotion-packed lyrics and shook his fists for emphasis. Janis, no doubt, would have approved.

Nick Gravenites by Greenblatt
Nick Gravenites
photo: Howard Greenblatt

Gravenites sat down for his next number, an original song about the small town where he lives in rural California titled “Since the Gas Station Left Town.” It was a sad blues song about a sad situation with folks so desperate for fuel that they’d “sell their children for a tank of gasoline.” Goldberg’s solo on keys simply soared.

Barry Goldberg
Barry Goldberg
photo: Howard Greenblatt

Nick Gravenite’s last number was the one we were waiting for, his indelible classic “Born In Chicago.” Stone’s wailing harmonica and Mandel’s crying guitar sent the music soaring while the driving rhythm section propelled the song’s intensity and Nick’s gruff voice delivered the message. A standing ovation was given as Nick exited the stage, but promised to return.

Harvey Mandel’s set was especially moving. The guitar virtuoso has faced serious health issues over the last few years and has endured over 30 surgeries, the last one barely over a month ago. From the stage he greeted his doctor who was in the audience and thanked him for keeping him alive. Mandel suffers from a rare form of sinus cancer and his Chicago surgeon specializes in treating it.

Harvey Mandel by Greenblatt
Harvey Mandel
photo: Howie Greenblatt

After that serious moment, Mandel launched into his exotic guitar stylings, filled with his signature string bending, trailblazing neck tapping and note sustaining techniques. The psychedelic instrumental was backed by the thumping rhythm section; Mandel then called for each player to take a solo as Goldberg, Stone, Reed and Mallaber obliged. Mandel grabbed his guitar’s whammy bar and led the band into an eerie version of the gospel classic “Wade In The Water.”  He kept the momentum going as Goldberg played a solemn organ intro to “Christo Redentor” and Stone played along with a plaintive harp melody. Mandel and Stone traded ethereal sounding notes; the band piped down for Mandel’s dramatic big finish. It was a breathtaking set that certainly left some with a lump in their throat.

Harmonica virtuoso Sugar Blue and bassist Ilaria Lantieri (a.k.a. Mrs. Sugar Blue) were introduced by Stone as he and Rick Reed exited. The sound of Blue’s harp echoed from the wings as he strutted onstage, playing Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” Ilaria swayed and laid down the bottom behind him. Blue moved to the front of the stage for a multi-octave, reed blowout solo. Goldberg and rhythm guitarist Andrew Diehl got in nice solos, as Blue pulled out another harp from his iconic bandolier and signaled to the drummer to step it up. He finished with a mesmerizing solo that earned a robust standing ovation.

Ilaria Lantieri
Ilaria Lantieri
photo: Howie Greenblatt

Ilaria kicked off the next tune with the familiar bass line for the Rolling Stones “Miss You,” which got us boppin’ in our seats. As she danced and dipped the neck of her guitar, Blue belted out the lyrics and blew out those indelible notes that helped make this song a classic hit for the Stones. It was an exhilarating treatment of a great song that earned another standing ovation.

After a break, the band assembled back onstage at 9:50 p.m. Rob Stone sang and played a dynamic and bouncy version of Little Walter’s “I’m Just Your Fool,” a tune famously covered by the Rolling Stones on their latest CD Blue and Lonesome.

Rob Stone by Greenblatt
Rob Stone
photo: Howie Greenblatt

Nick Gravenites returned, as promised, to sing “Fantasy World,” a tune he wrote in memory of Bloomfield, Butterfield and others, who lived fast and died too young.

Nick then led the band for a rousing version of the rockabilly nugget “Drinkin’ Wine,” that even got bassist Rick Reed up to the mic to sing “wine wine wine, spo-dee-oh-dee.” Nick gave Harvey a hug as he exited to a standing ovation.

Nick Gravenites & Harvey Mandel by Howie
Harvey Mandel & Nick Gravenites
photo: Howard Greenblatt

Mandel played all up and down the neck of his flame colored guitar, as Mallaber chugged away on drums, to “Freak of Dawn,” a sonic excursion that was freaky indeed.

Sugar Blue by Roman
Sugar Blue
photo: Roman Sobus

Sugar Blue and Ilaria returned for “Bad Boys Heaven,” a traditional Chicago blues tune set to a slinky beat by Ilaria on bass. Blue quieted the band to play a majestic solo, and then “kissed” his harp -- a clever technique. He called on Mandel to assist, and he played a killer guitar solo. Blue stepped out for another thrilling solo that had us roaring our approval. He moved right into Sonny Boy’s “Don’t Start Me To Talkin’” and brought the house down.

The entire ensemble assembled on stage for the finale, a rollicking version of “Sweet Home Chicago,” that featured a harmonica duet between Stone and Blue, a furious solo by Mandel and some hot licks from Andrew Diehl, who was smiling like a kid in the candy store.

Andew Diehl
Andrew Diehl
photo: Roman Sobus

The show ended at 10:30 p.m. in the Arcada Theater, but an “after show” panel discussion ensued on the third floor in the Club Arcada Speakeasy. As loyal fans loaded into the elevators, the Chicago Blues Reunion alumnae assembled onstage, seated in chairs to ready to reminisce and take questions from the blues fans.  They proved to be lively raconteurs who kept the audience thoroughly engaged.  Timm Martin and John Anderson spoke about the new version of their film Born in Chicago which is in the final editing stage to include “less talking heads and more music.”

Chicago Blues Reunion in Club Arcada by Roman
L to R: Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel, John Anderson, Barry Goldberg, Timm Martin
photo: Roman Sobus

Barry Goldberg reminisced about how Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf kindly and gently taught a group of daring underage white teenagers about the blues, lessons that have remained the cornerstone of all their lives and careers.

Nick Gravenites recalled his days as a student in the same remedial high school as Goldberg and Bloomfield where they were bound together by the blues. Thanks to a kind teacher (“she was a vivacious redhead”) who recognized Nick’s talent as a writer, he was able to enroll at University of Chicago on the South Side. Here is where he first encountered Muddy Waters playing at Pepper’s Lounge, which became his new hangout and gave him plenty of wild tales to write about.

Harvey Mandel spoke about another club, Curly’s Twist City, where he was first taken by Sammy Fender. There, he got to jam with Buddy Guy “hundreds of times” and witness plenty of “head cutting” competitions. He also related the amusing tale of his “first toke” at age 15, courtesy of Barry Goldberg.

Thanks to this Chicago Blues Reunion, parts 1 and 2, the satisfied audience went home supplied with plenty of great new memories of their own.

To see more photos, visit our FB page 


rambler.jpg lynnejordan.jpgLynne Jordan