Friday, June 8, 2007

Chicago Blues Festival - Day 2

This was a really awesome day. The theme of the day was the 30th anniversary of the appearance of the Son oF Blues at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Appearances from numerous different acts that appeared in Berlin back in 1977 were featured. Also featured throughout the course of the day were members of the Sons of Blues and there own bands.

Needless to say, it was an awesome day of music which concluded with a two hour performance led by Billy Branch and featured over two dozen guests.

I started out the day by catching the Blues In The Schools set on the Front Porch stage which was led by Billy Branch and featured children from the Delta Blues Museum. This was a really cool set. It featured some performances by some really talented kids that possess skills and soul that surpass people many years their senior. They were supported by the Reverend Larry Blades and Super Chikan alumnus, Daddy Rich who also appeared later in the day during the Clarksdale Delta Blues Museum set.

Next up, I made my way down the street to catch Carl Weathersby. He's one of the few people that can make a performance in front of an audience of thousands seem intimate. Carl was in fine form. He sounded really strong as he worked his way through several original tunes and some not often heard Albert King numbers. His band was super tight featuring young Corey Dennison (guitar/vocals), Calvin "Skip" Gaskin (bass) and Leon Smith (drums). They put on an excellent show including dancing in unison which didn't appear to be an easy feat considering none of them was wireless.

I walked back down Jackson Blvd to catch the last part of a fine set by JW Williams & the Chi-Town Hustlers. Along the way, I made a quick detour to catch part of Ken Saydak's solo set. He was sounding really good.

It had been a long time, since I had seen JW Williams. He's a strong singer and always has a good band working with him. This was no exception. He was backed by Shun Kikuta and a number of other solid players many of whom have been aroudn the Chicago scene for years.

I walked back down Jackson Blvd for the millionth time (or so) to catch the next set which included Mighty Joe Young, Jr and Mighty Joe Young's grand daughter Chontella Rose. This was a really cool set. Chontella Rose has a tremendous voice. I really enjoyed her singing and she has fantastic stage presence.

Mighty Joe Young Jr was excellent. His set was pretty freaky. He sounded a lot like his father who I had seen a few times over twenty years ago. Sometimes, the sons of legendary performers appear to forcing themselves to sound like their famous predecessors. Mighty Joe Young Jr came across as himself and in no one's shadow.

I hightailed it down Jackson Blvd to catch most of the Harrington's set. Vernon (bass) and Joe (guitar) Harrington were an unexpected treasure. I knew that they go back a long way and are members of the infamous Harrington family, which include such legendary figures as the Reverend HH Harrington (founder of the Atomic H label), Eddy Clearwater and Carey Bell. I had never seen them before, but they delivered some very old school, traditional raw Blues from the West Side of Chicago. This was a very excellent set. These guys need to be recorded!

They were backed by a very solid drummer named Sambo who also was a good singer. Additionally, he imitated a amplified harmonica quite well. Well enough to be humourous and entertaining. They were joined by a fantastic vocalist named James Kinds and by Larry Taylor. They attempted to coax Johnnie B Moore to the stage, but were unsuccessful. I saw him walking around behind the stage. He was a little stiff walking around, but it was really good to seem him.

Next up. The quandry of the day. Carlos Johnson or Lurrie Bell. I decided to do both.

I made my way quickly down Jackson Blvd to catch the first part of Carlos Johnson's excellent set. Backing him was one of the Ironmen of the Chicago Blues Festival, Roosevelt Purifoy. He was everywhere. He backed Mighty Joe Young Jr, Carlos Johnson and several others during my three day excursion.

Carlos sounded excellent as he always does. He's a bad ass guitar player and singer. He's also one of the most under-recognized guys on the Blues scene anywhere. His music is rough and tough. He's always worth seeing.

I went and caught Lurrie Bell's set. I hadn't seen him perform in a long, long time. He sounded great. He's a fabulous singer and guitar player. He played a great set of really traditional Blues. He was supposed to appear with his legendary father, Carey Bell, who had recently passsed away. On this night, he was joined by Matthew Skoller and his harp playing brother, Steve Bell.

When Lurrie Bell is on, he's nothing short of great. Legendary. His set was great. It was filled with traditional Blues and some excellent original tunes written by Matthew Skoller.

Skoller is an excellent harp player. He's superior to many of the current crop of people considered to be among the best. on the instrument.

After this set, I got into the queue to get into the seating area at the band shell to catch the shows on the historic stage that has featured some of the finest Blues talent to have ever walked the Earth.

That was the past. This evening was about the past, present and the future of the music.

Johnnie Mae Dunson was joined by her son, Jimi "Prime Time" Smith and a big band . She has been performing since the 1940's and she sounded fantastic. She was brought out on the stage on a wheelchair and delivered a very powerful set singing some of her tunes that went on the be big hits for artists like Jimmy Reed.

Next up was a two hour extravaganza show marking the 30th Anniversary Reunion of the Sons Of Blues led by Billy Branch. This group, originally featuring the sons of famous blues musicians, formed at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1977 and has since gone through many lineups and traveled throughout the world.

Performing during the course of this set were:

Ariyo, Lurrie Bell, James Bell, Steve Bell, Billy Branch, Nick Charles, Giles Corey, Freddie Dixon, Joe Harrington, Vernon Harrington, Carlos Johnson, Minoru, Mose Rutues, Carl Weathersby, JW Williams, the Heritage Horn Section including Gene Barge and some excellent backup singers. (I can't remember their names at the moment.)

Billy kicked off the set with the recitation of a poem by Langston Hughes anf then immediately kicked things into high gear by demonstrating his world class prowess on the harp. He tore through Little Walter's Juke and several of his own songs. He demonstrated fabulous teechnique and showcased his phenomenal tone. He began a process of going introducing each former member of the SOB's before they did one of more of their own tunes.

This show ran for over two hours. It was solid. With more than a dozen musicians on stage at once, there could have easily been a disaster looming on the horizon. It was tight. It was right.

Two hours flew by. I shout about 1500 pictures.

I was dead tired, but not tired enough to not do it all over again in less than 14 hours.

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