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« Jazz giants visit the CSO Chicago Blues Fest Day 3: Reviews »

Review Sat Jun 09 2007

Chicago Blues Fest Day 2: Reviews

XRT host and blues fest emcee Tom Marker made a joke during Friday night's festivities that only in the blues can you be over 50 and still be considered part of the young generation of artists. It's an interesting paradigm, and not altogether untrue. Despite the passing of most of the "first generation" blues stars, blues has been and continues to be a genre whose fans are developed over long periods of time, longer than the entire career of most rock artists. In blues parlance, to make it you have to "pay your dues", gain respect, and eventually you can join the ranks of the artists with broad fan base. This is true enough that it's become cliche, but it also has advantages -- no popular blues artist will ever be "hot" in the way that, say, the Fray are right now, but on the other hand, there's an opportunity for fans to develop a long-term relationship with any blues artist's work, and fandom in the blues features more loyalty than anywhere this side of Cubdom.

The Sons of Blues celebrated their 30th anniversary as a band on the main stage Friday night, with a two hour long retrospective featuring guest appearances by over half a dozen former band members who have gone on to successful solo careers. Bandleader and harmonica virtuoso Billy Branch made a strong statement with a well-rehearsed and arranged show that somehow managed to capture the intimacy and good spirits of his small-club performances, in front of a huge Petrillo Band Shell crowd. Branch, dapper in a sky-blue jacket and white fedora, strutted around the stage, spun and whirled, directing traffic on an 11-piece band that included a full horn section and a 3-girl backing chorus, all the while blowing ecstatic harp lines over a rolling river of rhythm.

After 3 songs, he tossed the jacket and swung into overdrive, inviting the Bell brothers, Steve and Lurrie, to the stage for a 4-song medley that had the feel of Delbert McClinton's big-band work. After another Bell brother, James, joined on drums, Lurrie stepped to the mike for a slow blues, a thankful respite from the setful of mid-tempo shuffles he had played all afternoon with his own band. As he began the lyric,

So long baby
Oh how I hate to see you go

it became apparent the song was Lowell Fulson's classic "Reconsider Baby", and it gained poignancy from the fact that Bell's wife Susan recently died after a long struggle with lymphatic cancer. Bell took his time with an articulately phrased guitar solo and after finishing the song, sat down with two other former SOB guitarists, Carl Weathersby and Carlos Johnson, for an "unplugged" session with Branch, everyone trading vocals and guitar solos. The crowd was on its feet by this point, and the show was only at its midpoint.

Other highlights included a sweet guest vocal from bassist J.W. Williams on the Al Green signature, "Love and Happiness"; as well as guest turns on guitar and vocals by Weathersby and Johnson. Seeing all this talent on stage at one time reminded me how much of the Chicago blues scene of my lifetime has been in orbit around the Sons of Blues, and how the Sons have seemingly spawned and encouraged yet another generation of artists -- the Grandsons of the Blues, as it were, with younger artists like Fernando Jones continuing the resurgence of blues music's popularity in the black community, where it had fallen out of favor.

This show had the feel of a family reunion, albeit one with an 11-piece orchestra and an all-star cast, sort of "The Last Waltz" without the sad goodbye. The conclusion of the show was an absolutely stunning achievement, where no less than 22 performers joined on stage, we-are-the-world style, for a raucously entertaining version of "Little Brother", an inspirational Albert King Stax number whose lyrics make an apt challenge to youth:

Now, you've got the future, in your hand
Now, don't you be no lazy man
We laid the ground, and made the way for you
Come on and show us that you're proud of us
You have a hard time to get through
But keep on pushin', we're right behind you

Take it on, little brother, and take if further
Take it on, little brother, and make a way

Here's hoping that the gauntlet is picked up by the new young generation of Chicago blues.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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