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Chicago Blues Festival (Chicago, USA)

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A free festival held in Chicago in Grant Park every year - singing and playing blues music.

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      16.09.2012 12:29
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      A great free Blues music festival in a great setting

      Chicago Blues Festival

      This review will be specifically about my experience of the festival in 2012 when we spent the Sunday 10th June at the festival.

      A FREE EVENT
      The Chicago Blues Festival is the largest free blues festival in the world and also the largest of Chicago's Music Festivals. Spread over three days on five stages, more than 500,000 blues fans prove that Chicago is the "Blues Capital of the World." Past performers include Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, B.B. King, the late Bo Did-dley, Buddy Guy and the late Koko Taylor.

      The Chicago Blues festival is still a free annual event held in Chicago's Grant Park close to the lake front. The roads between the park areas are closed and traffic is detoured around the area so that it is one huge festival park with tents and food stalls, drink bars and souvenir stalls.

      FOOD AND DRINK
      There was fairly strict security stopping people taking in any alcohol although I have to say we saw people with huge eskies/coolers full of drinks that were making them far happier than any soft drink i have ever drunk. I suspect they decanted the alcohol into soft drink bottles of similar colour or added the booze to the soft stuff.

      In order to buy food and drink you had to buy festival coupons or tickets and all food and drink was sold in numbers of tickets. In order to buy alcohol you had to show ID then they put an armband on your wrist. Mine was so loose that I could easily have slipped it off my wrist and given it my son or his girlfriend had we chosen too, not that we needed to as they were old enough anyway. It just seemed rather pointless as so much had been brought in and the arm bands were so easily transferable.

      Food and drink was very expensive compared to elsewhere in the city, obviously to make up for the free entry. We bought about $30 of token and had about 3 drinks and a snack. Luckily we had taken plenty of water and there were water fountains around to fill them up with as it was a pretty hot day.

      IN THE SHADE
      The other fortunate and practical thing about the site was that there were plenty of trees around so it was easy to find shade to sit under. We only ventured out in the full sun when we moved from stage venue to stage venue. In fact the really hot sun and lack of shade did slightly effect which stages we spent most time at as sitting out in the blazing sun became rather uncomfortable at one or two of the smaller stages which was a shame as often they had the best music.

      BUD LIGHT CROSSROADS STAGE
      WE started off sitting under a huge shady tree at the Bud Light Crossroads Stage and between around eleven and midday we watched and listened to Demetria Taylor, a Blues singer born into a family of Blues singers in Chicago, daughter of the famous singer Koko Taylor which impressed my husband. She was great full of life and had the most amazing voice. When her set was finished we went for a bit of a look around to see what was happening in other parts of the festival.

      After Demetria this stage had Mary Lane and the No Static Blues Band followed by Charles Wilson and finally Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials.

      MISSISSIPPI JUKE JOINT STAGE
      We walked over to the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage which unfortunately was out in the sun for those watching and listening but we did stay and listen to a very different group called The Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band. This was so different from any Blues I had heard before; they played the fife, sang and mainly played the drums. They were from the Mississippi area originally and their fame has spread and they now play at all the big Blues festivals and have released a number of albums.

      Prior to this band on this stage there was Howlin' Wolf B-Day/Panel Discussion with Barbra Marks, Sterling Plumpp & Dick Shurman then the band we listened to , The Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band and they were followed by Eden Brent then Pat Brown who was followed by Patrice Moncel and the early evening saw this stage hosting the Mississippi Jam Session with Dexter Allen.

      Although the Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band was really good we couldn't manage to sit there too long because it was so hot and in the middle of the day. At this stage we headed for the toilet and to refill the water bottles. On the way we passed one of the official buskers and he had found himself a nice shady spot. We stayed and listened to him for a short time. He was by himself and played a guitar, his music was less bluesy and more to my taste personally but we moved along to find some drinks, food and another spot in the shade.

      PEPSI FRONT PORCH STAGE
      On this one of the bigger stages we didn't visit until later in the day so we missed the Homemade Jamz Blues Band featuring Ryan, Kyle & Taya Perry but we made an effort to get there for Lurrie Bell and his band as my husband was keen to listen to them. We managed to find some shade and sit down behind a huge group of people who had obviously settled there for the duration with a huge cooler full of drinks which were pretty obviously alcohol and they were having a very nice time. My husband was a bit disappointed with Lurrie Bell as he wasn't as raw Blues as he rememebered and was more into the religious Blues which are not really his thing. We stayed an hour or so and then made our way elsewhere. Also on the stage during the day were Omar Coleman and Friends and also Eddie Shaw & The Wolf Gang.

      WINDY CITY BLUES SOCIETY STAGE
      This was a smaller stage but again had little shade for the audience but we did have a listen to Moonlighters on our way through to the Bud Light stage. I was keen to see the Five bands compete in Round 1 of the "Chicago Blues Challenge" but the lack of shade was a bit off putting so we kept going back and forth to have a little look at who was there. Some were excellent and others less to my taste. As we were leaving later on we caught a little taste of Pistol Pete Band as they were finishing up and they were followed by Kilborn Alley Blues Band with special guest Deak Harp and later by Liz Mandeville & Donna Herula Duo but we had had enough by then and were beginning to get a bit hungry.

      PETRILLO MUSIC SHELL
      This is the stage that is a permanent fixture in the park but nothing happened on this stage until the evening beginning at 6pm. Having spent a full day out in the sun and walking around we had really got rather tired and left around the time this one started so didn't see any of the bands on here. It was a shame but there is only so much |Blues one can enjoy in a day On this stage they had a specila set Celebrating Women in Blues with a tribute to KoKo Taylor, featuring Melvia "Chick" Rodgers, Jackie Scott, Deitra Farr, Nora Jean Brusco and The KoKo Taylor Blues Machine Band and they were followed at 7.45 by Mavis Staples. I would like to have listened to the tribute selection but food and drink were calling us and we made our way to get a Chicago Deep pan pizza at one of the original pizza places and have a proper sit.

      WHAT DID I THINK?
      I enjoyed the day even though I am not really a Blues music fan. I like some but the more depressing stuff is not really my thing. I did enjoy Demetria Taylor as she was fun and certainly held nothing back in her performance. The Fife and drum band were certainly not something I was expecting to see at a Blues festival but they were brilliant, very different and once again fun to watch and listen to.

      I thought the setting was brilliant in the park with lots of trees for shade. As you walked around you could enjoy the park and flowers as the music changed when you moved from one stage to the next. I liked the freebies of fizzy fruit flavoured water given by one of the sponsors but they were a bit sweet. We also got mouth organs and a bag of goodies from the Mississippi Blues tent which we brought back for the grandchildren.

      Although the security at the entrances checked my handbag and our bottle of water each time we went through they seemed to have completely missed the huge coolers full of drinks that certainly didn't look like soft drinks to me and judging by the very happy behaviour of those enjoying them, they had something stronger in them. Having said that we saw nobody drunk and nobody being aggressive or unpleasant while we were in the festival.

      When we got back to the hotel we were a bit shocked to see on the local news reports of violence after the festival on the Saturday night. Apparently those leaving the festival were set upon by local thugs and a number were injured. It made me quite glad that we hadn't gone to the festival on the Saturday night like we had planned originally. I think that explained the huge presence of police that we noticed as we left the festival on the Sunday evening. It is shame that such a great free and happy event has to be spoiled by a few nasty groups determined to make life unpleasant for others.

      It has been an ambition of my husband's to get to see the Chicago Blues festival and so i am pleased we managed to time this visit to include it. I think it is fabulous that they can put it on for free and that so many people are able to enjoy the three day festival. If you are in Chicago in June then I would certainly say it is worth a look even if you don't stay all day. It is free so you can go in and out all day if you choose. Or you could see what the line up is and just go for those singers and bands you want to see and hear that is what is so great about a free festival.

      I would also recommend taking plenty of water and refill the bottles at the water fountains. The toilets are okay as they are the ones in the park permanently. There were extra porta loos but we made the trek to the proper ones as I hate the stench from porta loos. The walk also gave us the opportunity to look around the park and see the famous Buckingham fountain which is supposedly the start of the old Route 66. It does give you a great view back to the cityscape of Chicago from here.

      Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.
      ©Catsholiday

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