The 31st annual Chicago Blues Festival weighed heavier this year with the death of Koko Taylor, the powerhouse singer, hitmaker and GRAMMY-winner who died in early June, a week before opening night.
“She truly was the queen, wasn’t she,” mused blues harmonica player Billy Branch on the stage of Buddy Guy’s Legends, the site of a blues festival kick-off party hosted by the Midwest chapter of The Recording Academy. The party showcased the multiple generations that represent Chicago’s current blues scene, plus doubled as a fundraiser for the Recording Academy’s outreach programs. Attendees signed up for silent auction items ranging from a signed poster by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy to a back catalog of titles from Chicago’s Alligator Records.
Carole and John Par drove several hours from their home in Wisconsin to attend the showcase, which was also their first time at Legends. “This is fabulous,” said Carole Par. “We’re coming back.”
Taylor was laid to rest the same night the music started in Grant Park, where she gave a rousing performance just one year earlier. The crowd at Legends received a preview for the weekend, which included sets from new generation guitarist Nick Moss and his band, Billy Branch, singer-songwriter Michael McDermott and even Mexican folk ensemble (and GRAMMY-nominees) Sones de Mexico.
Veteran keyboardist and GRAMMY-winner Pinetop Perkins, who honed his skills playing with Robert Nighthawk and Muddy Waters, played a set of boogie woogie blues, including the Waters staple, “Got My Mojo Working.” At age 95, he pounded keys with vigor while also providing elegant fills.
The night also had a bonafide rock star in the house: Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen sat in with Brother John and his band to riff on Trick classics, including soliciting a guest vocalist from the audience to do the honors on “I Want You To Want Me.” He cracked jokes and sprayed the club with guitar picks. With club owner Guy watching from his seat at the bar, the night made everyone present feel at home.
By Mark Guarino
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