One of the highlights of the Chicago Blues Festival weekends the past two years has been the Blues Bus Pub Crawl. Each year, I joined a group of intrepid blues fans who boarded two school buses that headed out to points south and west of the city to experience the blues in the Afro-American neighborhoods of Chicago. These were not the popular clubs that the tourists usually see, but the out-of-the-way neighborhood joints where you can witness the sizzling excitement between the musicians and their faithful fans. I'll never forget the initial experience of the 1992 West Side tour. After driving through endless neighborhoods of vacant brownstones, caged storefronts and the glitter of broken glass, we arrived at JoEtta's New Look Lounge. Not quite sure what to expect, we squeezed into a dimly-lit back room embellished with red wall covering, twinkling lights, tinsel and mirrors. Boston Blackie was in the middle of the floor playing his worn guitar, backed by just a drummer and bass player. It was that loud, rough West Side sound that we heard there and at the other venues, like the Artesia Lounge #2 and the 1815 Club, until 2 a.m. I can still smell the fried fish in the damp night air at the Fulton Fish Market, an institution located at 228 South Kedzie, where a crowd gathers each weekend in the summer evenings. Musicians jam together on a large red platform with names of many familiar bluesmen on the back wall. That night, the Taildragger was groaning, Johnny B. Moore was picking and Little Mac Simmons was blowing with a host of other musicians waiting to be discovered.
In 1992, the crawl slipped into the South Side, first stopping at 2120 South Michigan. This is the modest two-story building where Leonard and Phil Chess recorded Muddy, the Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, KoKo and Bo Diddley from 1957 to 1966. Today, it is the Blues Heaven Foundation, which was the dream of Willie Dixon to have as a center for perpetuating the music he did so much to promote. The Foundation hopes to renovate the building for the Foundation office and for an educational center, which will include recording studios, as well as space for their Royalty Recovery and Music Education Programs.
Unfortunately, there will be no crawl this year, according to Michael Frank, the president of Earwig Records and co-promoter of this three-year-old event. This is because his associate, Felix Wohrstein, will not be assisting him due to his despondency over the tragic fatal shooting of Boston Blackie by the Taildragger. Instead of the crawls, Michael is planning a big bash at Buddy Guy's Legends on Thursday, June 2, featuring many of the Earwig recording artists. The mad man of the keyboards, H. Bomb Ferguson, along with Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport, Aaron Burton, Honeyboy Edwards, John Primer, Sunnyland Slim, Lovie Lee and maybe Big Jack Johnson from Mississippi. What an excuse to leave a day early and start the festival weekend off with a blast.
In May, Earwig is planning to issue some discs by the pianist Lovie Lee and a solo album by Homesick James, with a little help from Honeyboy Edwards. Later, Michael is planning some releases by the harpist Big Leon Brooks and the veteran guitarist Eddie Taylor.
Kentucky will have a respectable number of blues festivals this year. First up is the W.C. Handy Festival at Summit Park in Henderson, Ky. The entire week from June 12 to June 19 will be filled with good music, food and special events.Pen and Brenda Bogert withBilly Bird will be performing Friday, June 17, and theKelly Richey Band will be there Wed., June 15. Pen will also conduct a workshop on Sun., June 12, called the "ABC's of Blues" for people of all ages. More information will follow next month.
The blues is getting watered down at the Waterside Festival to just a music festival affiliated with WGBZ radio station. Over the 4th of July weekend there are plans to bring inDelbert McClinton andJohnny Johnson playing withSteve Ferguson and some of theHeadHunters. The local blues bands will be performing during the afternoons in the acoustical tent.
The Hot August Blues & BarBQ Festival at Kenlake State Park near Aurora, Ky., will be celebrating its fifth anniversary on July 27 and 28. Saturday will feature a review of local and regional bands from 2 p.m. until ? while Sunday will host the bigger names from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. The tentative lineup for the name acts includeKoKo Taylorand The Blues Machine,The Chicago Rhythm and Blues Kings (a.k.a.The Mellow Fellows),The Unknown Blues Band,Big Al and the Heavyweights,Blue Lou and the Accusations,Rusty Spoon Blues Band and theExcello Legends featuringEarl Gains,Rosco Shelton andClifford Curry. The beautiful festival setting is in an amphitheater by the shores of Kenlake. There will be a new bronze sculpture unveiled on Saturday depicting a composite of blues themes.
Finally, the 7th Garvin Gate Blues Festival will roll around again on October 7-9. This year the festival will be a bona fide blues event because the KYANA Blues Society is taking a very active role in booking and staging the acts. The local bands will include the26th Street Blues Band,MR2 Blue,Rusty Spoon Blues Band, theMudcat Blues Band, theMetro Blues All-Stars and theCincinnati Blues Allstars will be the regional acts. To top it off, the headliners will beJr. Kimbrough & The Soul Blues Boys from Holly Springs, Miss., andWillie Kent and the Gents featuringBonnie Lee from the West Side of Chicago. Now that's a blues festival!