Out & About: Chicago Blues Fest 2023

Wayne Baker Brooks kicked off the Fest with a solid set of covers and originals, including a nice of version of his dad Lonnie’s “The Crawl”.

Brooks was followed by Bobby Rush with The Blind Boys of Alabama. Rush did a short solo set before The Blind Boys strode on stage and tore the house down! The set ended with Rush on stage with The Blind Boys.

The evening ended with a Tribute to Albert King. Lot’s of great guitar from Rico McFarland, Donald Kinsey, Larry McCray and Carl Weathersby. My favorite moment was Donald Kinsey’s heart felt version of “Drowning on Dry Land”. Kinsey is very weak these days and on oxygen but he has lost none of the fire in his playing. The set ended with everyone on stage to jam, both McFarland and McCray sported Flying V’s.

Highlights from Friday were Mz. Reese, Eddie Taylor’s 100th birthday with The Taylor Family. Jontaviuos Willis, Jimmy Burns, and John Primer with his lovely daughter Aliya. Mr. Primer was handed a plaque in honor of his recent induction into The BMA Hall of Fame in a ceremony before his excellent set.  

Saturday started with Chris Gill & The Soul Shakers. Followed The Rising Stars Fife & Drum Band. They took the audience on trip back to the Delta of long ago. The steady beat of the drums and Sharde’s swirling fife sounds were as intoxicating as a pull of moonshine.

At the Rosa’s Stage I caught Matthew Skoller & Chicago Wind with vocalist Precious Taylor. 

Next up was Wisconsin Blues Music Hall of Fame First Class Inductee Milwaukee Slim backed by an All-Star band that featured Billy Flynn, Bob Stroger and Kenny Smith. Milwaukee Slim put on a great show, nothing new, just straight-ahead Chicago Blues that featured classic ensemble backing. Highlights were “That’s Alright”, “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Tore Down”.

Featured on the main stage were “Chicago’s Last Soul Band”, Joe Pratt & The Source One Band with New Orleans Beau, they put on a very entertaining show. These guys are real pro’s, tight, funky and in the groove and New Orleans Beau is a fantastic entertainer who knows how to work the crowd. 

Demetria Taylor, backed by The Mike Wheeler Band were fantastic. Demetria knows how to work the stage, swirling, twirling and dancing her butt off! She has a powerful stages presence that demands the audiences attention. When Demetria makes eye contact with you and says with authority ”Help Me Sing This”, your ass better be singing! Demetria’s set was heavy on songs from her excellent recent Delmark Records CD “Doing What I’m Supposed To Be Doing”.

The evening ended with a highly anticipated set by Mud Morganfield. Mud was supported by a fantastic band led by Rick Kreher and featuring the talents of Studebaker John and E. G. McDaniels. Mud ended the set by bringing his sisters on stage to sing background vocals on the joyous “Praise Him”.

Sunday was hampered by rain and cold temps. Ivy Ford tore the house down at The Rosa’s Stage. Ivy was followed by The Bear Williams Band and their no-nonsense approach to Chicago Blues. Bear is a bear of a man who posse’s a powerful voice and plays bass and guitar. I caught just a bit of Gerald McClendon’s set, what I heard was some very good, old school Soul with a tight backing.

On the Main Stage Stephen Hull and his outstanding band, looking sharp and sounding even sharper, nailed it! Stephen opened with two very nice originals from his soon to be released debut recording.  Outstanding moments were his version’s of “Big Leg Woman”, “Walking by Myself” and “Caledonia”, in between Stephen worked the stage, playing to the crowd, walking in the crowd, owning the stage. 

The last act at The Rosa’s Stage was in my opinion, the BEST act of the of the entire festival. Simply put Melvin Taylor, as Miles Davis would say is “A Motherfucker!”, a real monster, a real master, a virtuoso. Taylor savagely tore through his set, shredding away. Fluid, melodic, funky. Highlights were the opening number “Traveling Man”, “What Mama Said”, “All Your Love”, “Flooding in California”, ‘So Many Roads”, George Benson’s “Breezin” and a short set ending “Black Magic Woman”. Melvin’s set was absolutely jaw dropping! Wow!

I ended this year’s Fest with Lil Ed & The Blues Imperials. As usual Ed and the fellas sent us out on a high note with some great, genuine house-rocking music!

- Jim Feeney