The Chicago Blues Festival is this weekend, June 13 – 15, 2014. I think the summer festival season is one of the best things about Chicago. Some might argue it's the championship teams: the Bears, White Sox, Bull and Blackhawks. Some may brag about the city’s impressive skyline or premiere lakefront location. A few might say it’s Chicago style deep dish pizza or a Chicago Dog, with onions, relish, mustard, a pickle on a sesame seed bun. But Chicagoans just survived the Chi-berian winter of 2014. It was a relentless five months of endless snow shoveling, ice scraping, pot-hole dodging and frigid temperatures.
It’s time to put on the shorts and flip flops and get into the sun at one of Chicago’s numerous music, art, food and book festivals and street fairs. Why is it the best thing? Because it’s all free and its all wonderfully entertaining.
The season kicks off with the Chicago Blues Festival on June 13- 15, 2014. Chicago Blues Festival is held downtown in Grant Park. It is the largest free blues festival in the world with artists performing on five stages over three days for over 500,000 fans. People will spread out across the park like an endless blanket of ants. Locals know to bring a picnic basket packed with food, beer and wine, and portable chairs to enjoy the show from the lawn. Tourists will likely stand in long lines and buy overpriced meals from the few food vendors. A few hundred lucky people will have tickets for the seats for the main stage pavilion. The rest of the crowd will wander from stage to stage checking out the wide variety of acts.
The Blues Fest was founded by Lois Weisburg, Commissioner of Cultural Affairs. The first show in 1984 celebrated the life of Muddy Waters, considered the "Father of Chicago Blues," who had died just a year earlier. The festival is a celebration of the men and women who live their lives playing and singing the blues. Chicago has a long history with the blues celebrated in numerous blues club like Buddy Guy’s Legends, Blue Chicago and Kingston Mines that are popular throughout the city. Alligator Records, an independent Chicago blues label, that has produced over 250 albums, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011.
This year Bettye LaVette headlines the Blues Festival Saturday night show at the Pavillion. She's recorded multiple hit songs and has been performing for decades in clubs; but her career didn’t really take off until after she turned age 60. Her memoir titled, A Woman Like Me, is an unfiltered look at her life in the shadow of stardom. But that all changed with her unforgettable performance for President Obama’s pre-inaugural concert. It re-booted her career and set her on the path to her own celebrity star. We get a hint of LaVette’s personality from this quote from her book, "I know everybody in Detroit over 50. No matter how rich or poor they may be, I’ve seen ‘em drunk or broke or nekkid; sometimes all three."
Other headliners over the weekend include the Otis Taylor Band, Willie Clayton and Theo Huff. But there are many great acts on other stages, including Chicago native, Fernando Jones, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Aaron Neville.
The summer festival season closes with the Chicago Jazz Festival Labor day weekend. In between the kickoff and the close there will be, Dancing in the Park, Gospel Fest, Book Fairs, neighborhood street fairs and the granddaddy of food festivals—Taste of Chicago. Let the good times roll.
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