Chicago Blues Festival 2013: Shemekia Copeland, Bobby Rush, Irma Thomas and more

Chicago Blues Festival 2013: Shemekia Copeland, Bobby Rush, Irma Thomas and more
Shemekia Copeland

Another sign that there will be a summer in Chicago this year: The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has just announced the headliners for the 30th Annual Chicago Blues Festival. The festival which runs Thursday, June 6 through Sunday, June 9 is a free admission event.

Blues Fest kicks off opening night for the first time in Millennium Park at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Shemekia Copeland will headline the evening with special guest, blues guitar prodigy and Buddy Guy collaborator Quinn Sullivan. The evening will begin at 6:30 p.m. with openers Fernando Jones' Blues Kids of America followed by Jamiah on Fire & the Red Machine.

On Friday, June 7, the fest moves to Grant Park for the rest of the weekend (through Sunday, June 9) where acts will appear on five stages: The Petrillo Music Shell, Bud Light Crossroads Stage, Pepsi Front Porch, Mississippi Juke Joint and the Windy City Blues Society Stage.

This year's festival is "Rollin' Up the River" to celebrate the blues with a musical journey up the Mississippi River. During the great migration from the south in the 1940s and 1950s, the "delta blues" landed in Chicago establishing the genre's electric guitar sound known as the "Chicago blues" style.

The voyage will start in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mississippi on Friday; then continue on to Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri, on Saturday; ending in Chicago on Sunday, where the blues electrified the world.

Friday's Highlights: New Orleans and Mississippi

The journey up the Mississippi begins in Grant Park at the Petrillo Music Shell at 6 p.m. with blues great Earnest "Guitar" Roy. Spun from the Clarksdale, Mississippi, blues tradition, Roy was influenced by his father, Earnest Roy, Sr. and mentor Albert King. From his early beginnings at the age of five, Roy has emerged with a sound all his own carrying the torch onward to new audiences.

Taking the stage at 7 p.m. is the legendary Irma Thomas, the "Soul Queen of New Orleans." Thomas is celebrating 50 years in the music business and is the perfect kick-off to a weekend of blues. Throughout her career she has had a string of hits that included "Time is on My Side" which was later recorded by The Rolling Stones. In 2005 her home was destroyed by hurricane Katrina, inspiring her 2006 album After the Rain which went on to win a Grammy(r) for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

At 8:30 p.m. Mississippi blues man Bobby Rush will bring his "folk funk" to the Petrillo stage. His unique style brings together blues, soul and funk making him one the most colorful performers on the contemporary chitlin' circuit. With his first hit in 1971, "Chicken Heads," followed by "Bow Legged Woman," the multi-instrumentalist Rush is going strong, bringing his rollicking show to blues fans everywhere.

Saturday Highlights:  Chicago by way of Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri

Saturday night rolls in with Ronnie Baker Brooks at 5 p.m. Chicago native Brooks' music is steeped in the Memphis music scene, having recorded primarily in the Mississippi River town throughout his career. His soon-to-be-released project was recorded at the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis where iconic soul hits were spawned. Brooks is a true "son of the blues" having played with his father, the legendary Lonnie Brooks. He is an acclaimed singer, songwriter in his own right. His passionate playing and monster guitar sound underscores why his soul, blues sound (with a hint of R&B) makes you want to sing the blues.

The internationally acclaimed gospel, soul and blues artist Otis Clay and the Platinum Band follows at 6:30 p.m. with what promises to be an arousing and inspiring performance. From his recent release, "Truth Is" on his own Echo label, to his best known recordings with Memphis based Hi-Records, the album I Can't Take It and singles "If I Could Reach Out" and "Try to Live My Life Without You," Clay has spent more than 50 years in the music business. Joining Clay is St. Louis, Missouri, soul blues artist Uvee Hayes. Her unique vocals combine classic blues with an urban edge to her captivating lyrics.

Saturday night closes with The Memphis Soul Revue starring The Bar-Kays with special guests Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice at 8:10 p.m. The famed Memphis-based Stax Records recording artists take the stage showcasing their array of soul and R&B hits that defined an era.

Memphis band The Bar-Kays rose to fame in the 1960s and 70s as a soul, funk and R&B group with hits like "Son of Shaft" and "Soul Finger."  American soul man Eddie Floyd is a singer and songwriter who created the monster hit "Knock On Wood" with Wilson Pickett. Sir Mack Rice completes the evening's trio of soul. One of his best-known singles is the all-time classic, "Mustang Sally."

Sunday Highlights:  Sweet Home Chicago

Opening an evening with the blues sounds from the "windy city" at 5:30 p.m. is Delmark artist Shirley Johnson. As a Chicago blues queen, Johnson was influenced by the greats including Mahalia Jackson, Etta James and Koko Taylor which allowed her to develop her own gritty, soulful and smooth music.

Premier Chicago blues artist Jimmy Johnson will take the stage at 6:35 p.m. offering festival attendees a unique performance from a living legend. Since his 1978 contribution to Living Chicago Blues, Volume 1 with Alligator Records, Johnson has garnered international acclaim because of his soulful guitar and vocals.  Having also recorded for Delmark, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, Johnson's style aims to please all audiences.

The festival finale is a show stopper at 8 p.m. with Chicago Blues: Old School, New Millennium featuring James Cotton, John Primer, Billy Branch, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, Lil' Ed, Deitra Farr, Demetria Taylor, Matt Skoller, Billy Flynn, Johnny Iguana Felton Crews & Kenny "Beedeyes" Smith. James Cotton performed at the first Chicago Blues Festival in 1984 and this extraordinary set provides testament of the tradition and artistic genius that has established Chicago as the true "Blues Capitol of the World."

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