Chicago Blues Festival 2018

Millennium Park, Chicago

June 8-10, 2018

Baby's first Blues Fest
Vivian Ford Ghera enjoys the music at Chicago Blues Fest
photo: Ivy Ford Ghera (blues women/ mom)

By Linda Cain

Photos: Jennifer Noble & Dianne Bruce Dunklau


The 37th Annual Chicago Blues Fest, held in Millennium Park for the second time after over three decades of being hosted in Grant Park, was not guilty of sophomore slump.

Welcome Improvements included:

Ceiling fans in the sweaty Mississippi Tent, security checkpoints with metal detector wands, better movement flow due to rearranging the placement of beer and food stands.

Rosa’s Lounge live stage, which last year caused massive blockage on the South Promenade passage, was moved to an open plaza on the north side of The Bean, which made for nice visuals and photos. Some of the artists who appeared on the Pritzker stage in the evening stopped by to jam at Rosa’s in the afternoon.

Acts on the side stages didn’t stop at 5:30 like they did in the past, which was a nice option for folks who couldn’t stay late for the Pritzker Stage acts or who didn’t like some of the acts on the big stage.


Missing in Action:

Fernando Jones Kids’ and the Windy City Blues Society no longer have a stage at the fest. When the fest was in Grant Park, each had its own spacious stage which always packed ‘em in. Last year both groups shared a stage in Wrigley Square, on the lower street level of the park. This year, the Front Porch stage has been moved from its former location on the Harris Theater Rooftop Terrace Stage. Unlike the other major side stages, the Front Porch stage has no seating, so it’s SRO shoulder-to-shoulder if you want to see or hear any of the acts. L


New This Year:

Park Grill Stage, located farther away from the action on the west side of The Bean and closer to Michigan Avenue, was a last minute addition that wasn’t in the printed brochure schedule or the DCASE website. Acts included: Tom Holland & The Shuffle Kings, Morry Sochat & The Special 20s, Marty “Big Dog” Mercer, Oscar Wilson & Joel Paterson and more.


Rooftop Lounge replaced the relocated Front Porch stage this year and featured acts like Rockin’ Johnny, Gerry Hundt, Devil in A Woodpile and Vino Louden -- plus a cocktail bar with fruity exotic drinks. And the best food at the fest was Robinson’s Ribs, set up by the entrance of the Rooftop Lounge


As always, blues fans gathered from around the world for a happy reunion during the music-filled three day weekend.

Friday, June 8

Pritzker Pavilion stage

Delmark Records 65th Anniversary

Bob Koester’s venerable blues and jazz label turned 65 this year. To celebrate the landmark occasion, Delmark just released Tribute, A Celebration of Delmark’s 65th Anniversary. The album features newly recorded tracks by current Delmark artists who are paying tribute to the label's past icons who influenced them or have a historical connection with them. The music is heartfelt because of the special connection each of these artists have with those that came before them.

Omar Coleman covers Junior Wells; Lurrie Bell and his brothers cover their dad Carey; Jimmy Johnson & Dave Specter cover Magic Sam; Lil' Ed & Dave Weld cover J.B. Hutto, Demetria Taylor covers Big Time Sarah; Shirley Johnson covers Bonnie Lee; Mike Wheelercovers Otis Rush; Jimmy Burns covers Big Joe Williams; Corey Dennison covers Sleepy John Estes; Linsey Alexander & Billy Flynn cover Jimmy Dawkins; Ken Saydak covers Roosevelt Sykes.

The first evening of Chicago Blues Fest was dedicated entirely to Koester, Delmark and the above artists past and present, plus special guests.


At age 85, the longtime label boss decided to retire from the record business and sold Delmark, along with its subsidiary labels and back catalogue of masters from the 1920s to current, and its Riverside recording studio plus all inventory. Steve Wagner, after working 30 years at Delmark, will stay on as producer, recording engineer and studio manager. The new label execs are Julia A. Miller (President and CEO)and Elbio Barilari (V.P. and Artistic Director). Both Julia and Elbio are musicians and educators. They took the stage during the tribute show to introduce themselves and to assure the fans that under their direction, Delmark will stay the course and remain focused on recording and releasing the best in blues and jazz, both new releases and reissues from the vaults. Meanwhile, Koester hasn’t entirely left the record scene as he continues to operate his record shop Bob’s Blues & Jazz Mart at 3419 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago.

Corey Dennison Band

Corey Dennison Band kicked off the tribute with blues and soul songs from their sophomore Delmark release: Night After Night.


The Memphis style soul of “Nothing’s Too Good (For My Baby),” featured Corey Dennison’s dynamic stage presence, hot guitar licks and soulful, wide-ranging vocals; this got the crowd clappin’ and boppin’ along from the get go.

Dennison’s booming voice and commanding stage presence kept the momentum going, as did second guitarist Gerry Hundt’s killer solos, along with the slammin’ rhythm section of drummer Joel Baer and bassist Aaron Whitter.  A seasoned performer after working with Carl Weathersby for eight years, Dennison likes to instigate choreographed moves with his bandmates, that always gets the crowd excited. And if that weren’t exciting enough, Dennison left the stage to play his guitar in the photo pit and then moved into the crowd for the irresistibly bouncy “I Get The Shivers.” It was only the second song, but the towering, tattooed and pierced bluesman already had the fans dancing and cheering.

Dennison dedicated the next part of his set to recently departed Chicago blues legends Eddie Shaw and Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater. The remainder of the music was short on song titles but long on jammin’ and crowd-pleasing solos by the songwriting team of Dennison and Hundt that also touched on songs by B.B. King and Jeff Beck.

A lengthy, show-stopping version of Tyrone Davis’ soul blues classic “Are You Serious?” closed the band’s show, as the members left the stage one by one, leaving only Dennison and his guitar to play the last notes on his blonde Gibson hollow body. The Corey Dennison Band left no doubt that they are a major force on the world blues scene, as well as a crowd-pleasing festival act that has been earning well-deserved international attention and bookings.

Mississippi Heat

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