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Granville Blues Fest – July 15-18, 2021

By Lee Ann Flynn

photo: John Primer and youngest fan

Chicago Blues Boosts Black Business:

Granville BID’s 4th Annual Blues Fest

John Primer, Sheryl Youngblood, Toronzo Cannon, Mike Wheeler,

Cash Box Kings, Ivy Ford, NuBlu Band & more

By Lee Ann Flynn (photos & article)

Granville is a multicultural community, home to over 50,000 residents, has many manufacturing and commercial businesses, and is located in the far northwest corner of Milwaukee County, WI. Many people are most familiar with the former Northridge Mall, built in 1972 and closed in 2003, as they drive through the Granville area on Brown Deer Road. What outsiders, like myself, didn’t know, is what a wonderful community Granville is, and how many serious small business owners are successful, even coming out of the COVID pandemic. BID’s 4th Annual Blues Fest BID is the Business Improvement District and they work hard to promote the growth of Granville. Here is a link to their homepage, which includes a map of Granville, businesses, goals, and activities:

Mary Hoehne is the Executive Director for BID, and she made sure that the 4th Annual Blues Fest extra special, to help promote small businesses as well as help the community come together following the year of the pandemic. She has a great team, including security, and she contracted with GeeHive Music Production, to provide sound, lighting, and help with the lineup of great bands. This four day festival ran from 07/15/21 through 07/18/21, at 8633 W Brown Deer Road. The entertainment tent was surrounded to the north and south by food vendors, and the small business vendors had their tents on the east side. This festival was heavily attended by the Granville community, live music fans, and people who wanted to enjoy this festival after a year of not having any music festivals.

What really stood out was how many people were happy to enjoy a variety of good food and great music, while sharing fellowship with their neighbors and making new friends. The entertainment tent often overflowed with people who brought chairs, and the atmosphere was enthusiastic. Everyone got along and really showed what a safe community does to have fun. Sonia, from WMSE’s “Blues Drive,” introduced headliners The Otilia Donaire Band and multiple Blues Music Award winner/two time Grammy Nominee, John Primer. WNOV had several program hosts, including Rhea Riley, Keith Parris, and Mr. Deboe, give away tickets to Milwaukee’s Summerfest and introduce the line up on both Saturday and Sunday. There was a lot of dancing, especially to Carlise Guy and the NuBlu Band, Sheryl & Say Yes!, Mike Wheeler Band, Toronzo Cannon, and DJ Shan from THX Custom DJ Services. DJ Shan was great at reading the audience, by the songs he picked during the band’s performances, based upon the dance floor. We also learned about the future opening of Granville Connection, which is an “Entrepreneurial Hub,” to be located at 8633 W. Brown Deer Road, and will feature a variety of small business owners who will sell their products to the public. I am definitely looking forward for the opening, which may be as early as September, because the small business owners of this community offer some fantastic products for reasonable prices.

The Bands Lloyd Stephens Band Milwaukee’s Lloyd “Silky Smooth” Stephens and his band started the festival off on Thursday and Saturday, with great music, covering a variety of songs by Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Prince, Phil Collins, and more. Lloyd Stephens Band had two keyboardists, a drummer, saxophonist, bassist, guitarist, and Lloyd is the vocalist and percussionist.

The Otilia Donaire Band The Otilia Donaire Band are a blues rock band, and they flew in from San Francisco to perform as the opening night headliner. Their music included songs from Otilia Donaire’s EP “Queen Bee,” including J.D. Miller’s “Sugar Coated Love,” and “Queen Bee” which she wrote with her guitarist, Joe Lococo.

Tonight Only The Tonight Only Band is a fun rock and soul cover band who opened the festival on Friday. Their set list included songs by JJ Grey & Mofro, Tom Petty, The Allman Brothers Band, Stevie Wonder, and more.

Carlise Guy and The NuBlu Band

Carlise Guy and The NuBlu Band came up from Chicago (where they are regulars at Buddy Guy’s Legends), and they performed on Friday and Saturday. BID’s Mary Hoehne told the crowd she considers NuBlu Band as the house band for the Granville Blues Festivals, because they have also performed at BID’s prior festivals. NuBlu’s set lists include classic Chicago Blues covers, from Koko Taylor, to Muddy Waters; Motown and other fun R’n’B covers, in addition to originals. Guitarist Mark Maddox entertained members in the audience as he got off the stage to perform in the crowd. Dan Henley on drums, Larry Williams on bass, and Kenyatta Gaines shared vocals with Carlise, and Sonia Astico sang with them on Saturday. They had a different guest keyboardist each day. John Primer Multiple award winning and two-time Grammy nominated John Primer was Friday’s headliner. The guitar great worked as a sideman and bandleader to Chicago’s blues legends, including Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Sammy Lawhorn, and Magic Slim. If you have seen the film Muddy Waters and The Rolling Stones: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge then you also saw John Primer playing behind Muddy and The Stones. If you haven’t seen it, then what are you waiting for? Performing with John was Steve Bell (harp), Lenny Media (drums), David Forte (bass), and Ronnie Hicks (keys). The Granville community enjoyed John as much as John enjoyed them, especially when he left the stage to play into the audience, including a baby who was very focused on John’s guitar playing. Sheryl & Say Yes! Sheryl Youngblood, a Chicago Blues Hall of Fame inductee, is the hottest blues chick drummer alive, and she’s a favorite on the Chicago Blues scene! She also has an incredible voice and I am not alone when I say she could sing the phonebook. Sheryl & Say Yes! cover a wide range of excellent dance songs, from Bruno Mars to Kool & The Gang. Say Yes! members are Roland Alicea (guitar), Jose Malave (lead vocals and percussion), Antone Montgomery (bass) and Brian James (keys). Let’s just say the dance area was pretty busy with Steppers and couples.

The Cash Box Kings

Headlining Saturday night was Alligator Records Recording Artists, The Cash Box Kings, with members who are deeply rooted in Chicago Blues. The band is co-led by Oscar Wilson (vocals and songwriter) and Joe Nosek (harmonica and vocals). Members include Grammy award winning Billy Flynn (guitar), Grammy award winning Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith (drums), guest Mel Ford (guitar), and John Lauler (bass). Oscar grew up around Chicago and Delta blues giants, including one of his early mentors, David “Honeyboy” Edwards. A young Joe Nosek used to sneak into Chicago blues clubs to learn while watching Junior Wells, James Cotton, Sunnyland Slim, and others. His family relocated to Madison, WI and that was where he was mentored as a performer by Clyde Stubblefield. At fourteen years old, Billy Flynn was outside of a Green Bay blues club where blues legend Jimmy Dawkins was performing. Jimmy stepped outside and saw Billy with a guitar, invited Billy to step inside and play with him, then five years later, Jimmy made Billy a member of his band. Billy’s resume is extensive, including playing as a member of the Legendary Blues Band and backing Beyonce’s performance of “At Last,” on the soundtrack for the ‘Cadillac Records’ movie, which won him a Grammy. Billy was also inducted into the Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Hall of Fame (2018).

Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith was raised in Chicago blues royalty, as the son of his mentor, legend Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (multiple Grammy award winner as the drummer in Muddy Waters’ band, and also recorded with Bo Diddley), and he won a Grammy with his father and Pinetop Perkins for the album Joined at the Hip. Kenny has also won numerous blues music awards and is a mentor to many inspiring drummers. Put all of this together and there is no question the festival audience enjoyed watching and dancing to The Cash Box Kings, even during the competing Milwaukee Buck’s playoff game!

Ivy Ford

Ivy Ford, aka “Chicago Blues Kitten,” is an incredibly entertaining blues guitarist, who gives the audience everything she has, from singing to shredding. She is the full package of an entertainer, and her band includes Dave Axen (drums) and Willie Rauch (bass). Ivy has been mentored by J.B. Ritchie, along with several other Chicago Blues Hall of Famers, and has opened for Buddy Guy at Buddy Guy’s Legends. She also plays piano, bass, drums and saxophone and writes original songs that appear on her four self-released, critically acclaimed CDs. Ivy was a fan favorite at the fest, as the audience flocked to her after she finished performing.

Sheryl Youngblood Blues Band

Yes, this is indeed the same Sheryl Youngblood who performed the evening before with her Say Yes! dance band, except this time she had her blues band with her. Members included Jamie Pastman (keys), DuJuan Austin (drums), Andre Howard (bass) and Luke Repass (guitar). I had to ask DuJuan what it was like to be Sheryl’s drummer, given how incredible she is as a drummer, to which he replied: “I love playing in her band! It’s no problem at all.” DuJuan played barefoot and he is the son of Buddy Guy’s late drummer, Tim Austin. As I already mentioned, Sheryl can easily sing the phonebook. I will never forget what it was like the first time I heard her sing, because I had goosebumps and they did not go away until she finished the song, which was “At Last.” Since that time, I enjoy witnessing other people, like the entire festival crowd, respond to her singing. It’s as if I know a secret, how their minds are about to be blown, and she never disappoints. I looked around and saw jaws drop, leaving mouths wide open, while other people had tears, goosebumps, or both, as she commanded their attention with her beautiful blues voice. WNOV’s staffers could not stop raving about her, and when they learned Sheryl got started singing in church, they requested her to sing something from church. Once again, I gazed around the tent, before grabbing my camera to take more photos, and saw how people were in awe.

Mike Wheeler Band

Delmark recording artists, Mike Wheeler Band, is another Chicago blues band with great musicians. Members include Mike Wheeler (vocals, guitar, and songwriter), Larry Williams (bass), Brian James (keys), and Cleo Cole (drums), and they played originals from their album, ‘Turn It Up,’ including “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” and classic Chicago blues songs. Mike Wheeler is a mentor to so many other blues musicians, is an excellent songwriter, and his enthusiasm for music from a variety of musicians/genres is contagious. What really stood out during this festival performance was how they had as much fun as the crowd, and both were feeding off each other, which caused everyone to feel good about being there. Toronzo Cannon

Headlining Sunday night and closing the festival was Toronzo Cannon. He is an Alligator Records recording artist, and a self-taught guitarist who, until his recent retirement, worked full time as a bus driver for Chicago Transit Authority. His style of electric blues incorporates rock (he is a huge Hendrix fan), while the lyrics he writes are inspired by his lifetime of experiences, especially in Chicago. Toronzo’s songs tell stories that always captivate the audience.

He also has the somewhat unique resume of recording two albums on the Delmark label, and his last two albums on Alligator. His band, known as The Chicago Way, consists of Pooky Styx (drums), Marvin Little (bass), and Adam Pryor (keys). He showed us he has the ability to read this festival crowd, and adapt, because the crowd wanted to continue dancing and partying for the conclusion of the festival. Toronzo had a Soul Train line form on the dance floor, while he had Mike Wheeler join him on stage, and they performed some great dancing covers, which the crowd loved.

Granville Small Business Owners Here are a few of the Granville Small Businesses I had the pleasure of visiting during the 4th Annual Blues Festival. Ainnie’s Sweets

Tonya McCarty, owner of Ainnie’s Sweets, was inspired by her late grandmother and aunt, as she found herself out of work when Milwaukee Public Schools closed their classrooms during the pandemic. Tonya has the recipes her late aunt and grandmother used, from when her aunt was the baker at M&M Lounge and Restaurant. Tonya explained she has tweaked some of the recipes, while her mission is to bring her customers back to the “sweet soul baking, the rich elder taste, to take their mind off whatever they may be worrying about – for the few moments they are enjoying Ainnie’s Sweets.”

By the second day of the festival, people were waiting for her to place her delicious sweets on her table, and continued to flock to her booth until she was sold out! I asked Tonya what this festival meant to her, to which she replied: “This means a lot to me as it brings out a variety of people, who are all coming out of the pandemic and getting their vaccines, to be with each other, and I am also having a great time networking with other vendors.” You do not need to be in Granville to enjoy any of Ainnie’s Sweets because she also ships. (414)522-1950 Bling by Sherrie

Sherrie Cromwell is the independent consultant of Bling by Sherrie, selling jewelry by Paparazzi. She knew this festival was going to be a great opportunity, which is why she had her Chicago friend and associate, Therrie Williams, join her. Paparazzi is a Multi-Level-Marketing company, which is unique in a few different ways, including a 45% profit for their independent owners. The “bling” is attractive fashion jewelry which costs the buyer no more than $5.00 per piece. Sherrie and Therrie offer a variety of ways to buy jewelry from them, including home parties, bridal shows, text parties, and booths, like they had at the festival. This is Sherrie’s third year as a consultant, and she enjoys helping her customers feel confident and empowered by wearing the jewelry she sells. She told me one of the company slogans is: “While $5.00 jewelry will not change the world, we believe those who wear it will.” This festival was meaningful to her: “it brought my community together, out of the house, to interact, enjoy good music. The other vendors around me here became like family, as we watched out for each other, making sure everyone took a break to get something to eat.” (414)514-8017 Natural As Can Be Skin Care Products

Wanda Williams, owner of Natural As Can Be Skin Care Products, understands the importance of taking good care of our skin, including sensitive skin, and this shows by looking at how healthy and beautiful her skin is. She started this business during the pandemic, as she realized the existing choices for customers were limited, because people didn’t want to risk going to stores. While hand sanitizer was drying the fingers and cuticles of many, she created a moisturizing hand sanitizer in several scents, including peppermint, orange, lavender, and eucalyptus.. Wanda explained she makes everything fresh, as she does not keep an inventory long enough for it to age. Wanda also told me: “this festival is an awesome opportunity to meet people, enjoy good music and food, and for customers to have a chance to try my products before buying them.” (414) 368-7000 Palát Catering

Joe Roberson is the Executive Chef and Owner of Palát Catering. Joe and his wife, Cynthia, are dedicated to providing hospitality and fabulous food, and it showed every time I walked by their spot at the festival. Their menu was different compared to all of the other food vendors: Moroccan chicken kabob, Southwestern Grilled Salmon with black bean corn relish in a tortilla, chicken and veggie quesadilla, and for dessert was a delicious pistachio mousse with graham cracker crust and cream cheese. Joe became interested in learning how to be a chef after working as a dishwasher, and was taken under the wing of world renowned European Chef/Owner, Knut Apitz of four star The Grenadiers Restaurant, where he worked in the progression of positions, from line prep to chef, learning European cuisine. He is the first African American to graduate European Chef Training at MATC, and he also trained in Switzerland. His resume could not possibly be any more inspiring, as you can read on their website.

The Roberson’s felt the festival: “meant togetherness, and watching people reminded us of how older people responded to one another in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. This was the type of festival where our moms and dads met and fell in love. There was no rhetoric, no fighting, and everyone was enjoying good food, good music, and dancing. This was so enjoyable, especially after the pandemic.” As a spiritual couple, Joe and his wife believe “What flows from the heart reaches the heart,” and it showed. They cater to weddings, birthdays, business meetings, and other gatherings of any size (no party is too small). (262)309-8276 or (414)617-3300 While we don’t know the 2022 dates for Granville BID’s 5th Blues Festival, we do know we don’t want to miss it! At this point, it is going to be pretty hard to top what we just enjoyed.



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