Sweet home Chicago

Notice to fans of blues and good music, Chicago invites you to June 9 to 12 to celebrate the most popular of black American music. Well fixed in the calendar between the gospel festival and the country festival, the 22nd edition of Chicago blues festival will not present less than 70 artists, among which some legends of the six strings like Buddy Guy or John Mayall. The concerts will take place outdoors in Grant Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. Good news: entry is free for everyone!

Mecca of the blues

Chicago doesn't host America's biggest blues festival by accident. The megalopolis of Illinois has been consecrated the world capital of the blues, since many black American musicians took up residence there from the 1930s. The latter, fleeing the misery and segregation of the South, had gone to try their luck in the chains assembly line in Detroit or the big slaughterhouses in Chicago, with only a guitar. It is in the black districts of this cosmopolitan city, promised land for millions of immigrants, that the Muddy Waters, Howlin 'Wolf and other Elmore James breathed new ideas into blues music. Their records, recorded for the most part under the label of the Chess brothers, would give birth to the "Chicago blues": a current characterized by an electric, saturated sound, a powerful voice and a tonic melody and much more rhythmic than the rural blues of the delta. of Mississippi. By the late 1940s, South Side bars were in full swing, and Maxwell Street quickly became a landmark for the nation's top blues bands. The rest of the story is well known: Muddy Waters vinyl records have toured the world and one of his hits, Rollin 'Stone, ends up inspiring a bunch of young English buddies. And rock was.
So what could be more natural for Chicago than to offer the world a festival worthy of its precious contribution to music? Dozens of concerts, five different stages that welcome the greatest guitarists, pianists and harmonica players from the United States and elsewhere, more than half a million festival-goers in four days ... In 22 years of existence (the festival was founded in 1983, the year Muddy Waters passed away at age 68), the Chicago blues festival has built a solid reputation among connoisseurs. It is now the largest free blues event in the world, and one of the best. Many pilgrims even come from across the Atlantic to offer their eardrums the very best in blues music.

Sacred monsters and the rising generation

It is customary to say that the best bluesmen are the oldest, a bit like bordeaux. The fans will be well spoiled since the 22nd edition of the Chicago blues festival will bring together two myths: guitarists Robert Lockwood Jr and David "Honey Boy" Edwards. The first celebrated its 90th birthday last March, while the second will celebrate its own on June 28th. Suffice to say that the air of Grant Park in Chicago will be charged with emotion when David "Honey Boy" Edwards, the soul of the Delta, will enter the Petrillo Music Shell stage on June 9, followed the next day by Robert Lockwood Jr, disciple of the immense Robert Johnson, on the stage of Gibson Guitar's Crossroads.
On June 11, it's another sacred monster that will distill the good old blues: Buddy Guy, certainly younger than Robert Lockwood and David Edwards, but just as legendary. The man in the denim overalls is one of the heirs to Muddy Waters' Chicago blues trend. On the program: powerful riffs and solos galore. Finally, still in the heavyweight category, it is John Mayall, founding father of the British blues with his group of Blues Breakers (a real springboard in the 1960s for many musicians such as Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac or Mick Taylor) who will be present at Grant Park (June 9 in the early evening). This is his first participation in the Chicago festival. The programmers gave him a little surprise by inviting his former colleague and ex-Rolling Stones, Mick Taylor, for a reunion that promises.
Saturated with scratches? The festival welcomes this year two of the most beautiful female voices of the blues: Koko Taylor (also nicknamed "Queen of the blues", the queen of the blues), whom Buddy Guy once accompanied on the guitar, and the diva Mavis Staples will be at the microphone of the Petrillo Music Shell. See you on June 10 and 12 in the early evening.

As you will have understood, the Chicago blues festival gives pride of place to alumni. But the new wave is not forgotten by programmers. Some forties are also on the bill, such as the talented guitarist Lucky Peterson with very playful music (June 12), or Michael Powers, bluesman and jack-of-all-trades (the 11th). All the festival's programming is available on the Chicago City Hall website, organizer of the event.

Where to listen to the blues in Chicago?

Particularity of the Chicago blues festival, the last concerts of the day usually end early (never after 21:30 p.m.). This allows festival-goers to attend other concerts in the bars of the city. Purists will tell you, nothing beats a little blues in the smoky cellar of an old, old-fashioned bar. During the four days of the festival, many establishments in the city center organize sessions until dawn. Ideal for discovering the new Chicago blues scene.

- BLUES: 2519 North Halsted Street. It's one of the smallest bars in town, but, according to Chicagoans, the best place to listen to some good blues after dark. In general, three sets are scheduled per evening. Allow $ 6 to $ 7 entry. On Sundays, admission to BLUES gives you free admission to Kingston Mines.
- Kingston Mines: 2548 North Halsted Street. Located right in front of BLUES Moreover, it often happens that groups start playing in one to end the evening in the other. It is one of the oldest blues clubs in the city. It is played almost every day, until dawn (4 a.m. on weekdays, 5 a.m. on Saturdays). Very original decoration with murals representing the landscapes of the Southern States.
- Buddy Guy's Legends: 754 South Wabash Avenue. With its gigantic bar-restaurant and billiard room, it is one of the biggest clubs in Chicago. The most frequented too. Factory atmosphere that tends to displease the blues fan in search of authenticity. But the house offers quality concerts. Whenever he gets the chance, Buddy Guy himself comes to play with his friends. On the walls are hung the guitars of the most famous bluesmen of the country: those of Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters but also the legendary Fender Stratocaster of Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan.

To go further, blues buffs can head to Maxwell Street, an artery that once looked like Bourbon Street (New Orleans) or Beale Street (Memphis). Unfortunately, there isn't much left from the heyday of Chicago blues. Most of the historic houses are abandoned and threatened by municipal bulldozers. The Sunday flea market with its vinyl sellers remains however. Also check out the Chess Records recording studios at 2120 South Michigan. Mythical place: this is where the biggest names in the blues passed. The visit is free.

Where to sleep in Chicago?

- Hostelling International Chicago: 24 East Congress Parkway, tel. 0300. Youth hostel located in a restored historic building. In dormitories, count at least $ 31. Double rooms are $ 120 a night. Friendly and inexpensive.
- Ohio House Motel: 600 North La Salle Street, tel. : (312) -943-6000. Around $ 90 a room. True American motel where you park your car in front of your room. Clean and pleasant.

All the festival program is available on the Chicago City Hall website.

The Chicago blues festival is for free. It takes place inside the Grant park, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, very close to the Loop, a famous downtown district. The first concerts take place from noon, the last ones end around 21:30 p.m. There are five stages spread throughout the park:

- Petrillo Music Shell : main stage for the headliners of the festival.
- Gibson's Crossroads, which mainly hosts Chicago musicians.
- US Cellular Front Porch Stage, where you can enjoy, lying on the grass, the best sounds of the Mississippi Delta.
- Juke Joint Stage, for acoustic sessions.
- Best Buy Showcase Stage, for younger (or older!) bluesmen.

Alongside the concerts, screenings, exhibitions, conferences and introductions to the blues are planned inside the Route 66 Roadhouse stand.

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