The Reader's guide to the 32nd annual Chicago Blues Festival | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

The Reader's guide to the 32nd annual Chicago Blues Festival 

More people turn out for Blues Fest than for Pitchfork and Lollapalooza combined—and here are a couple dozen reasons why, including Syl Johnson, Shemekia Copeland, Clarence Carter, Chick Rodgers, and Buddy Guy.

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Sunday, June 14

Crossroads Stage

click to enlarge Chick Rodgers - ©2012 RICHARD A. CHAPMAN/CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Chick Rodgers
  • ©2012 Richard A. Chapman/Chicago Sun-Times

11:15 AM Chick Rodgers Chicago singer Melvia "Chick" Rodgers is widely praised for her versatility, but even her most ardent admirers couldn't have anticipated her latest project. On the 2014 album This Kind of Love, backed by musicians as varied as Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues ensemble and AACM saxophone master Ernest Khabeer Dawkins, Rodgers remakes herself before our ears as an art-music chanteuse of the first order. Her voice, leathery and scarred yet infused with light, plumbs despair and hope with equal fearlessness; the songs, written by co­producers Gilles Aniorte-Tomassian and Chris Larumbe, have a depth in their lyrics that's worthy of Jacques Brel. If Rodgers continues in this direction, who knows what heights she'll reach. David Whiteis

12:45 PM Holle Thee Maxwell Chicago singer Holle Thee Maxwell is 69 years old, and she's worn a lot of hats in a career that stretches all the way back to her childhood voice training. She focused on soul in the 60s, recording as Holly Maxwell; the Constellation label released the glum, swooning "Only When You're Lonely" and the sweetly mannered "(Happiness Will Cost You) One Thin Dime." She moved to California in the 70s, performed with Ike Turner for a spell, and returned to town in the 80s. She's since rebranded herself as Holle Thee Maxwell, a bombshell with plenty of bluesy swagger. In her recent Blues Festival sets, she's pushed her worn voice to its limits and thrown her entire body into her performances. Leor Galil

2:30 PM Blues Shaking the Fields

4:15 PM John Nemeth

Jackson Mississippi Rhythm & Blues Stage

11:30 AM Panel discussion: Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon

click to enlarge Tawanna Shaunte - AMIN RUSSELL/© NYT PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Tawanna Shaunte
  • Amin Russell/© NYT Photography

1 PM Tawanna Shaunte The variegated style of Mississippi singer Tawanna Shaunte reflects her background and experience—she grew up in a gospel-rich musical family, sang with the band Eclectik Soul, and more recently collaborated with jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson. Her voice is soft-edged but resonant, and she has total control of its supple melisma and large, effortless-sounding range. Lyrically, Shaunte tends toward the uplifting and socially conscious, but she's not preachy—she delivers her meditations on hope, strength, and perseverance with unforced ease, and African-­flavored hand-drum accompaniment connects a very long history to her timely, urgent message. David Whiteis

2:30 PM Tonya Boyd-Cannon

4 PM Patrice Moncell

5:30 PM Jam session with Dexter Allen

Front Porch Stage

Noon Celebrating the centennial of 1915–2015: Round robin with Bill Sims Jr. (tribute to Brownie McGhee), Paul Kaye (tribute to David "Honey­boy" Edwards), and Donna Herula (tribute to Johnny Shines and Rosetta Tharpe)

1:30 PM Paul Kaye Trio

3 PM M.S.G. Acoustic Blues Trio

4:30 PM Heritage Blues Quartet

Petrillo Music Shell

click to enlarge Billy Branch - COURTESY CHICAGO DCASE
  • Billy Branch
  • Courtesy Chicago DCASE

5 PM Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues with special guest Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater No one pushes the blues-harmonica envelope as stylishly as Chicagoan Billy Branch. He has gargantuan chops but always uses them tastefully, leaving the grandstanding for mere mortals. Last year's Blues Shock (Blind Pig), Branch's latest release with his band the Sons of Blues, includes Little Walter-derived shuffles alongside elegant jazz-tinged excursions. Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater, tonight's special guest, was like a mirror image of Chuck Berry in the late 1950s, but the southpaw guitarist transcended that label by adding west-side blues to his rocking attack. He's now one of Chicago's revered blues elders. Branch also plays Fri 6/12 at Kingston Mines and Sun 6/14 at Buddy Guy's Legends; Clearwater also plays Fri 6/12 at Buddy Guy's Legends. Bill Dahl

6:20 PM Willie Dixon centennial tribute featuring Billy Branch, Keshia Dixon, Tomiko Dixon, Bobby Dixon, Freddie Dixon, Alex Dixon, Cash McCall, Sugar Blue, John Watkins, and Andrew Blaze Thomas

8:05 PM Muddy Waters centennial tribute featuring Bob Margolin, Mud Morganfield, Big Bill Morganfield, John Primer, Rick Kreher, Bob Stroger, Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith, E.G. McDaniel, Barrelhouse Chuck, Jerry Portnoy, and Paul Oscher  v

A roundup of afterfest blues shows for folks who can't get enough in Grant Park this weekend

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