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Mavis Staples to headline 35th annual Chicago Blues Festival!

February 12th, 2018

Mavis Staples

Experience Chicago’s blues music legacy at the 35th Annual Chicago Blues Festival happening June 8–10 in Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St.). The Blues Festival will spotlight the great Chicago-born music tradition with live performances by the genre’s leading artists at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the city’s premier outdoor music venue. The headliners performing at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion over the three days include: Corey Dennison Band; Mississippi Heat with Billy Flynn and Giles Corey; Special Tribute to Bob Koester and the 65th Anniversary of Delmark Records; Selwyn Birchwood; Willie Clayton; Little Walter Tribute; Fantastic Negrito, Kenny Neal and Mavis Staples (pictured right). The full schedule will be announced later this spring.


“The City of Chicago is committed to celebrating Chicago’s music legacy – specifically the city’s rich blues history and its contributions to house, gospel, hip-hop, R&B, rock and other music genres,” said Mark Kelly, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE). “Celebrating 65 years of Delmark Records and closing with Chicago’s music legend, Mavis Staples are two of many ways the festival will pay tribute to our city’s great music heritage this year.”


Chicago is the birthplace of the urban blues, gospel music, house music and more. In 2018 over three consecutive weekends, DCASE will celebrate the city’s music legacy at the Chicago House Music Festival (May 26), the Chicago Gospel Music Festival (June 12) and the Chicago Blues Festival (June 810) on stage in Millennium Park, at the Chicago Cultural Center as well as in music venues and clubs throughout the city. Chicago is an arts powerhouse and a global destination for music lovers.


Headliners on the Jay Pritzker Pavilion stage will perform from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. each evening.


Bob KoesterFriday, June 8 – Jay Pritker Pavilion

On opening night, the Chicago Blues Festival will celebrate the 65th Anniversary of Delmark Records and the independent label’s founder, Bob Koester (pictured right). After discovering a passion for jazz and blues as a teenager in Wichita, Kansas, Koester made his way to St. Louis University where he joined a local jazz club and eventually opened a string of record shops, including the Delmar Recording Label. After moving to Chicago in 1958, he started Delmark Records in the former Seymour’s Jazz Mart. During the last half of the 20th century, Koester was responsible for recording and releasing some of the world’s finest jazz and blues music.


The festival will offer a lineup honoring 65 years of Delmark Record’s current and legendary blues artists with a Tribute to Those Who Came Before and Bob Koester. Blues artists will honor their mentors with tributes to Sleepy John Estes by Corey Dennison and Gerry Hun, Big Joe Williams by Jimmy Burns, Roosevelt Sykes by Ken Saydak, Willie Kent by Guy King, Jimmy Dawkins by Billy Flynn and Linsey Alexander, J.B.Hutto by Lil’ Ed and Dave Weld, Big Time Sarah by Demetria Taylor and Tomiko Dixon, Carey Bell by Lurrie Bell and Steve Bell, Magic Sam by Jimmy Johnson and Dave Specter, Junior Wells by Omar Coleman and more.


Delmark Record’s recording artist Mississippi Heat is a Chicago Blues band led by harmonica master and songwriter Pierre Lacocque. The band’s inspiration comes from Mississippi’s blues culture and music and their conviction that there is no deeper music than Delta-inspired blues to express what lies in everyone’s soul. They will be joined by special guests, blues guitarists and Delmark recording artists Billy Flynn and Giles Corey.


Also part of the Delmark Records family, the Corey Dennison Band will open the evening’s performances. Dennison honed his guitar skills for 12 years as a sideman to Carl Weathersby, sharing the stage with such musical greats as The Kinsey Report, Robert Blaine, Chico Banks, Jimmy Johnson, Robert Randolph, John Mayer, Lurrie Bell and Buddy Guy. The Corey

Dennison Blues Band debuted in Chicago in early 2013 and soon released Live in Chicago.


Little WalterSaturday, June 9 – Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Marion Walter Jacobs, otherwise known as the legendary blues harpist Little Walter (pictured right) arrived Chicago in 1946 and played a huge role in shaping the city as the blues capitol of the world. From the historic Maxwell Street to the 708 Club, he played with Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmy Rogers, Willie Dixon and joined forces with Muddy Waters in 1948. In 1952, he recorded the historic chart topper, “Juke” at the end of a session with Muddy Waters at Chess Records. The single was a keystone to the Chicago Blues sound. Little Walter passed away in 1968 at the age of 37.


Little Walter’s influence is inescapable in the music delivered by today’s blues harpists. In fitting tribute, many of these great harp players will gather for the evening’s final set, a Little Walter Tribute, featuring: Billy Branch, Billy Boy, Arnold, Corky Siegel, Rick Estrin, Sugar Blue, Magic Dick and others.


Willie Clayton began performing gospel music in church settings as a youngster and since the 1970s has become one of the greatest, gritty R&B and soul artists of his generation with a career spanning more than 40 years. He has received mainstream success with hits such as “Boom Boom Boom" and “A Woman Knows,” which landed on the Billboard charts.  Considered by critics and fans alike to be one of the last great “Soul” men, Clayton continues to record and perform, and with his most recent album Untamable featuring "Girl I Want Your Body," he has shown he has earned that famed title.


Selwyn Birchwood will kick off the evening with his fiery guitar and gritty, unvarnished vocals. Birchwood is among the top blues artists today. Since the 2014 release of his Alligator Records debut, Don’t Call No Ambulance, he continues to set the contemporary blues world on fire. With his most recent album, Pick Your Poison, Birchwood, along with his band—saxophonist Regi Oliver, bassist Huff Wright and drummer Courtney "Big Love" Girlie—takes a major step forward, crafting visionary blues for a new generation of forward-looking fans.


Kenny NealSunday, June 10 – Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Grammy Award winner and longtime friend of the Chicago Blues Festival, Mavis Staples will close the weekend on the final evening. No stranger to Chicago’s blues and gospel music communities, Staples has been bringing people together across genres and generations throughout her 60-year career, including award-winning work with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and collaborations with music legends like Bob Dylan and Prince. In 2017,Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot’s book I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the Music That Shaped the Civil Rights Era became the most recent One Book, One Chicago selection by the Chicago Public Library. The book recounts the life and achievements of the Staple’s family and their impact on civil rights.


The “Real Deal” Kenny Neal (pictured right) is a second-generation southern Louisiana bluesman and a modern proponent of Baton Rouge swamp blues. His sizzling guitar work, sturdy harp and gravelly, aged-beyond-his-years vocals deliver the blues like no one else. Between 1989 and 1994, he cut four albums for Alligator Records, and in 1991, he had an acclaimed stint on Broadway in a production of Mule Bone performing acoustic versions of Langston Hughes' poetry set to music by Taj Mahal. His critically-acclaimed 2016 album Bloodline was nominated for a Grammy Award and won two Blues Music Awards.


Before Mavis Staples takes the stage, Fantastic Negrito will start the festival’s final evening of performance. a blues musician who has faced challenges in life and found his way back through music will start the festival’s final evening of performances. Growing up in Oakland, California, Negrito faced challenges. His songs are born from a long, hard life channeled through black roots music and brought back by his musical forefathers, the Blues musicians of the Delta.


The Chicago Blues Festival is FREE and open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion will feature headliners from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. nightly. Music begins each day at 11 a.m. at the Budweiser Crossroads Stage, the Mississippi Juke Joint and the Front Porch. The internationally-acclaimed line-up at these stages specifically highlights local and national musicians that celebrate the genre’s rich tradition and heritage.


Leading up to the Chicago Blues Festival, during May and June, there will be several preview performances and film screenings held at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.). The “official” Chicago Blues Festival preview on Daley Plaza will take place Monday, June 4 at noon. 


The 35th Annual Chicago Blues Festival is presented by the City of Chicago and produced by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events along with the following sponsors: Budweiser, Chicago Transit Authority, Visit Mississippi, Southwest Airlines and 93XRT. 


For more information, please visit chicagobluesfestival.us. To plan your trip to Chicago for the Blues Festival, visit choosechicago.com. Join the conversation on Facebook (Chicago Blues Festival) and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ChicagoDCASE (#ChiBluesFest).


Millennium Park – Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Friday, June 8 - 65th Anniversary of Delmark Records Celebration

5:30-6:15 p.m.     Corey Dennison Band
6:30-7:15 p.m.     Mississippi Heat with guests Billy Flynn and Giles Corey
7:30-9:30 p.m.     Tribute to Those Who Came Before and Bob Koester:
Corey Dennison and Gerry Hundt – Tribute to Sleepy John Estes
                                        Jimmy Burns – Tribute to Big Joe Williams
                                        Ken Saydak – Tribute to Roosevelt Sykes
                                       Guy King – Tribute to Willie Kent
                                        Billy Flynn and Linsey Alexander – Tribute to Jimmy Dawkins
                                        Lil’ Ed & Dave Weld – Tribute to J.B. Hutto
                                        Demetria Taylor and Tomiko Dixon – Tribute to Big Time Sarah
                                        Steve Bell and Lurrie Bell – Tribute to Carey Bell
                                        Jimmy Johnson and Dave Specter – Tribute to Magic Sam
                                        Omar Coleman – Tribute to Junior Wells


Saturday, June 9

5:30-6:30 p.m.     Selwyn Birchwood
6:45-7:45 p.m.     Willie Clayton
8-9:30 p.m.          Little Walter Tribute: featuring harp players: Billy Branch, Billy Boy Arnold, Corky Siegel, Rick Estrin,  Sugar Blue, Magic Dick and others


Sunday, June 10

5:30-6:30 p.m.     Fantastic Negrito
6:45-7:45 p.m.     Kenny Neal
8-9:30 p.m.     Mavis Staples