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Eight Hot Acts to See at the Chicago Blues Fest

Four days and nights of blues start today in Chicago. Here are eight sure bets.

photo: courtesy of bobby rush

Bobby Rush plays the Chicago Blues Festival on Friday night at 8:30.

This year’s Chicago Blues Festival leans heavily on soul acts, a reflection of the ever dwindling number of the blues elder practitioners. Fortunately, there still are enough old hands and young guns to provide plenty of worthwhile music. It’s also good to see the festival returned to a four-nights length again. Here are the top picks most worthy of your attention.

Shemekia Copeland
6/6 at 8
Widely regarded as the blues’ brightest young hope, the 33-year-old Copleand ranges from smoldering soul ballads and roof-raising gospel. She’ll be joined, in part, by the 14-year-old blues guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan.

John Primer
6/7 at 4:30
The guitarist in the late blues legend Muddy Waters’ last band, Primer upholds the tradition of classic Chicago blues with the romping rhythms in his music. His stinging guitar licks were most recently displayed on his strong new record with harmonica player Bob Corritore, “Knockin’ Around These Blues.”

Blues Jam with Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith
6/7 at 6
The son of the late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, the longstanding drummer in Waters’ band, Smith has become the linchipin of the blues festival in recent years backing multiple sets throughout the event with his vigorous, deft drumming.

Earnest “Guitar” Roy
6/7 at 6
A comparatively young bluesman (he’s 54) born in the blues epicenter, Clarkesdale, MS, Roy started out playing with his guitarist father, who himself worked with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, and legendary Albert King. His own music, showcased most recently on his 2011 record Going Down to Clarkesdale, pairs an agreeably easy-going singing style with bristling guitar work. Petrillo Shell.

Irma Thomas
6/7 at 7:05
Officially decreed the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Thomas has cut numerous classics, including a version of “Time Is On My Side,” that inspired the Rolling Stones’ copycat version. In her later years, she’s brought a gentle touch and slightly husky timbre to her elegant brand of soul.

Bobby Rush
6/7 at 8:30
A longtime staple on the chitlin’ circuit, Rush (pictured—not to be confused with the Chicago congressman) traded the bawdy funk-soul style that’s been his longtime trademark for a more traditional (though still supremely funky) blues sound on his new record, Down in Louisiana.

Jimmy Johnson
6/9 at 6:35
A staple on the local blues scene since the 1970s, Johnson combines one of the sweetest voices in the blues with his lean, biting guitar playing.

“Old School, New Millennium,” with James Cotton, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Billy Branch, Lil’ Ed, and others
6/9 at 8
The festival concludes with a high note—legendary harmonica player James Cotton is joined by equally talented harmonica player Branch, guitarists Clearwater and Lil’ Ed, and an able cast of supporting players, including the indispensible Kenny Smith.
 

June 6 through June 9 at Millennium Park and Grant Park, choosechicago.com; Free.

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