The Chicago Blues Festival, like most blues fests, makes commemoration part of its mission as a matter of course. This year a multitude of blues and boogie pianists are on hand to celebrate the centennials of Albert Ammons and Sunnyland Slim, and former sidemen of Howlin’ Wolf (who would’ve been 97 on June 10), Muddy Waters (Wolf’s greatest rival, brought by Sunnyland in 1947 to the label that became Chess Records), and Sunnyland are reuniting for sets in honor of their old bosses.

Perhaps even more significant, the festival is also recognizing the 30th anniversary of the founding of Billy Branch’s Sons of Blues–a long-running incubator of talent and an embodiment of the way the blues tradition can augment a respect for heritage with dynamism and innovation. Among the performers at this year’s fest, J.W. Williams, Lurrie Bell, and Carlos Johnson are former members, and pianist Ariyo is in the band now.

But the fest isn’t just about the past. Soul-blues or southern soul–the style that currently dominates the clubs and show lounges on what used to be called the chitlin’ circuit (as well as most black–oriented radio stations that market themselves as “blues” outlets)–is represented here by the irrepressible Bobby Rush, who’s been active since the late 50s, as well as latter–day performers like the charismatic Willie Clayton and local singer Nellie “Tiger” Travis.

The way they’re juxtaposed, these bookings–some looking forward, others back–might look like yet another product of the endless turf wars between blues purists and blues modernists. But purism and modernism are little more than personal taste dressed up in misguided ideology: artists now considered traditional were groundbreaking in their day, and today’s soul-blues stylists honor the traditions that gave birth to their music even as they reshape them to fit current social and aesthetic realities.

The layout of the festival grounds remains unchanged from last year. The Petrillo Music Shell showcases national acts and top-tier locals. The Mississippi Juke Joint, which emphasizes more intimate presentations, is at Columbus and Van Buren; the Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club, which is mostly pianists this year, is on Columbus between Jackson and Monroe. The Crossroads, at Jackson and Lake Shore, features electric blues; the Front Porch, south of Jackson and west of Columbus, features acoustic and traditional styles. The Route 66 Roadhouse, which hosts panels and workshops, is at Jackson and Columbus. All events are free. DW


Front Porch

11:30 AMBlues in the Schools

Carrying on a Blues Fest tradition, boogie-woogie pianist Erwin Helfer, vocalist Katherine Davis, and guitarist-pianist Eric Noden lead a group of students from Stone Academy in a performance that will no doubt also feature enthusiastic cameos from an assortment of guest stars. DW

1:30 PMAaron Moore

If this pianist hadn’t opted for a dependable day gig with Chicago’s Bureau of Streets and San in the 50s, relegating the blues to his spare time, he might now be as revered as Otis Spann or Johnny Jones. In the decade since his retirement he’s made an enthusiastic return to music, his hearty vocal style and rollicking technique–much influenced by Roosevelt Sykes–still intact. BD

3 PMBobby “Slim” James with Joanne Graham

Bobby “Slim” James, a club stalwart on the south and west sides, puts across his percussive guitar playing and choked, dramatic baritone vocals with a dose of flamboyant showmanship. He’ll perform with singer Joanne Graham, whose winning combination of sass and class lets her sound lusty or tough without getting too coarse. DW

5 PMPhil Guy & the Chicago Machine

Notwithstanding his status as “the other Guy,” at this point Phil Guy is far more of a meat-and-potatoes bluesman than Buddy, and he’s certainly paid his dues–behind his brother, with Junior Wells, even on his own. You can hear both his south Louisiana upbringing and his south-side Chicago panache in his guitar work: he tosses in a little low-down funk now and again, but his lead lines stay blissfully focused. BD


NoonCharles E. Shaw & the Chicago Blues Rebellion Band featuring Lady Sax and Lady Kat

Guitarist Charles E. Shaw can play everything from raw Chicago boogie blues to breezily romantic soul to post-John McLaughlin celestial fusion. His band will be joined by Lady Sax, an alto saxophonist from Gary who plays a solid blend of smooth pop-jazz and boogity funk, and rough-edged south-side vocalist Lady Kat, who does a knockout version of the witty, little-known Gloria Thompson Rodgers number “VooDoo Woman.” DW

2 PMOsee Anderson & Da Blooze Folks

Formerly Lonnie Brooks’s second guitarist, Osee Anderson is equally at home with Delta minimalism and Wes Montgomery-style sophistication. He tends to rely a bit too heavily on pyrotechnics, but when he reins in that bad habit you can hear how committed he is–both to blues tradition and to his own eclectic set of influences. DW

4 PMHoochie Coochie Boys

Muddy Waters always hired stellar sidemen, and this set reunites five of them: harpist George “Mojo” Buford, guitarists John Primer and Rick Kreher, bassist Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, and drummer Ray “Killer” Allison. Local pianist Barrelhouse Chuck will do his best to fill the shoes of the late Otis Spann, and vocalist Muddy Waters Jr., who recently surfaced with plans to follow in his dad’s footsteps, will front the band. BD

Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club

12:30 PMWillis Prudhomme & Zydeco Express

Despite their similarities, Cajun and Creole musical traditions are distinct, and many fans and practitioners are adamant about keeping them that way. Not so accordionist Willis Prudhomme: mentored by Cajun legend Nathan Abshire, he combines bluesy, hectic zydeco with more sedate but no less complex Cajun material. DW

2 PMBob Hall

At least since the trad-jazz revival in the 40s and 50s, there have been plenty of die-hard aficionados of early American jazz and blues in Britain. London pianist Bob Hall plays as though he’s memorized stacks of classic blues, barrelhouse, and boogie records note for note, but his enthusiasm–and his freshly minted variations on vintage themes–help his music sound immediate instead of dated. DW

3:30 PMRenaud Patigny

This Belgian pianist specializes in transcribing early 78s, and for this set he’ll deliver note-for-note re-creations of sides by the great Albert Ammons–despite the poor quality of the source recordings, he says his versions are 98 percent accurate. Those who already distrust the repertory movement among jazz preservationists won’t be thrilled with Patigny’s premise, but his dedication, expertise, and virtuosity make the results worth checking out. DW

5 PMCarl “Sonny” Leyland and Lila Ammons

English pianist Carl “Sonny” Leyland, who specializes in what his Web site calls “obscure and primitive” styles, peppers his re-creations of vintage blues, jazz, and boogie-woogie with irreverent flashes of rockabilly and R & B and occasionally tosses in a wittily conceived original tune. He’s joined here by Lila Ammons, granddaughter of Albert, who sings with classical precision and bluesy gusto. DW

Mississippi Juke Joint

12:30 PMSuper Percy

This coarse-voiced belter and his Soul Clique Band are regulars in south- and west-side clubs and have recently been playing weekend gigs at Lee’s Unleaded Blues. Their energetic sets are mostly the usual Saturday-night fare, but they liven up their selection of blues, soul, and R & B standards with occasional tunes from Percy’s self-released 2005 CD Is It Real. DW

2:30 PMJohn Primer

With his long service in bands led by Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Magic Slim, John Primer is about as well–seasoned as a Chicago blues guitarist can possibly be. A native of Camden, Mississippi, he’s been playing electric blues with his own band for a while, his exuberant vocals and uncommonly fluid leads sticking close to the Chicago tradition. BD

4 PMJimmy “Duck” Holmes

Guitarist Jimmy “Duck” Holmes was mentored by Jack Owens, torchbearer for the so-called Bentonia school of acoustic blues, which is most closely associated with Skip James. Whether such a school existed at the time or was invented retrospectively is open to debate, but Holmes has mastered the primary components of the style: ghostly, high-pitched vocals and languorously picked chords and leads, mostly in an open E or E-minor tuning. DW

6 PMChicago Jam Station with Dave Specter, Aron Burton, and Kenny Smith

This evening the festival’s pro jam session is anchored by Dave Specter, a concise, T-Bone Walker-influenced guitarist who blends Kenny Burrell-style jazz with tough Chicago blues; veteran bassist Aron Burton, a former Albert Collins sideman; and drummer Kenny Smith, whose precise timekeeping owes something to the influence of his dad, longtime Muddy Waters trapsman Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. BD

Route 66 Roadhouse

NoonBoogie Woogie Stomp: Honoring the Ammons Family

Three pianists who performed on the Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club stage earlier today–Bob Hall, Renaud Patigny, and Carl “Sonny” Leyland–discuss boogie-woogie music and its legacy. They’re joined by vocalist Lila Ammons and her father, Edsel, one of Albert’s sons and a retired bishop of the United Methodist Church. DW

2 PMSoul-Blues: The Lifeblood of the Blues Today

moderated by

Larry Hoffman

RThe style known as soul-blues or southern soul–which has its roots in R & B, 60s deep soul, and the smooth, swinging 12-bar blues pioneered by the likes of T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, and Bobby “Blue” Bland, and these days draws increasingly on rap and hip-hop–not only continues to thrive in the south but has made plenty of converts outside it (a showcase at Arie Crown earlier this year sold out). This discussion features songwriter Bob Jones; singer Willie Clayton; Rip Daniels, owner of powerhouse Mississippi soul-blues station WJZD; and Julius Lewis, the Memphis promoter who put on the Arie Crown concert. DW

4 PMCentennials Memorial

Jim O’Neal of Living Blues magazine, Michael Frank of Earwig Music, and writer-producers Bob Porter and Larry Hoffman reminisce about the festival’s centennial honorees, Albert Ammons and Sunnyland Slim, and a number of blues greats who’ve died since last year’s fest, including guitarists Homesick James, Henry Townsend, and Robert Lockwood Jr., singer Ruth Brown, harpist Snooky Pryor, and drummer Chico Chism. Sadly, they’ll now be able to add harpist Carey Bell, who passed away May 6. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

6 PMWillie Clayton

ROne of the leading lights of the contemporary soul-blues scene, Willie Clayton shows off his versatility on last year’s Gifted (Malaco), offering up buoyant pop tunes (“My Lover My Friend”) as well as his usual boudoir ballads (“When I Think About Cheating”) and synth-driven dance-floor workouts (“Sweet Lady,” “My Miss America”). His voice alternates between mellifluous crooning and hoarse, churchy imprecations, and though he’s sometimes so cocky onstage he comes off almost arrogant, he’s still a thrilling and charismatic showman. DW

7:20 PMJimmy Dawkins

RIn 1969 Jimmy Dawkins’s Fast Fingers (Delmark) won the Grand Prix du Disque of the Hot Club de France, boosting his reputation but in the process saddling him with an inappropriate nickname. He tends to avoid flamboyant high-speed pyrotechnics, instead creating extended, slowly unfurling lines that burn savagely into your brain, and his preference for midrange tones over brilliant upper-register stuff reinforces the dark intensity of his music. His most recent release, 2004’s Tell Me Baby (Fedora), is a bit less harrowing than 1994’s Blues & Pain, but songs like “Falling Tears” and “Hard Life Blues” are still anything but easy listening. DW

:30 PMKoko Taylor & the Blues Machine

RShe’s been hailed as Chicago’s Queen of the Blues for so long that it’s all but impossible to pinpoint the precise date of her coronation. Taylor’s seminal version of “Wang Dang Doodle,” cut while she was a protege of Willie Dixon at Chess Records, became a national hit in 1966, when Chicago blues records seldom managed that feat; the song remains her calling card today. She survived a life-threatening illness in late 2003, and on her comeback album, this year’s Old School (on Alligator, her label for more than 30 years), her voice is a bit growly with age but her bone-deep commitment to blues tradition is as strong as ever. BD


Front Porch

11:30 AMBlues in the Schools

Harpist Billy Branch, a founder of the Blues in the Schools program, leads a group of Mississippi children who came to Chicago for a class with him, organized by the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. DW

1 PMJ.W. Williams & the Chi-Town Hustlers

When bassist and vocalist J.W. Williams formed the Chi-Town Hustlers in the 80s, he was still a member of Billy Branch’s Sons of Blues, and his band was sort of a subsidiary of the older group–they often played together and shared personnel. Williams spent some time away from the scene, but in recent years he’s been gigging in town with a reconstituted crew of Hustlers, playing the same brand of flamboyant, funky, irreverent blues. DW

2:45 PMVernon and Joe Harrington

Southpaw guitar slinger Vernon Harrington and his bassist brother, Joe, are members of the Bell-Harrington clan, which also includes Joe’s regular employer Eddy “the Chief” Clearwater and the late harp maestro Carey Bell. Vernon has a slinky, insinuating guitar style and a deft harmonic imagination, but he relies a little too heavily on overcooked standards. DW

4 PMLurrie Bell, Steve Bell, Billy Branch, and Matthew Skoller

RGuitarist Lurrie Bell was originally scheduled to play with his father, harmonica legend Carey Bell, who died on May 6. Three local harp men will be taking his place: Lurrie’s brother Steve, who was taught by Carey and has been playing with Lurrie on and off since they were boys; Billy Branch, Lurrie’s bandleader in the Sons of Blues in the

early 80s; and dependable local Matthew Skoller, with whom Lurrie has worked regularly in recent years. Each of these harpists can establish a powerful synergetic empathy with Lurrie even under ordinary circumstances, so this set ought to be devastatingly intense. DW

5:45 PMThe No Static Blues Band featuring Mary, Lynn, and Renee Lane

Vocalist Mary Lane has been gracing west-side bandstands since the 50s, when she worked with the likes of Elmore James, Magic Sam, and Morris Pejoe (then her husband). She’s joined here by daughters Lynn and Renee, whose sweet singing and contemporary styles ought to leaven their mother’s stentorian, occasionally labored vocals and decidedly retro leanings. DW


NoonCarl Weathersby

A former member of the Sons of Blues, this remarkably versatile guitarist can segue from screaming blues intensity to deep-soul seduction without missing a beat. The imaginative transitions he crafts between the different ideas and conceits he visits during a song make his music engaging and exciting rather than merely disorienting. DW

2 PMMighty Joe Young Jr. featuring Chontella Renee

The late guitarist Mighty Joe Young was an important figure in the development of modern Chicago blues, and Joe Jr.’s guitar style, both intense and subtle, is almost eerily reminiscent of his father’s. His daughter Chontella contributes fiery vocals that simultaneously evoke the church, the street corner, and the dance floor. DW

4 PMCarlos Johnson & the Serious Blues Band

Yet another alum of Billy Branch’s Sons of Blues who’s carved out a solo career for himself, Carlos Johnson is a wide-ranging guitarist who sometimes forgets to connect the dots on his mix-and-match flights of fancy–though in recent years his playing has been more reliable and tasteful than ever. DW

Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club

NoonDaryl Davis

This gifted young African-American blues and boogie pianist studied music at Howard University, but he doesn’t wear his erudition on his sleeve: his shows are jubilant celebrations, not textbook lessons. DW

1:30 PMKen Saydak

This pianist has been a sideman to some of the best–Willie Kent, Otis Rush, Lonnie Brooks, and Johnny Winter, just for starters–but his solo work is what’s brought him the most acclaim. Saydak’s blend of traditional and modern blues styles reflects both the dedication of a craftsman and the zeal of an explorer for whom even well-trod paths represent opportunities to discover new beauty. DW

3 PMAriyo

Currently the pianist in Billy Branch’s Sons of Blues, Sumito Ariyoshi moved here from Japan in the early 80s, and before long was sitting in with legends like Eddie Taylor, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Jimmy Rogers. Over the years he’s tamed his weakness for excessive ornament and expanded his stylistic range: a typical set now includes rumba-laced New Orleans R & B, driving Chicago-style blues and boogie, and nuanced pop balladry. DW

4:30 PMWillis Prudhomme & Zydeco Express

See Thursday.

Mississippi Juke Joint

NoonJimmy “Duck” Holmes

See Thursday.

1:30 PMTerry “Big T” Williams, Wesley Jefferson

Bassist Wesley Jefferson and guitarist Terry “Big T” Williams are fixtures on the thriving blues circuit around Clarksdale, Mississippi. Their recorded debut, this year’s Meet Me in the Cotton Field (Broke & Hungry), throbs with sinister energy even when they’re playing acoustically–and when they plug in, like they do for their bone-shattering version of “Catfish Blues,” the intensity is almost unbearable. DW

3 PMClarksdale Delta Blues Museum

The Mississippi kids who appeared with Billy Branch on the Front Porch stage earlier today play a set of their own. DW

4:30 PMJimmy “Duck” Holmes

See Thursday.

6 PMChicago Jam Station with Guy King, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, and Kenny Smith

This evening’s jam session is led by guitarist Guy King, ex-sideman to Willie Kent, former Muddy Waters bassist Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, and drummer Kenny Smith, son of Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Jones’s longtime partner both with Muddy and in the Legendary Blues Band. BD

Route 66 Roadhouse

NoonThe Significance of the Berlin Jazz Festival as told by Jim O’Neal

In 1977 Living Blues magazine cofounder Jim O’Neal assembled a revue called “the New Generation of Chicago Blues” for the Berlin Jazz Festival, and here he trades stories with some of the musicians involved. See today’s Petrillo lineup for more. DW

2 PMBlues: A Family Affair with Johnnie Mae Dunson and Jimi “Prime Time” Smith

Johnnie Mae Dunson and her son Jimi discuss some of the blessings and challenges faced by a multigenerational blues family. See below for their Petrillo set. DW

4 PMChicago Blues Today

Reader blues critic David Whiteis, author of Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories, and Karen Hanson, who wrote the new guidebook Today’s Chicago Blues, talk about the state of the Windy City scene. BD

Petrillo Music Shell

6 PMJohnnie Mae Dunson and Jimi “Prime Time” Smith

In the 50s and 60s Johnnie Mae Dunson occasionally wrote songs for Jimmy Reed or drummed in his band, and today she’s carrying on as a charismatic and flamboyant singer. Her son, guitarist Jimi “Prime Time” Smith, played with Reed for a while before his death in 1976, then in the 80s accompanied other older–generation bluesmen, notably harpist Big Walter Horton. He usually stays rooted in the traditional styles he learned from his mentors but enlivens them with youthful zest and imagination–and best of all, he writes most of his own material. DW

7:15 PMBilly Branch’s Sons of Blues 30th-anniversary reunion

RIn 1977 Jim O’Neal of Living Blues magazine was commissioned to put together a group of up-and-coming Chicago bluesmen to appear with Willie Dixon at the Berlin Jazz Festival under the name “the New Generation of Chicago Blues.” Those dozen or so musicians put the world on notice that there were a bunch of young Turks in Chicago itching to bring the blues into a new era, and several important bands, most notably Branch’s Sons of Blues, evolved directly out of the Berlin group. This performance won’t be a full reunion–Dixon passed away in 1992 and several others have dropped out of music or out of sight–but it should have plenty of the adventurous, untamed spirit of the original event. DW


Front Porch

11:30 AMFruteland Jackson’s Birthday Party

Local multi-instrumentalist, singer–songwriter, and educator Fruteland Jackson celebrates his 54th birthday. There’s no word as to whether Jackson has come up with any special music for the occasion, but given his flair for spinning songs out of day-to-day experiences (“Is That Your Real Name?” is about strangers’ favorite thing to ask him), it wouldn’t surprise me if he had. DW

1:30 PMWanda Johnson & Shrimp City Slim

South Carolina singer Wanda Johnson sometimes sounds a bit brittle, but she

makes up for it with a supple vibrato and a tone that stays warm even in her upper register–not to mention her Tracy Chapman-esque knack for blending soul, blues, folk, and pop. Pianist Gary Erwin, aka Shrimp City Slim, runs the Erwin label, which has released two of Johnson’s discs so far; his melodic, splay-fingered style complements her well. DW

3:30 PMChicago Blues Harmonica Project Part II featuring Little Arthur Duncan, Charlie Love, Big D, Jeffery Taylor, Mervyn “Harmonica” Hinds, and Reginald Cooper

Septuagenarian Little Arthur Duncan and south-side mainstay Mervyn “Harmonica” Hinds are the best-known harpists in this lineup. Two of the others often play other instruments: Charlie Love leads the Silky Smooth Band as a singer and guitarist, and Jeffery Taylor is a popular drummer on the north-side circuit. Big D, a relatively young player, mixes jazzy jump and emotional Delta blues a la Little Walter, and Reginald Cooper has jobbed around town but isn’t yet established. The backing band consists of guitarists Rick Kreher and Illinois Slim, bassist E.G. McDaniel, pianist Mark Brumbach, and drummer Twist Turner. As with the first Harmonica Project in 2005, Severn Records will release a compilation showcasing these musicians later this year. DW

6 PMKhalif Wailin’ Walter

With his high-energy brand of roadhouse-rocking blues, this former sideman for Carl Weathersby and Lonnie Brooks hasn’t often seemed to care much about subtlety. But on his forthcoming CD, Let Me Say That Again, the guitarist and singer focuses his Albert King-influenced leads with unprecedented taste and craftsmanship–a level of sophistication befitting a musician who claims a degree in jazz performance from Roosevelt University. DW


NoonElmore James Jr. with Cadillac Zack

Like his legendary father, Elmore James Jr. can fire off triplet-laden slide-guitar riffs in a raw, Delta-influenced style. Though he’s also capable of playing more contemporary blues, closer to R & B, here he’s backed by a rootsy band led by California guitarist Cadillac Zack and will likely stick to the older sounds. DW

1:45 PMDavid Dee & Family

Primarily known for his song “Going Fishing,” an insistent good-time shuffle that became something of a blues-club standard in the mid-80s, Saint Louis guitarist David Dee serves up sparse, stinging Albert King-influenced licks as a tangy complement to his soul-streaked vocals. His daughters, who’ll join him here, are talented R & B singers in their own right. BD

3:45 PMHoneydripper All-Stars

Featured in a forthcoming film by director John Sayles, this intriguingly eclectic group includes performers from all over the country: veteran Chicago saxman Eddie Shaw, young Texas guitarist Gary Clark Jr., Mississippi harpist Arthur Lee Williams, jazz pianist Henderson Huggins from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Detroit-bred singer Mable John, a former Raelette who recorded for both Motown and Stax in the 60s–her sassy “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” was a hit for Stax in ’66–and now lives in LA. BD

Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club

12:30 PMDave Drazin

A nationally renowned photoplay pianist as well as a music scholar and film archivist, Chicagoan David Drazin provides period-appropriate accompaniment for silent films, using jazz and blues instead of the usual ragtime. DW

2 PMDrink Small

RSouth Carolina septuagenarian Drink Small, aka “the Blues Doctor,” styles himself as the modern-day equivalent of a medicine-show minstrel. A lot of his material is anachronistic–what might have been subversively outrageous in a 1930s tent revue in rural Mississippi doesn’t pack quite the same wallop today–but his sly, barbed wit and bottomless energy lift him out of self-caricature. Though some of his zingers are meant for the crowd, he usually leavens them with self-deprecating buffoonery so his audience can laugh rather than cringe. DW

4 PMWillis Prudhomme & Zydeco Express

See Thursday.

5 PMTony Llorens

Best known for his work in theater and film, Tony Llorens currently serves as music director of Chicago’s esteemed ETA Creative Arts Foundation theater. But he’s also put in time as keyboardist, bandleader, and producer for Albert King and worked with ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan–as the best blues artists have always done, he fuses high- and low-culture sensibilities with refreshing irreverence. DW

Mississippi Juke Joint

NoonTerry “Big T” Williams

The Mississippi bluesman plays solo here. See Friday.

1:30 PMHomemade Jamz’ Blues Band

This family band consists of three siblings from the Perry family of Tupelo, Mississippi: 15-year-old guitarist Ryan, 12-year-old bassist Kyle, and 8-year-old drummer Taya. They won second place at the Blues Foundation’s 23rd International Blues Challenge in Memphis this year and have gotten rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. DW

3 PMAlvin Youngblood Hart

RIt’s hard to believe that guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart, who these days bills himself as “the Cosmic American Love Child of Howlin’ Wolf and Link Wray,” was ever pigeonholed as a blues revivalist, but that’s exactly what happened after he released his all-acoustic debut, Big Mama’s Door, in 1996. Since then, though, he’s interspersed his rootsier efforts with projects as diverse as a collaboration with guitarist Audley Freed of the Black Crowes and an ensemble combining blues and jazz that also includes saxophonist David Murray, Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli, and spoken word by author Ishmael Reed; under his own name he’s branched out into grungy garage rock, western swing, honky-tonk waltzes, and Sonny Sharrock-style free-form explorations. And no matter what he plays, his molasses-rich baritone and bottomless vocabulary of melodic and harmonic elaborations, on themes both vintage and modern, keep his music aesthetically and emotionally focused. Here Hart will play solo, but even in such a stripped-down context he’s reliably provocative and forward looking. DW

4:30 PMJimmy “Duck” Holmes

See Thursday.

6 PMChicago Jam Station with Guy King, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, and Kenny Smith

See Friday.

Route 66 Roadhouse

11 AMThe Great Lakes Blues Society Summit

In recent years local and regional blues societies have emerged as major forces in promoting and supporting the music. Here representatives of the Great Lakes Blues Society, one of the more influential in the midwest, will lead a panel discussion hosted by Big City Rhythm & Blues magazine. DW

1:30 PMBlues on Film: John Sayles’s The Honeydripper

Director John Sayles will discuss The Honeydripper, scheduled for release later this year, which stars Danny Glover as the proprietor of an Alabama juke joint and also features the Honeydripper All-Stars (see above) and guitarist Keb’ Mo’. The late R & B vocalist Ruth Brown, who was supposed to appear as well, became too ill to travel to Alabama for filming but did record some songs for the soundtrack. DW

3:30 PMCultural Tourism: A Virtual Blues Tour on the Blues Trail

Do busloads of tourists really benefit a local or regional blues scene, given that most of those people will probably never set foot in the community again? Living Blues magazine cofounder Jim O’Neal discusses the role of “cultural tourism” with representatives of state and local organizations in Chicago, Mississippi, and Louisiana that have taken the lead in sponsoring pub crawls, bus tours, and similar enterprises. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

5 PMNellie “Tiger” Travis

Nellie Travis’s sultry vocals lend themselves most effectively to slick R & B-flavored soul-blues, and on her latest disc, 2005’s Wanna Be With You (Da Man), recorded with veteran soul-blues producer Floyd Hamberlin, she’s at her best–she croons, testifies, and occasionally wails through its densely textured slow jams, jaunty dance-floor workouts, and agreeably abrasive up-tempo booty shakers. DW

6:10 PMBig Jay McNeely with Jesse Scinto

RHonking tenor saxophone was the backbone of both 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and its direct precedent, postwar R & B, and nobody exemplifies that sound like LA horn titan Big Jay McNeely–his 1949 smash “Deacon’s Hop” became the prototype for countless primal, blistering sax solos to come. Big Jay didn’t finesse anything: he reared back and squawked one mile-wide note incessantly, often while flat on his back or being pushed around a nightclub on a cart, driving his young fans into an apoplectic frenzy. He still has that big sound down pat, and when I saw him last month, not long after his 80th birthday, he used some of his old moves, droppingto his knees or strolling through the crowd while wailing on his trademark fluorescent–lacquered horn. If Jesse Scinto’s band provides him with a sufficient level of swing, Big Jay is liable to blow the band shell down. BD

7:20 PMIrma Thomas & the Professionals

RHurricane Katrina robbed Irma Thomas of her home and her nightclub, but those losses haven’t hurt her music. She’s long been revered in New Orleans the way Koko Taylor is here, but her sweet, understated voice is the antithesis of Koko’s strutting growl. At an outdoor gig last summer Thomas drew from her latest album, After the Rain (Rounder), whose poignant songs reflect the heartbreak of Katrina’s aftermath. But she can also radiate happiness–for instance when she exhorts a crowd to wave their hankies along with the second-line-powered “I Done Got Over It,” one of the classic tunes she cut with Allen Toussaint in the early 60s. Thomas also recorded the original version of “Time Is on My Side”–and though she seldom performs it now, her plaintive rendition blows the Stones’ out of the water. BD

:30 PMMagic Slim & the Teardrops

Though they now make their home in Lincoln, Nebraska, Magic Slim and his Teardrops were long one of Chicago’s most reliable blues bands. The Teardrops value ensemble work over virtuosic soloing, leaving plenty of room for Slim’s barbed-wire guitar and pulverizing vocals; the group has a bottomless shuffle-dominated repertoire, ranging from the warhorse “Mustang Sally” and a hilariously ribald “Mother Fuyer” to decades-old obscurities. BD


Front Porch

11:30 AMMelvia “Chick” Rodgers & Her Gospel Harmonizers

Melvia “Chick” Rodgers was a favorite on the north-side circuit until a few years ago, when she left the blues and returned to gospel, her original inspiration. She’s nimble throughout her vocal range and solid in both tone and timbre, and the fervor she brings to religious music is, if anything, even more satisfying than the funky punch she delivered as a blues chanteuse. DW

1:30 PMCephas & Wiggins

Guitarist John Cephas and harmonica virtuoso Phil Wiggins have performed on the Front Porch stage so often it might as well be named after them. Their forte is the so-called Piedmont style of acoustic blues: fingerpicked guitar is interwoven with full-toned harmonica, with the instruments alternating between lead and rhythm roles to create a circular feel that harks back to the music’s African roots. DW

3:30 PMJames Cotton

Deeply influenced by his mentor, the second Sonny Boy Williamson, James Cotton made his first records for Sun, then spent a decade apprenticing with Muddy Waters before graduating to fronting his own high-energy outfit in the mid-60s. His booming voice has been reduced to a gravelly rasp by Father Time, but Cotton still puts on a clinic whenever he pulls out his harmonica–he plays like a freight train, with a tone that sizzles like bacon in a frying pan. BD

5:30 PMZac Harmon

Mississippi-born guitarist Zac Harmon has put in time with soul and soul-blues artists like Z.Z. Hill, McKinley Mitchell, and Dorothy Moore, but what he’s playing these days sounds more influenced by southern-fried boogie rockers like the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd. His hot-toned leads are rhythmically buoyant and melodically sophisticated, and his vocals sound genuine, refreshingly free of “blooze” posturing. DW


NoonLil’ Howlin’ Wolf

This Lil’ Wolf is Jessie Sanders, a former Chicagoan whose hoarse bellow isn’t entirely unlike the original Wolf’s fabled roar. Alas, he can’t even approximate the vast emotional range that made the legendary bluesman one of the greatest stylists in history. DW

1:45 PMKatherine Davis Blues Ensemble

Local singer Katherine Davis specializes in blues and jump blues, delivering up-tempo barn burners and smoldering ballads with a combination of elegance and good-natured sass–and balancing her flamboyant stage presence with straightforward melodicism and impeccable swing. DW

3:30 PMMaurice John Vaughn Blues Band

This veteran Chicago bluesman is fluent on both lead guitar and saxophone, has a supple voice, and ranks among the clever-est songwriters on the local circuit. That kind of uncommon versatility should’ve made him a star long ago, but he never seems to get his due–luckily he still has plenty of time. BD

Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club

12:30 PMHenry Gray & the Cats

Many of Chicago’s legendary blues pianists came up from Mississippi, but Henry Gray was raised in Louisiana, giving his rolling 88s a slightly different slant. When he lived here in the 50s, he recorded as a sideman with Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold, and Howlin’ Wolf, eventually spending a dozen years in Wolf’s band. He returned to Baton Rouge in 1968, but his back-alley vocals and two-fisted piano playing still blend swamp blues with driving Windy City shuffles. BD

2 PMWillis Prudhomme & Zydeco Express

See Thursday.

4 PMDavid “Honeyboy” Edwards

Now that Homesick James, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Henry Townsend have passed away, Honeyboy Edwards is the blues’ last living link to Robert Johnson. At 91, he wears the elder-statesman mantle with dignity and a twinkle in his eye, and though he sometimes has to struggle to maintain focus during a long set, he can still generate heat both musically and emotionally. DW

Mississippi Juke Joint

NoonZac Harmon

See above.

1:30 PMHomemade Jamz’ Blues Band

See Saturday.

3 PMBobby Rush

RFor this rare solo acoustic set, Rush will play guitar and harmonica–and, in deference to the kids who are likely to be around at this early hour, sanitize his usual racy persona to play the down-home raconteur. See tonight’s Petrillo listings for more. DW

4:30 PMJimmy “Duck” Holmes

See Thursday.

6 PMChicago Jam Station with Dave Specter, Harlan Terson, and Mike Schlick

The fest’s final pro jam session is hosted once again by jazzy guitarist Dave Specter, this time joined by two of his frequent gigging cohorts: bassist Harlan Terson, who’s played behind everyone from Lonnie Brooks to Otis Rush, and drummer Mike Schlick. BD

Route 66 Roadhouse

11:30 AMThe Art of the Blues

Larry Morrissey, Heritage Program director for the Mississippi Arts Commission, and Patty Crosby, director of Mississippi Cultural Crossroads, discuss Mississippi folk art with a group of bona fide folk artists: Geraldine Nash and Gustina Atlas are quilters from Port Gibson, Bessie Johnson is a basket weaver from West Point, and George Berry, a retired industrial-arts instructor who taught at the famed Piney Woods School, is a wood-carver. DW

1:30 PMSunnyland Tales: Sam Burckhardt, Steve Freund, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and Barrelhouse Chuck

Saxophonist Sam Burckhardt and guitarist Steve Freund played in Sunnyland Slim’s last working band, Honeyboy Edwards was a contemporary of Sunnyland’s, and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck was not only his student but one of his closest friends. They’re sure to have plenty of stories to tell about Sunnyland, one of the most colorful and beloved figures in Chicago blues history–but they may have trouble thinking of enough G-rated ones to fill their time slot. DW

3 PMHowlin’ Wolf Birthday Party

with family and friends

Bettye Kelly and Barbra Marks, two of Wolf’s daughters (or more properly stepdaughters), will host a party to celebrate what would’ve been his 97th birthday. Quite a few artists who knew Wolf are at the fest this year–Honeyboy Edwards, Bobby Rush, Lil’ Howlin’ Wolf, the former sidemen playing Petrillo this evening–so this could end up quite a star-studded affair. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

5 PMThe Disciples playing for Sunnyland

Former sidemen join forces with students, admirers, and contemporaries of the late pianist Sunnyland Slim for this tribute set. Saxophonist Sam Burckhardt (tonight’s leader), guitarist Steve Freund, and bassist Bob Stroger were in Sunnyland’s last working band. Drummer Kenny Smith, whose father, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, manned the kit for Muddy Waters, will fill in for Robert Covington, who passed away in 1996. Willie is also on hand (as is his longtime Waters bandmate, bassist Calvin “Fuzz” Jones), but I expect he’ll play harp for this set. Kenny Barker, one of Chicago’s most versatile younger keyboardists, is a fan of Sunnyland’s, Barrelhouse Chuck was his friend and student, and Sunnyland mentored vocalists Big Time Sarah and Deitra Farr. DW

7:15 PMTribute to Howlin’ Wolf

Former Howlin’ Wolf sidemen pay tribute to their old boss: this stellar gathering features his favorite guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, fellow fretman Jody Williams, hard-blowing saxists Eddie Shaw and Abb Locke, pianist Henry Gray, and bassist Lafayette “Shorty” Gilbert. Harpist James Cotton and drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith are better known for playing with Wolf’s archrival, Muddy Waters, but they’ll fit right in. BD

:25 PMBobby Rush

RHe’s in his 70s now, but Bobby Rush still puts on one of the most energetic, creative, and transgressive shows in blues. Defying both gravity and political correctness, he leaps, spins, and leers at the scantily clad dancing girls on either side of him, singing or narrating his ribald tales (the eternal struggle between hoochie man and hoochie mama is a favorite subject) as his band boots out crisp, funky riffs. He’s more than just an R-rated dirty old man, though: he calls what he does “folk funk,” and behind his lascivious persona is a fable-spinning trickster. Rush’s routines are, at their heart, morality tales: the lust-addled lotharios who populate his songs and stories inevitably get their comeuppance in the end. DW