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PHOTOS / RECAP | The 2017 Chicago Blues Festival

Words: Robin Zimmerman | Photos: Michael Lepek

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From the new Muddy Waters mural on State Street to inspired appearances by second-generation performers, the Windy City’s vibrant blues legacy was on full display at the 33rd Annual Chicago Blues Festival.

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2017 marked the inaugural year at the Millennium Park location. But, as blues fans made their way around the new venue, they found many old, familiar names appearing on the various stages.

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With big names like Brooks, Hooker and Morganfield, the Sunday lineup was loaded with true sons and daughters of the blues. For starters, there was Larry “Mud” Morganfield playing to a packed crowd on the Front Porch Stage.

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Resplendent in a red-hot outfit, the eldest son of the legendary Muddy Waters was on fire throughout his hour-long set. Morganfield, along with his stellar seven-piece backing band, played everything from songs off his new CD to Muddy Waters’ classics like “40 Days and 40 Nights.”

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Photo: Lynn Orman Weiss

Mud wasn’t the only Morganfield making the scene at Millennium Park.

Big Bill Morganfield played to a packed Budweiser Crossroads stage on Saturday. Younger brother Joseph joined him in singing “Hoochie Coochie Man” for an encore.

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The Mississippi Juke Joint stage belonged to the ladies on Sunday afternoon, starting with Zakiya Hooker. This soulfully sassy singer is the daughter of none other than John Lee Hooker but she has pretty much blazed her own trail in the music world.

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Former gospel singer Denise LaSalle showed how much she has strayed from her roots with a risqué set of music mixed with more than a few lewd comments!

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Later on Sunday, the crowd witnessed a poignant reminder of the power of family ties right on the Pritzker Stage. Here, Ronnie Baker Brooks led off the night with a tribute to his dad, Lonnie, who passed away earlier this year.

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Baker Brooks and his band all came on stage clad in “Lonnie Brooks” t-shirts. Just a few steps away was the elder Brooks’ trademark hat and guitar.

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After thanking the crowd for their support, Baker Brooks tore into an impassioned set. He brought on his brother Wayne, Jellybean Johnson, and blues harpist Billy Branch for an encore that included “Sweet Home Chicago,” one of Lonnie’s signature numbers.

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As a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens, has helped promote the celebratory legacy of early rural African-American string band music from Carolina’s Piedmont region.

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Giddens has also released a pair of studio albums as a solo artist. Her most recent release, Freedom Highway”encompasses a wide range of musical styles, which she showcased on the Pritzker Stage. With an impressive vocal range and repertoire, she treated the crowd to everything from Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” to the Staple Singers’ “Freedom Highway.”

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Austin-based blues/soul guitarist Gary Clark Jr., closed out the festival. As a testament to his rising star power, the 33-year old attracted a widely diverse audience. Fans queued up in the aisles and packed the lawn area to see him in action.

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Clark rewarded the masses with a nearly two-hour set that encompassed a wide range of styles—including a nod to the blues legends before him. He played everything from Elmore James’ “Can’t Stop Loving You” to BB King’s “Three O’clock Blues.”

 

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