The music of Chicago — gritty urban blues — is famously about hard times, heartache and struggle. But practitioners of the genre may boast a refreshed if wary air of accomplishment this week, upon favorite son Barack Obama’s ascension to Democratic presidential candidate. At least, that’s my thesis, which I’ll test by listening close to some of the 90 performances at the City-sponsored, free downtown 25th annual Chicago Blues Festival June 5 – 9 — and probably a slew of after-fest blues in neighborhood taps scattered around the toddlin’ town.
There’s no evidence our post-racial candidate digs Buddy Guy et al, though Barack is on record telling CNN at a campaign stop in Creston, Iowa:
” the kinds of stuff that I love dancing to…I’m sort of of the generation of Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire. . . I’m sort of hip to the younger stuff. You know, like Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love.’”
They’re good, yeah, but if The Man with the Big Ears is home this weekend he should check out Koko “Wang-Dang-Doodle” Taylor, harmonica master James Cotton with Texas guitar-strangler Johnny Winter, that great American B.B. King — all headlining at the Grant Park music shell — and/or lower-profile side-stage sets by the likes of the Rising Star Fife and Drum band and banjoist Otis Taylor. He would be welcome at the discussion of the life and career of Louis Jordan, a rhythm ‘n’ blues star who transcended genre and race lines, in which I’ll participate with fellow author Bill Milkowski, Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks, record producer-WBGO radio host Bob Porter, and saxophonist Ernest Dawkins. I also recommend blues and boogie pianist Erwin Helfer, Sons of the Blues harmonica-man and educator Billy Branch, and delta blues avatar John Hammond.