The Insider’s Guide to Chicago Blues Fest

Starting tonight, for the 30th year, top blues artists—and the half-million spectators they expect to draw—descend upon two Chicago parks to celebrate the past, present and future of the genre. Here’s our thoughts on what not to miss.

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What To Do Tonight Clear your evening plans to blast into blues’ future when the “New Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland and 14-year-old guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan headline the festival’s opening night at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Opening acts start at 6:30pm, but get there early to secure a prime spot.

What’s On This Weekend The festival continues on five stages at Grant Park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am-9:30pm, with acts hailing from all along the Mississippi, in keeping with this year’s theme: “Rollin’ Up the River.”

> On Friday, catch Mississippi’s Earnest “Guitar” Roy and folk-funk phenom Bobby Rush, as well as New Orleans’ Irma “Soul Queen of New Orleans” Thomas.

> Saturday evening features Memphis’ R&B-tinged Ronnie Baker Brooks and soulful Otis Clay and the Platinum Band who’ll be joined by urban-blues vocalist Uvee Hayes from St. Louis. The closing act packs a powerful punch: The Memphis Soul Revue starring The Bar-Kays with Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice (of “Mustang Sally” fame).

> Sunday night brings the blues home, with Chicago-based performers Shirley Johnson and her blues (but not blood) brother Jimmy Johnson, and a massive 11-musician last act headlined by the city’s own James Cotton, who performed at the very first Blues Festival back in 1984.

Come for the Tunes, Stay for the Grub In addition to the great music, you can chow down on excellent BBQ and goodies from food vendors Billy Goat, BJ’s Market & Bakery, Gold Coast Dogs, Miller Pizza Co., Star of Siam and Robinson’s Ribs.

Can’t get enough of that soulful sound? Check out the birthplace of Chicago blues on this SideTour. 

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