A new blues fes­ti­val on the South Side

Univer­sity of Chicago fes­ti­val aims to bring young fans to city’s classic sound


There’s a new blues fest com­ing to sweet home Chicago. Start­ing Oct. 13, the Univer­sity of Chicago’s Reva and David Lo­gan Cen­ter for the Arts will host the first an­nual Lo­gan Cen­ter Bluesfest at the Hyde Park cam­pus, which will kick off a year­long se­ries of events that aims to cel­e­brate the home­grown le­gacy of the genre through en­ter­tain­ment and ed­u­ca­tion, in the hopes of pro­vid­ing more exposure and in­spir­ing a new gen­er­a­tion.

Over the course of Bluesfest’s three days, guests will be able to take part in jam ses­sions and work­shops, hear panel dis­cus­sions about the fu­ture of the blues, en­joy per­for­mances from artists in­clud­ing Billy Branch and Joe Fi- lisko and see the Midwest pre­miere of the doc­u­men­tary “Horn From the Heart: The Paul But­ter­field Story,” about the leg­endary har­mon­ica player whose band was in­ducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. The event will be at­tended by sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the troupe, in­clud­ing Elvin Bishop and Mark Naf­talin — in the ’ 60s, the two of them and But­ter­field met as stu­dents at the U. of C. cam­pus, even­tu­ally form­ing the beloved band.

“They were all very much play­ing and ex­posed to blues while stu­dents on the South Side. There was a his­tory of exposure, through the Univer­sity of Chicago Folk Fes­ti­val [ now in its 58th year] when they were on cam­pus, which back then was do­ing a lot of blues pro­grams and there were stu­dents go­ing to clubs and form­ing bands very early on,” says Leigh Fa­gin, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of Univer­sity Arts En­gage­ment at the Lo­gan Cen­ter, who helped steered the first an­nual Bluesfest in or­der to bring back the vi­tal pro­gram­ming.

“Over the years the Folk Fest has had less fo­cus on the blues, so this al­lowed us to step in and com­ple­ment the con­ver­sa­tion that is hap­pen­ing city­wide [ in­clud­ing the an­nual Chicago Blues Fes­ti­val in June, one of the world’s largest free con­cert se­ries, and the an­nounce­ment of the up­com­ing Blues Ex­pe­ri­ence mu­seum, slated for 2019],” adds Fa­gin. “We hope to have year- round pro­gram­ming for the next sev­eral years through­out a num­ber of dis­ci­plines.”

The idea, though, says Fa­gin, was re­ally the brain­child of lo­cal blues singer and har­mon­ica vir­tu­oso Billy Branch, who has pre­vi­ously per­formed at the Lo­gan Cen­ter, which was es­tab­lished in 2012 to make art more ac­ces­si­ble to South Side res­i­dents. “Given the his­tor­i­cal con- text of the many blues mu­si­cians that played on the South Side and the many leg­endary venues that used to dot the neigh­bor­hood, in my mind this was a fit­ting venue and lo­cale to show­case this mu­sic. Though I couldn’t have imag­ined it would have the larger, ed­u­ca­tional scope it does.”

For Branch that’s im­por­tant, as he fears the genre could meet a sad fate un­less it re­ceives more exposure and a younger fan base. The topic will in­evitably come up in the “Fu­ture of the Blues” panel he will par­tic­i­pate in at 2 p. m. Sun­day. “You rarely see blues on TV and don’t hear it a lot on main­stream ra­dio,” he says, “even though it’s the mu­sic that spawned all of rock ’ n’ roll and is the foun­da­tion of all Amer­i­can mu­sic.”

One of the so­lu­tions is more artists from hiphop and rock “reach­ing back and em­brac­ing the blues and claim­ing it as their roots.” Just this sum­mer Branch ex­em­pli­fied that by part­ner­ing with em­cee Rhymefest for a per­for­mance at the Chicago Blues Fest. “The crowd loved it, and it was an easy, nat­u­ral col­lab­o­ra­tion and goes to show some peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to the blues and en­joy­ing it and not even know­ing it.”

Though Bluesfest is open to any­one, Fa­gin says there’s been a strong push to draw stu­dents. “There are a lot of fests in the sum­mer we didn’t want to com­pete with, and we wanted some­thing in the fall for the stu­dent body to in­tro­duce new peo­ple to the blues, since clubs are gen­er­ally 21+ and they’re not here in sum­mer. We thought this would be a way to en­gage them as well.”

Fa­gin and her team also in­tend on con­duct­ing in­ter­views with many of the par­tic­i­pat­ing artists and ar­chiv­ing them for use by other mu­sic or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out the coun­try so that “more peo­ple can hear th­ese sto­ries and be­come ex­posed to Chicago mu­si­cians,” she says.

For Branch that’s mu­sic to his ears. “When I first en­tered the scene as a teenager in the early ‘ 70s there were so many blues artists and sec­ond- gen­er­a­tion artists, like Ju­nior Wells and James Cotton and Koko Tay­lor and Bon­nie Lee and Wil­lie Dixon and on and on, but they’re all but gone,” he says. “And un­for­tu­nately a lot of their sto­ries died with them. So it is im­por­tant to pre­serve that his­tory.”

LO­GAN CEN­TER BLUESFEST 6 p. m., Oct. 13; 2 p. m. Oct. 14; 11: 30 a. m. Oct. 15, Reva and David Lo­gan Cen­ter for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., Up to $ 20, ( 773) 702.2787; lo­gan­blues­fest.org/

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.