The Reader's guide to the 32nd annual Chicago Blues Festival | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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The Reader's guide to the 32nd annual Chicago Blues Festival

More people turn out for Blues Fest than for Pitchfork and Lollapalooza combined—and here are a couple dozen reasons why, including Syl Johnson, Shemekia Copeland, Clarence Carter, Chick Rodgers, and Buddy Guy.

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Saturday, June 13

Crossroads Stage

11:15 AM Jamiah "On Fire" & the Red Machine

12:45 PM Marquise Knox Finally, a young blues artist who's hailed as a "prodigy" and sounds like the real deal. Guitarist Marquise Knox was born in Saint Louis in 1991, and he recorded his first album at age 16; his latest, 2011's Here I Am (APO), demonstrates his uncanny ability to bring up-to-the-minute musical and emotional urgency to the most time-tested blues tropes. His improvisational imagination is vivid, his technical chops are unerring, and his rich, resonant vocals should silence doubters who question his ability to convey genuine blues feeling at such a tender age. David Whiteis

  • Courtesy Chicago DCASE
  • Jarekus Singleton

2:30 PM Jarekus Singleton Guitarist Jarekus Singleton grew up near Jackson, Mississippi, enamored of hip-hop and rap. Since discovering the blues in his teens, he's crafted a style rooted in the 12-bar tradition but updated with contemporary melodic, rhythmic, and lyric conceits. On last year's Refuse to Lose, his second album (and first for Alligator), Singleton's solos are aggressive and challengingly nonlinear; his technical prowess can be dazzling, but he never sacrifices meaning for flash. His notes tell stories as eloquently as his lyrics, whose unorthodox, free-ranging rhyme schemes reflect his hip-hop background. Witty, confrontational, and vulnerable by turns, they're also uncompromisingly honest. Singleton also plays tonight at SPACE in Evanston. David Whiteis

4:15 PM Shawn Holt & the Teardrops

Jackson Mississippi Rhythm & Blues Stage

11:30 AM Panel discussion: "The Essence of Soul Blues" with Alex Thomas and Johnny Rawls

1 PM The House Rockers

2:30 PM Vickie Baker When Vickie Baker isn't teaching high school music in Vicksburg, Mississippi, she moonlights as one of the best-kept secrets in southern soul blues. Her voice, wispy and delicate on ballads, expands fulsomely on more declamatory fare; in her lyrics she combines womanly feistiness with R-rated high jinks that she's probably better off hiding from her fellow faculty members, to say nothing of her students' parents (1997's "Don't Gimme No Lip" and the more recent "Get Me Weak" are good examples). Though her themes seldom transcend standard-issue war-of-the-sexes signifying, within those constraints she's an eloquent story­teller with a winning sense of humor and a sly, insinuating delivery. David Whiteis

4 PM Johnny Rawls

5:30 PM Jam session with the House Rockers

Front Porch Stage

Austin "Walkin' Cane" Charanghat - COURTESY CHICAGO DCASE
  • Courtesy Chicago DCASE
  • Austin "Walkin' Cane" Charanghat

Noon Austin "Walkin' Cane" Charanghat Cleveland guitarist Austin "Walkin' Cane" Charanghat counts among his mentors the late Robert Lockwood Jr., who learned directly from Robert Johnson himself. Like Lockwood, who prided himself on his musical sophistication, Charanghat casts a wide net that spans Johnsonesque Delta blues, raw-edged juke-joint house rockers, and jazz-­seasoned jump blues; he also throws in bits of hard-driving, hypnotic North Mississippi modal blues and fleet-fingered picking reminiscent of the ragtime-influenced Piedmont acoustic style. He's armored against charges of dilettantism by the intensity of his emotional focus—no postmodernist detachment for him—and by the depth and scope of his lyric vision. David Whiteis

  • Courtesy Chicago DCASE
  • Lurrie Bell

1:30 PM Lurrie Bell Lurrie Bell is one of Chicago's most satisfying electric blues guitarists. His blistering fret work seems to come from a deeper place than usual, and his hair-­raising vocals are as lethal as his ax. B.B. King's influence resonates in Bell's ringing riffs and concise phrasing (he learned his trade playing with his dad, harp master Carey Bell), but he long ago developed his own instantly recognizable attack. His sizzling 2013 Delmark album, Blues in My Soul, may be his best yet. Bill Dahl

3 PM Paul Oscher Trio

4:30 PM The Cash Box Kings

Petrillo Music Shell

  • Courtesy Chicago DCASE
  • Toronzo Cannon

5:30 PM Toronzo Cannon Local singer and guitarist Toronzo Cannon shows off his impressive range on 2013's John the Conquer Root (Delmark), tackling full-band soul ("Cold World"), airy acoustic ballads ("Let It Shine Always"), and rough-and-tumble biker-bar rock 'n' roll ("Sweet, Sweet, Sweet"). Cannon excels when he lets his ax take the lead: on the title track, for instance, he doles out slow, shimmying riffs and smoldering licks. Cannon also plays tonight at B.L.U.E.S. Leor Galil

  • Courtesy Chicago DCASE
  • Shemekia Copeland

6:30 PM Shemekia Copeland Window-­rattling Chicago-based vocalist Shemekia Copeland replaces the Taj Mahal Trio after a last-­minute cancellation. Copeland is usually considered a blues singer—in a ceremony at the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival, Koko Taylor's daughter bestowed her late mother's tiara on Copeland. But she's also a versatile roots-­music stylist, and her latest album, 2012's 33 1/3, showcases her range and depth. On the hard-pounding "Lemon Pie" she denounces injustice with the flair and venom of a juke-joint Nina Simone; on the ironically up-tempo "One More Time" she delivers a death threat with irony-toughened humor. Perhaps most impressive is "Ain't Gonna Be Your Tattoo," a vignette of abuse, treachery, and doomed infatuation—her voice sounds fraught with desperation and girded with steel. Copeland has a new album due on Alligator in September. David Whiteis

  • Courtesy Chicago DCASE
  • Buddy Guy

8:05 PM Buddy Guy With the recent passing of B.B. King, Chicago guitar slinger Buddy Guy is arguably the greatest living practitioner of electric blues. Guy long ago adopted a searing, effects-pedal-augmented attack, seemingly in deference to the rockers he influenced, but his piercing sound, stabbing asides, and high-pitched cries have stayed intact. He's an extroverted showman, for better or worse, and never shy about playing to the cheap seats with outsize pyrotechnics. On his latest record, the 2013 double album Rhythm & Blues (RCA), he demonstrates that he can connect more powerfully with his listeners when he shows some restraint, but I wouldn't expect too much of that tonight. Peter Margasak

A roundup of afterfest blues shows for folks who can't get enough in Grant Park this weekend

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