Chicago is a city that is very proud of its blues music heritage, so much so that our unofficial anthem is the blues tune "Sweet Home Chicago." Our tourist and convention trade guides thousands of travelers to our several blues clubs and through several blues-themed business meetings. As a local cameraman, I shoot plenty of these various doings every year. Blues music is big business, and the city of Chicago knows this very well.
Although I am not a hard-core blues fan, I do, however, understand blues music as a descendant of the people who immigrated (or escaped) from the cotton fields and oppressive politics of the south to the slums and oppressive politics of the north, people who transformed their pain and longing for home into an internationally recognized art form.
This year I got a chance to be a camera operator at the 20th annual Chicago Blues Fest [Section Three pullout, May 30] and was very disappointed that the show was NOT RECORDED. I stood at the front of the stage witnessing performances that brought tears to my eyes, but who else would see it? I saw wrinkled brown hands that have certainly pulled Delta cotton pull guitar strings to an appreciative and mostly white audience. This may be the last time some of these blues performers may be seen together, but will anyone else see it? No, because the performance was not recorded. Not even broadcast on the radio. It is shameful.
The funny thing is that Chicago has so many film and television professionals who are now lobbying our state government to create tax incentives just to entice productions to return and shoot in Chicago and employ our depressed workforce. All the while WGN TV (along with many others) sponsored the Blues Fest without creating one production job. I may not know where the hang-up exists, but I do suspect that it is some variety of those oppressive politics that created the blues music in the first place. Be it our proud internationally recognized cultural heritage or not, the reason why the Chicago Blues Fest was not recorded has got to be money. Why deal those wrinkled brown hands a piece of a lucrative broadcast contract? Why pay the unions the extra money to make a broadcast? Why bother?
Years ago I worked on a Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival broadcast that was seen throughout Latin America, so why not broadcast our proud cultural legacy of blues music to the world? I am told that the city of New Orleans not only broadcast the Jazz and Heritage show, but also issued an audio CD of the local music. If any city could make a broadcast deal work, Chicago can. We are supposed to be the city that works.
People love our blues music so much that Friday night, with a rainstorm and lightning raging overhead, the crowd stayed to watch Otis Clay play his music into the heart of the storm. You should have seen it.