Chicago Blues Festival 2019: Highlights from Day One

The Chicago Blues Festival, the largest free blues festival in the world, is celebrating its 36th anniversary in 2019 (June 7-9). When Lisa and I moved to the Midwest back in 1989, we were excited to be closer to the Chicago blues scene. We’ve seen a lot of local blues bands in 3 decades but, sadly, only went to the Chicago Blues Festival a couple of times. We finally made it back this year, although just for one day (Friday), and we had a great time. Here are a few highlights.

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The Bean in Chicago's Millennium Park, home of the Chicago Blues Festival
The Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park

Chicago Blues Festival: Getting There

We recommend not driving in downtown Chicago if you can avoid it, especially when big events like the Blues Festival are going on. We drove to a CTA “Park and Ride” on the outskirts of town and took the “L” (the train) down to the “Loop.” It costs $6 to park for 12 hours, and round trip L passes are $6 each, so all in all, we spent $18 on the train ride, including parking. That’s a lot less than the cost of parking downtown, and it saves the aggravation too.

At the parking garage, we saw a couple carrying lawn chairs, heading to the L station. I asked, “Going to the Blues Festival?” They said yes, so we started talking about bands we planned to see. They said that Sunday, there’s a great band called Cash Box Kings. We told them that we’d seen them before – in fact, the drummer was Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith, whose other band, “Kenny Smith and the House Bumpers,” was on our “to see” list, as was Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield, the youngest son of Muddy Waters. We rode the L with them, got off at Washington Station, and had a 3-block walk to the festival grounds at Millenium Park.

Lisa and Tom at the Chicago Blues Festival
Blues Lovers

The Chicago Blues Festival is Free

Admission to the festival is free and many people bring in coolers with their own food and non-alcoholic beverages too, although vendor food and drinks are available. Expect to have your bags searched at the entrance gate. (As we were leaving for the night, we saw a nice stash of confiscated beer, wine, and liquor under a table at the check-in point.) Food and beverage prices are on par with other concerts and festivals, but the free admission makes it a pretty inexpensive weekend, even if you buy your food and drinks there. We were happy to patronize the vendors.

Kenny Smith at the Chicago Blues Festival
Kenny Smith at the Front Porch Stage

The Music

Not a lot to say about the music – if you like The Blues (or its baby, Rock-and-Roll), then you’ll enjoy the Blues Fest. We saw three bands at the Front Porch stage, an intimate area with good views and quality sound pretty much anywhere you sit. We staked out some territory along the western edge, where the nearby trees would provide shade in the mid-to-late afternoon. Here are a few clips of the bands we saw at that stage. Check out our playlist here.

Bob Stroger
The House Bumpers (covering Aretha Franklin)
Kenny Smith and the House Bumpers – Drop the Hammer
Kenny Smith and the Little Bumpers (his kids)

Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield and the Mannish Boyz played some Muddy Waters classics and some originals, too.

Mojo Morganfield singing a song that his father made famous

I had a feeling that he would end his set with “Got My Mojo Working” and I was right. (Sorry, I didn’t record it, but scientists have determined that it’s impossible to hear that song and hold still enough to take a good video. I was too busy movin’ to the groove and living in the moment.)

After 3 bands we grabbed a bite to eat and a couple of beers and went to the main stage to catch legendary blues harp player Charlie Musselwhite.

Charlie Musselwhite
Charlie Musselwhite

Jimmy Johnson Day: June 7, 2019

After Charlie Musselwhite, there was a brief ceremony where the next act, ninety-year-old Jimmy Johnson, was honored for his contributions to the Chicago Blues scene. By mayoral proclamation, June 7, 2019 was declared “Jimmy Johnson Day” in Chicago. Jimmy and his band then played a nice set. Ninety years old and he still rocked the place! He also reminded the audience that the most important thing in life is to be nice to people.

Jimmy Johnson Blues Band

After Jimmy Johnson, we called it a day and headed out. As we walked past the Park Grill Stage, we heard another band covering “Got My Mojo Working.” At the same time that I was thinking it, Lisa said, “I wonder how many times that song gets played this weekend.” I’m guessing more than two.

On the way to the L station, we saw this band playing on a street corner, so we stayed for a bit.

One of many street bands playing in the vicinity of the Chicago Blues Festival

Gotta Go!

We’d love to go to all three days of the Chicago Blues Festival, but Lisa wanted to get some gardening done and the weather hasn’t been cooperative until now. Even so, one day out of three ain’t bad, and the price is a bargain! If you’re nearby, get there, at least for a day. And if you’re far away, plan a trip for next year. One way or another, grab your favorite fedora (I recommend a nice Panama hat) and check out the Chicago Blues Festival!

Check out the festival’s website here.

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1 comment on “Chicago Blues Festival 2019: Highlights from Day One

  1. Lisa

    The Blues Fest is a great place to hang out and listen to amazing musicians! One of the things I took away from the event is the importance of supporting your local musicians. Buy their music, go see them perform, give them a shout out on social media!


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