Crossroads Blues Festival 2019

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This year marked the tenth anniversary of the Crossroads Blues Festival. Sponsored by the Crossroads Blues Society, the annual event’s proceeds benefit the Blues in the Schools program in Northern Illinois. It’s held at Lyran Park, just south of Rockford, IL.

Blues Disciples
Blues Disciples

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With the Kishwaukee River as a backdrop, the day couldn’t have been better: perfect weather, excellent music, and enthusiastic fans. A $5 entrance fee and reasonable prices on food and beer made it a great way to spend a day jamming and supporting a good cause. You don’t have to travel far or spend big bucks to hear great live music – it’s right in your neighborhood, no matter where you live!

Lisa and I have attended the Crossroads Blues Festival twice in the past. This year, I decided to volunteer. A three-hour shift in the beer booth earned me free admission and a festival t-shirt. More importantly, volunteers make smaller festivals possible and affordable, so I was happy to do my share. And hey, working the beer stand ain’t a bad gig, you know?

Crossroads Blues Festival is a Bargain

How good of a deal is it? Advanced tickets sold for just $5; $10 at the gate. Beers were $5 each with about 18 different beers on hand, including the standard “Bud-Miller-Coors” as well as a variety of craft beers. (The 19 oz Founder’s All Day IPA was very popular; at $5 each, it’s the best deal.) They also sold wine, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Twisted Tea, and Truly hard seltzer for $5 each.

Food was affordably priced, with pizza, hot dogs, brats, pulled pork, chicken sandwiches, tacos, and stir fry options selling for $5 to $10. I had a nice chicken breast sandwich with a side of corn on the cob for $7.

Image credit: Crossroads Blues Society

The Music

This year’s festival theme was “Harp Attack” – every band included a harmonica player. The day began with Blues Disciples, featuring Barefoot Jimmy Schwartz on the harp. The Chris O’Leary Band did a great set, according to Lisa’s reports. Unfortunately, they played during my shift at the beer concessions, and I could barely hear them. Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, accompanied by Westside Andy Linderman blowing the harp, wrapped up the afternoon with a smokin’ hot performance.

Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys
Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys

The Nick Moss Band opened the evening’s festivities, with Dennis Gruenling handling the harp duties.

The Nick Moss Band
The Nick Moss Band

They also had a surprise guest: this young lady had been dancing in front of the stage with her harp throughout the day, and at one point, someone picked her up and set her on stage. Nick saw her off to the side and welcomed her front and center, even putting his mike in front of her so we could hear her play. She’s a natural-born performer. In fifteen years or so, I expect to see her up there fronting her own band!

Dueling Harps with The Nick Moss Band
Dueling Harps with The Nick Moss Band

As Nick Moss wrapped up, we headed over to the side stage to hear blues guitarist Wheatbread Johnson, accompanied by Justin “Boots” Gates on the harp. The duo performed a variety of blues classics, like Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright.”

That’s Alright

They also did a couple of songs from Wheatbread’s 2018 album, “Boogie Fool”, including this killer acoustic version of one of my favorites, “Soul Food.”

Soul Food

The headline act was John Primer, featuring Steve Bell on the harp. They had the crowd dancing through their whole performance. Here they are doing a cool version of Muddy Waters’ “Close to You.”

John Primer covering Muddy Waters

Support Your Local Music Scene!

We like big festivals like Summer Camp and Hotel Blotto, and we hit some major concerts like Phish and The String Cheese Incident, but you can only afford so many of those every year – not enough to satisfy our music cravings. Fortunately, there’s local music available at a reasonable cost; supporting these acts is good for your budget, and it helps the smaller bands get their start. Maybe someday they’ll be playing the big time too, and you can say, “I saw them back when they were playing local gigs!”

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