The weekend of free blues performances will culminate with a centennial celebration at the Petrillo Music Shell honoring Waters, the “father of modern Chicago blues,” and Dixon, the “poet laureate of the blues,” beginning at 5:30 p.m. June 14.
The two Chicago blues legends each had a hand in the origins of the Chicago Blues Festival. On Aug. 30, 1969, Dixon along with Murphy Dunne ("The Blues Brothers"), produced a blues concert at the former Chicago Band Shell located in Grant Park at 11th St.
The 10 hour precursor to today’s festival included performances by Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Walter Horton, Sam Lay, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Little Milton, Koko Taylor, Big Mama Thornton, Junior Wells and ended with Muddy Waters performing "Got My Mojo Workin."
Fifteen years later, the first Chicago Blues Festival was held in 1984 in honor of Waters, who had passed away the year before. This year’s festival, coinciding with the centennial of both musicians’ birth year, will now pay tribute with performance by protégés, former band mates, friends and family members.
Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues will kick off the June 14 finale event at 5:30 p.m. at the Petrillo Music Shell. Branch, a Willie Dixon protegé, is an award-winning artist who honed his harmonica skills with harp masters Big Walter Horton, James Cotton and Carey Bell.
The Willie Dixon centennial tribute will follow at 6:30 p.m. featuring Billy Branch, Keisha Dixon, Tomiko Dixon, Freddie Dixon, Alex Dixon, Bobby Dixon, Sugar Blue and John Watkins, among others. Dixon penned blues classics like “Wang Dang Doodle”, a song made famous by blues queen Koko Taylor and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” for Muddy Waters.
At 8:15 p.m., Waters' musical legacy will be celebrated with a jam session by former band members, family and friends. The tribute will include Bob Margolin, Mud Morganfield, Big Bill Morganfield, John Primer, Rick Kreher, Bob Stroger, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, E.G. McDaniel, Paul Oscher, Jerry Portnoy and Barrelhouse Chuck.
The Chicago Blues Festival is free and open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. The Petrillo Music Shell will feature headliners from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. June 12 and June 13. The stage will run 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. June 14.
A complete lineup for the Chicago Blues Fest will be released this spring. Leading up to the Chicago Blues Festival, during May and June, there will be several preview performances and film screenings held at the Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. and Chicago Public Library locations throughout the city. The “official” Chicago Blues Festival preview on Daley Plaza is set for June 8.