Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chicago band Archie Powell and the Exports releasing new album of well-crafted pop songs


Chicago musician Archie Powell's well-crafted pop songs give one hope that the art of songwriting is not dead.

Powell and his band the Exports,, on May 1 will release their second full-length album, "Great Ideas in Action." Hopefully they will give people a sneak preview of the album when they play March 3 at Township, 2200 N. California Ave., Chicago.

Rodeo Ruby Love and The Noise FM also are on the bill. The show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets are $5, available at

I had the chance to talk to Powell about the album and the impact he has been making on the Chicago music scene.

Q - "Great Ideas in Action" is your second full-length album. In sitting down to make the album, what goals did you have in mind? Did you achieve them?

Essentially I was going for a sound that was more akin to how we come across at a live show. That ultimately meant giving ourselves a country-ectomy and upping the feedback.

Q - What constitutes a good pop song?

Is it dynamic? Is it memorable? Most importantly, is it honest?

Q - What were your reasons for moving from Madison, Wis., to Chicago? What have you discovered about the Chicago music scene since moving here?

Ultimately it was about getting a change in scenery. The Chicago music scene has been very kind to us. 

It's a big pond with a lot of fish, but if you stick around long enough you'll find the right folks to tag along with. I love it here.

Q - Did you write the songs for the new album collaboratively with the band? How does that process work?

I write all of the songs in my bedroom before I show them to the band. Essentially I bring them a plain cheese pizza and they make it better by putting a bunch of actual toppings on it.

Q - Given the new technology available to bands these days, do you think being a musician these days is harder or easier? How have you tried to tap into that technology?

As far as the Internet is concerned, the whole thing can be a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand it's very easy to get your material out there for public consumption.

On the other hand, everyone else knows how to do this as well. You've got a lot of white noise to fight through out there.

Q - Are you and the rest of the band still juggling making music with day/night jobs? Did you write "Job Fair" out of empathy for those looking for work?

We all work to support ourselves and the band. I'm not exactly looking for a "career" job, so to speak, but the song speaks to the bullshit a lot of my peers are going through at this point in time.

Q - Given that your dad is a musician, was it a given that you would also become a musician? How much influence has your dad had in your musical career?

My Dad was always incredibly supportive of my ridiculous fantasy lifestyle. I couldn't have asked for more.

On one hand you might be able to say that I've "got the genes" for this line of work, but if I hadn't been nurtured to do it I'd probably be doing something else entirely right now.

He passed away last November, the album is dedicated in his memory. A true legend of the game.

Q - Your songs have drawn much critical praise. How important is that to you? What are your goals as a musician?

I write songs for my own fulfillment. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't enjoy the validation that comes from third party praise, but that's ultimately just a bonus.

I don't put out anything I can't stand behind. If you like it too, then that's lovely news.

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

Short term - get this damn record out. Long term - get more damn records out. As long as the music's still good.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Evanston musician Howard Levy celebrating Grammy win, coming to Chicago area with the rest of Bela Fleck and The Flecktones

Credit: Jeremy Cowart

Evanston resident Howard Levy is already acknowledged as one of the world's most innovative harmonica players.

He was honored by his peers again when he recently received his second Grammy, this one for "Life in Eleven," a song he co-wrote with Bela Fleck that is featured on the Flecktones 2011 release, "Rocket Science."

To say that Levy is is demand is an understatement. He has appeared on hundreds of albums and has worked with the likes of Dolly Parton, Paul Simon and Donald Fagen.

The original lineup of Bela Fleck and The Flecktones - Levy, Fleck, Victor Wooten and Futureman - will perform at 8 p.m. March 2 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie. The band will also perform at 8 p.m. March 3 at North Central College's Wentz Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville.

Tickets to the Skokie show range from $38 to $68, available at Tickets to the Naperville show range from $70 to $80, available at

I had the chance to interview Levy about his Grammy win as well as a number of other topics.

Q - Congratulations on your recent Grammy win. Was this Grammy award more satisfying  than the first one, and the fact that "Rocket Science" was the first release in 20 years with the original band lineup?
Thanks. Winning the first one was kind of a shock- a great shock- because it was totally unexpected. It was for a live performance of "The Sinister Minister" that I played on four years after I quit the band. 

It was a Grammy for Instrumental Performance that went to the whole band. We were all there together in NY at the Grammy ceremony and got up on stage together. 

This time, the nomination was for Bela and me for co-writing "Life in Eleven". Neither of us went to the ceremony. So it was very different. But it felt GREAT to win, especially for something that I co-composed. 

This is a real honor and means more in that way. And we never could have won it without Vic and Roy playing on it.

Q - What should people expect from the tour? Will the band be giving audiences a taste of what it has done over the years?

We played 90 shows last year and will continue to play a blend of some of the older material from our first three albums and a lot of the music from "Rocket Science," along with solo pieces by all four of us scattered through the show.

Q - You toured with the band in 2010 for the first time in 18 years. Did it take time to feel comfortable with the band again or was the process fairly easy?
Well, first I did a three week tour in late 2010. I agreed to do it because it had a beginning and an end. 

It felt great at the first rehearsal. A lot of the old excitement came back. As a result of that, I agreed to record a CD and tour for a year. 

Recording the CD was a lot of very hard work - co- writing, tossing ideas back and forth online, traveling back and forth to Nashville, and finally recording for more than three weeks. 

When we started touring, we had to really learn or re-learn all this music. It took a little while, but the band chemistry was there onstage from the first show.

Q - Of course, you co-founded the band. What goals did you have in helping form the band and do you think the band has lived up to its goals?
We started it together at a TV show in Louisville, KY in 1988. The main thing was that everyone was open to trying just about anything, centered mostly around Bela's compositions, which were very adventurous and varied. 

And each of us had plenty of chances to play solos, and be featured prominently. But it was extremely full- time and the traveling was hard. 

As time went on, I needed to go back to playing more of my own music and having more musical variety in my life, two of the main reasons why I left. But now that I've done that, coming back feels very good. 

Everyone has matured a lot musically and personally. We play more of my music and Vic's music, and we are still exploring the edges of what we can play, pushing each other to reach new levels. And we all get along with each other very well

Q - What kind of satisfaction do you get through your music workshops and your online harmonica classes? What's the number one quality you need in learning how to play harmonica?

I am very proud of my online harmonica school, the Howard Levy Harmonica School. I have recorded hundreds of lessons in just about every style and level of playing. 

Members can also send me videos of their playing. I send a video response, and the 2 are paired together as a master class that everyone can view and learn from. 

This website is set up for maximum learning and enjoyment. I have performances, tracks to play with, interviews with harmonica players and other musicians (there is one with Bela), discussion forums, and a chat. 
I am really proud of it and give major kudos to Artist Works for persuading me to do this. 

I'd say the number one quality you need for playing harmonica is perseverance. The instrument is invisible, and many of the standard techniques that you need to play even simple blues licks can't be learned the way you can learn on guitar, piano, saxophone. 

Perseverance, concentration, faith, devotion, love for the instrument. And if you have those, the harmonica will reward you richly.

Q - You've worked with so many artists, including the likes of Dolly Parton and Paul Simon. Is it always an honor when such an artist wants to work with you? Do you learn from the artists you work with?
Oh yes. Each time I play as a sideman on a recording, with famous or unknown artists, if they have good quality music that they ask me to play on, I think I always learn something and feel good about being a part of something artistic. 

Of adding my voice or just even some simple parts to someone else's music that make it sound better. And sometimes these collaborations pull things out of me that would never happen otherwise, too. 

Dolly was a total sweetheart. She cooked me lunch first, and after I played she stood behind me with her hand on my shoulder as we listened to playbacks in the booth, and was highly complimentary and insightful in a sincere and heartfelt way about my playing. 

I felt that she looked right into my soul and interacted with me on that level. It was a beautiful experience and I felt like I was walking on a little cloud for several hours afterwards. 

Paul Simon - he is very demanding and looking for that little indefinable something that will influence the sound of a track and set off a stream of consciousness in his mind. He is very complex, in the moment, spontaneous yet calculating - trying to find the alchemy in the music that makes it feel like it's coming from inside him. 

Donald Fagen was a total blast to play for. We had a great time hanging out and talking about John Coltrane after I played. And it turned out that both of us went a lot to The Village Vanguard as teenagers and bought our jazz LP's at the same record store in The Village (I grew up in NY). 

He also had me sit in with him three times when he came to Chicago with his own band and with Steely Dan - these were true musical highlights.

Q - Your harmonica playing has been featured in several movies. What do you think it is about the way you play your harmonica that makes it fit well in movies?
I am proud of playing on some of those soundtracks, especially "A Family Thing" with James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall. I love playing with actors, dancers, any non- musical performers. I have done a lot of that, so playing with movies is a very natural thing for me to do, to take a basic melody and play it in a way that meshes with the action on the screen or the dialog. 

Playing for "A Family Thing", they gave us each monitor screens so we could see and interact with the film. I love working like this. And the composer knew my capabilities, wrote things specially for me and encouraged me to be expressive. 

I think of the harmonica as a voice, so sometimes it's like having a conversation with the characters or commenting on the action. And sometimes it's just playing the ink! But feel - that's the thing - I always try to play with feel.

Q - It seems as though you are always busy with one project or another. Has your  Balkan Samba Records label lived up to your expectations? Will you be signing  more artists to the label in the future?
Ah, Balkan Samba! That's my baby. It's mostly for my own projects, or for friends of mine who I collaborate with. My solos CD "Alone and Together" made the Downbeat list of best jazz CD's in 2010. 

I am very proud of that. I have put out 6 CD's and a DVD so far. The material ranges from jazz to blues to classical to Latin and more. In the pipeline is a release of a collaboration with guitarist singer/songwriter John Guth. 

We played together in the early 1970's in Chicago, and reunited to record a bunch of his music a few years ago. It's unique stuff.

Q - Do you have any dream collaborations or projects?
I would love to record my Latin Jazz Suite "Recuerdos de Nueva Yorque". We performed it with 12 musicians (Chevere and three additional horns) last summer in Millennium Park and the crowd went crazy. 

I also am composing more pieces for harmonica and orchestra to follow up my concerto, and have started to write a suite for harmonica and jazz orchestra. I'd also like to record a CD of jazz tunes I wrote when I was 19 and 20 (mostly piano) and another jazz CD collaborating with great jazz musicians (mostly on harmonica).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Singer-songwriter Ruth Moody bringing award-winning sound to Elgin Community College


When she is not captivating audiences as part of renowned folk group The Wailin' Jennys, Ruth Moody is making beautiful music on her own.

Moody will perform at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25 in the SecondSpace Theatre at Elgin Community College, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin.

Tickets are $20/$25. More information is at

I had the chance to talk to Moody about the tour and her other activities.

Q - How has the tour been going? What do you like about performing solo versus with The Wailin' Jennys? What additional challenges are there?
I love both a lot...obviously the main difference is that I'm fronting this show on my own. It takes a different kind of focus and energy to be the leader in that way. 

That has been a really good challenge for me - anything like that forces you to draw on new and different aspects of yourself. You realize that you have abilities that perhaps you didn't think you had because you never had to draw on them before. 

Of course, I love performing with the Jennys as well - that collaborative experience is so much fun. I have that more and more with the boys too now, which is great. 

This tour has been going amazingly well. I feel so lucky to be doing what I'm doing. It's been hard work - I've been on the road for almost 5 months now. But I feel like I'm growing so much as a musician and performer, and that feels so rewarding.

Q - You grew up in a musical family. Was it inevitable that you would have a career in music? What do you think drew you to Irish and Scottish music, and then folk music?

Hard to say...I suppose it might have been inevitable...given that my brother and one of my sisters are professional musicians too. 

My other sister is a doctor - she was probably the smart one...ha ha. My mother, who is a music teacher, is this incredible force of nature. We all grew up listening and singing and was such a normal part of life. 

I studied classical voice starting in my early teens but somewhere in there I learned some Irish and Scottish folk songs and realized that that style of music really suited my voice, and also really resonated with me emotionally and spiritually. 

From that point on I just starting building up a repertoire of folk and traditional songs. Around the same time I went to the Winnipeg Folk Festival for the first time and was exposed to all kinds of traditional well as a lot of contemporary singer-songwriters. That changed my life.

Q - What goals did you have in sitting down to make "The Garden?" Did you intentionally want it to sound different from what you've done with The Wailin' Jennys?

I don't think so - whenever I record I basically just want to be true to the songs. The garden became what it is fairly organically - with the help of some brilliant musicians and of course the care of my amazing producer, David Travers-Smith.

Q - It's been a couple of years since that album came out. Are you working on new songs and are you playing them on this tour?
Yes! We're playing new songs and it's been really exciting. I think it's fun for the guys to come up with parts on songs that haven't been recorded before. 

It's nice to be in that stage now - getting to explore new creative ideas with each other. I'm definitely starting to think about recording a new record....not sure when it will happen exactly but I'll likely record some demos in the next couple of months and take it from there.

Q -  In forming The Wailin' Jennys, what were your goals? What do you think makes the band work? Did you ever think the band would be received so well, by both critics and the public alike?

We didn't really have any goals! We talked about doing one show together, the three of us original founding members (Nicky, Cara and I) just to have some fun and sing on each others' songs. 

I grew up singing with my two sisters and when my band at the time, Scruj MacDuhk, broke up, I decided I wanted to sing with women again. The female 3-part harmony thing was really calling me. 

I knew Nicky and Cara were great singers so I asked if they'd be into doing some jamming and putting on a show. That show sold out quickly, so we added another one. The second show sold out and we started to get the feeling that we might have stumbled on something special.

Which we had, in terms of the musical chemistry and the vocal blend. We got really lucky there - and have always gotten lucky in that regard.

It's evolved and blossomed every step of the way with our different incarnations, and we've all grown as singers, but we've always had a good vocal blend and that has been key. I think the other thing that makes the band work is that Nicky and I have always had a similar work ethic, right from the beginning. 

You might even say we are both workaholics - we don't stop until the work is finished. Which can be to our detriment if we don't take care to stay balanced and take time off. But we really 'get' each other in that way, and know we can count on each other when there is work to be done. 

We are really different too, but we complement each other, strengths-wise, I think. And Heather fits in so beautifully - personality-wise and musically. We knew she was a kindred spirit the minute we met her. 

Q - The Wailin' Jennys in 2010 performed as part of a tribute concert to Bruce Cockburn. Was that an especially high honor for you, especially since he is from Canada? What do you come away with when you perform with legendary performers like him?

It's an incredible honor. There is nothing like it. You try and enjoy the moment but usually the whole time you're thinking, 'I can't believe this is happening'.

Especially with someone like Bruce, whose songs we grew up with, and who is such an incredible writer, player and singer, and who is such a special human being on top of that. It is a thrill and an honor.

Q - What's on the horizon for both you and The Wailin' Jennys?

The Jennys are taking time off the road right now, so that we all have time to do other things and/or spend some time at home, with our families. Every time we've done this we've come back recharged and ready to get creative with each other again. 

I'm about to wrap up this tour and pretty soon I'll have a month at home in Winnipeg. I can hardly believe it. I have some exciting things coming up though, lots of festivals over the summer, so I'll be back on the road soon enough. 

Q -  Do you have any dream collaborations, either on your own or with The Wailin' Jennys?

I feel like I just experienced my dream collaboration. I was lucky enough to be on this amazing tour called the Transatlantic Sessions, as part of Celtic Connections in Glasgow. 

The 'house band' included Jerry Douglas, Ally Bain, Phil Cunningham, Tim O'Brien, Bruce Molsky, John Doyle, John McCusker, Mike McGoldrick, and many more. Some of my favorite musicians of all time. 

It was very surreal. Eddie Reader, who was also on the tour, described the band as 'God's band', which was an apt description. Anyway, being able to collaborate with those folks was such an honor, and an experience I'll never forget. 

Aside from that, I have a number of friends that I've talked to recently about doing some recording when our schedules allow - and I'm looking forward to having a chance to follow up on that. But I can't name names because I don't want to spoil the surprise!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Boston band The Del Fuegos full of energy these days, will perform in Chicago area this month


After playing together last year for the first time in 21 years, Boston band The Del Fuegos are now acting like they never broke up.

The Del Fuegos next week will release an eight song EP, "Silver Star," and embark on a U.S. tour that takes them to Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, on Feb. 25. Hollow also is on the bill.

The show starts at 9 p.m., and advance tickets are $20, $25 at the door, available at On Feb. 26, The Del Fuegos will perform at 8 p.m. at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

Tickets range in price from $22 to $40, available at

Formed by brothers Dan and Warren Zanes, The Del Fuegos stormed through the '80s with hits like "Don't Run Wild" and "I Still Want You." The tour will feature the band's original lineup, which also includes bassist Tom Lloyd and drummer Woody Giessmann.

I had the chance to talk to Warren Zanes about The Del Fuegos' latest activities.

Q - What was it about last year's reunion shows that made you want to do a 11-city tour?

Really, we were encouraged by the feeling in our guts and, possibly, groins. It was that rock and roll thing, still working on us. Of course, we all have jobs, kids, families, love lives, and various matters to attend to, so we can't go out for too long. 

But we found a little window of opportunity and wanted to see what kind of trouble we could make for each other and the folks along the way.

Q - There seems to be a lot of good buzz about the tour. What are your expectations for the tour?

It took a while, but we finally got ourselves out of the expectations business. That's a dangerous business. When you're young and putting out records, you get into dreaming about what might happen. 

With every release you're thinking maybe this one will break your band at a higher level. Fair enough - but it can get in the way of the music. 

This time around we're not asking the music to change our lives. We just want to feel that feeling of playing in a band. And we're playing better than ever. It's a simple affair. And it suits the music.

Q - You guys just recorded eight new songs. How was the process? 

I've never cut tracks this fast. We recorded for three days. No room for second guessing yourself. No room for self-indulgent musings, you know?

A great guy named Rob Friedman helped us stay on course and make good choices. And, frankly, next to falling in love or watching your kids shine, cutting tracks is about as much deep fun as a man can have. 

Dan gave me some room to bring in songs, which felt like a really nice change and a soulful gesture. Overall, the machine started without having to change the oil.

Q - In forming the band the first around, what were your goals? Did you achieve most of them?  

Speaking for Dan and Tom, who started the band, I think the goal was primal: sex and rhythm. And the meeting of those two things. Nothing changes since Elvis came along.

Q - Your relationship with your brother has been described as "fractious." How is your relationship these days? Do you think healthy competition is good, especially when being in a band together?

Hmmm. It's great being in a band with a brother. It kicks off a particular energy that really works in the rock and roll territory. 

And it's awfully hard being in a band with a brother. Sometimes fratricide seems like a reasonable option. When I went off to get my doctorate and start teaching, it helped that we were in different territories. We weren't competing to see who the undergraduates liked better. 

But time passes, and we're both involved in music, and we're really seeing that if we weren't brothers, we'd probably be best friends.

Q - What's the future of The Del Fuegos after this tour is over?

That one can't be answered. We certainly never thought we'd be heading out on a tour.

But here we are. It's better to sit back, ask no questions, and watch where life takes you.

As had been said, "If you want to give God a laugh, tell him your plans."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chicago band The Sometimes Family bringing soulful sound to scene


Although Chicago band The Sometimes Family might not be a family in the strict sense of the world, the band's seamless blend of soul and R&B invites comparisons to such family bands as The Staple Singers and The Jackson 5.

On Feb.16, The Sometimes Family,, will bring its soulful sound to the Darkroom, 2210 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 10 p.m.

The Sometimes Family also will perform at 9 p.m. March 12 at Cole's Bar, 2338 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

I had the chance to talk to frontwoman Rebecca Sometimes Gurga about the band and its music.

Q- The band's music has been described in various ways. How would you describe your music? Who are your main influences?

What sets the Sometimes Family apart from other groups in this new soul era is our aim to bring back the vocally-driven tune, the collaborative, harmonic group sound. Drawing inspiration from a variety of soul sources, including the Fifth Dimension, the Staples Singers, the Jackson 5 and the Friends of Distinction, we write our songs with the whole family in mind.

The Sometimes Family fuses a bluesy, soulful language with vocally driven melodies. Bass and drum grooves, rhythmic organ, and sweet flute lines seal the deal to an incredible listening experience. Our music tickles your limbs and sets them in motion.

Q - How did the band get together? Is there a meaning behind the band's name?

Steve Schuster (bass) and I were in another band previous to the Sometimes Family, and when we decided to put together a soul band, for some reason instead of horns we thought flute.

I think I wanted to start small, but in the end we realize that we don't need horns - everybody has horns. We met our other three members when we put ads on Craigslist (one at a time).

I had the name Rebecca Sometimes as a stage name and we thought it would be catchy to call us the Sometimes Family. It inspired images of old time funky soul bands, like Sly and the Family Stone, Kool and the Gang, KC and the Sunshine Band, the Jackson 5, the Friends of Distinction.


Q - For those not familiar with the band, what should people expect from your live show?

People not familiar with our set can expect a lively show reminiscent of the late '60s and early '70s, a little bit funky, and vocally driven arrangements. It's super fun to see the Sometimes Family live.

Q - What are the band's goals for this year?

We are finishing up an album (due out this spring), and we'll be going on our first tour this July.

Q - How do you think The Sometimes Family fits into the Chicago music scene? What do you think the band adds to the scene?

The Sometimes Family has a bit of an underground presence in the Chicago music scene, which is to say that still, no one has ever heard of us. But we get a big response from our audience.

We play often and try to connect with other lovers of soul music and other soul bands. We are very different from your typical soul band in that we don't have horns and instead try to fill out the horn parts with vocals.

My goal as a writer and leader is to establish our soul sound authentically without the obvious choice of horns. I also like to write songs as if I were living in that era, trying to imagine what the issues were of the day and include songs about social justice.

I study the black experience of the '60s and '70s and the civil rights movement in order to respect and understand the experiences of my soul forebearers.

Also, to add, we have a family dynamic. Our band is very close and aside from our drummer, Phil Merker, we live with each other. We hang out with one another and though life isn't always perfect, we find a way to persevere, just like family.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chicago band The Teflons mix it up in entertaining fashion


Chicago band The Teflons seamlessly blend such divergent styles as country, doo-wop and Hawaiian music to create a sound that is both original and entertaining.

The Teflons,, will perform with the equally entertaining Chicago string band Sunnyside Up on Feb.19 as part of the 5th annual After Brunch Bash and Barn Dance at FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn.

The show starts at 1 p.m., and tickets are $12 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under, available at

Teflons singer Barb Silverman juggles being a member of the band with a variety of other activities, including being a music teacher. I had the chance to talk to Silverman about the band and her other activities.

Q - You both play and teach music. Which is more satisfying? Do you hope that those who participate in your workshops at Old Town School of Folk Music will help carry on the tradition of folk music?

It’s apples and oranges, equally delicious.There’s the gratification of seeing a student, adult or child, suddenly able to hit a note, play a chord, shuffle a dance step that they couldn’t do before, and see the light in their eyes when it happens.

And there’s the mystery and joy of feeling your own skill and internal effort cycled right back to you in mid-performance by fellow musicians and audience. This very synergy is the folk music tradition in action, and I trust all involved will carry the torch forward. 

Q - The Teflons combine a mix of musical styles. What do you think makes it work? What was the idea behind the band?

Five female friends, all of whom have eclectic taste in traditional and roots music, got together and started harmonizing in Val’s living room and created a doo wop type of sound back 12 years ago. In time we added my guitar and washboard, Gail’s banjo-uke and bass, Eugenia’s flute, and men!

Rick’s vast fiddling experience with Rocky Stone and Patsy Montana, Keith’s stunning dobro, Colby’s masterful mandolin, Brian’s effortless bass all make it work. And the wide swath of swing, blues and country that we dip our fingers into.

As for our name, I was thinking of Tupperware but was afraid of cease and desist orders, so we went with The Teflons. Nothing sticks and no messy clean-up.

Q - You've had the opportunity to perform on "Prairie Home Companion." Did it live up to your expectations?

It was exciting to be on the show three times. Garrison is a quirky and brilliant man, the theatre was packed to the gills each time, and people were listening all over the country, even my mom and dad.

I remember when Garrison asked our mandolin player Stuart how he felt being on the show, he quipped, “I told my mom I was going to be on national radio, and she said, Get A Haircut.”


Q - What's happening with the Laketown Buskers these days? Can we expect any new songs from them in the near future?

Three of the original Laketown Buskers are now in my award-winning Schticklers Jug Band (2010 Champs), another performs nationally in the CafĂ© Accordion Orchestra, and one is fiddling and house-building on the East Coast. I don’t see a recording coming up soon for the Buskers, but possibly yes for the Schticklers.

Q - What was the idea behind creating Life Story Theatre and the White Crane Players? Has the project met with more success than you imagined?

I had always loved performing for elder audiences because invariably I would hear a gem of a story connected with some song I sang.  

I had the brainstorm of getting grant money to record and perform some of these stories, or better yet, to have the story-tellers themselves perform their own stories, with a few vintage songs connecting them together into a mosaic.  

Thus were Life Story Theatre and the White Crane Players born. I never dreamed funding would run from the city of Chicago to the Rothschild Foundation and that the project would grow and mutate to over twenty years of performance.

Q - Do you have any dream collaborations or dream projects?

That my career can continue is a bit of a dream come true, teaching and performing what I love. Dream collaboration?  That the After Brunch Bash be presented at the White House, clogging included.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mavis Staples will headline this year's Chicago Blues Fest

Chicago's own Mavis Staples will headline the 29th annual Chicago Blues Festival, which will run June 8 to 10 in Grant Park

Other headliners include Texas Johnny Brown on June 8 and Floyd Taylor on June 9. Staples will close the festival on June 10.

More than 60 years after she began singing with her ground-breaking family group, the Staple Singers, she is more popular than ever. In 2011, Mavis Staples won the Grammy for “Best Americana Album for "You Are Not Alone," produced by fellow Chicagoan, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. 

At the Petrillo Music Shell, on June 8, blues fans will be treated to a centennial celebration of Lightnin’ Hopkins. A renowned Texas blues guitarist from Houston, Hopkins died in 1982. Fellow Houston bluesman Texas Johnny Brown headlines with his unique, soulful guitar sound. Texas natives, Reverend KM Williams, Milton Hopkins (Lightnin’ Hopkins cousin) and Jewel Brown open the evening’s salute to an iconic artist.

Floyd Taylor headlines the Petrillo Music Shell on June 9. Born in Chicago, Taylor is the son of soul and R&B legend Johnnie Taylor. He spent many years learning from his father, shaping his talent as a “soul man” in his own right. With his father’s death in 2000, the torch was passed.

Not to be forgotten, the Petrillo will open on Saturday with a special tribute to “Honeyboy” by Paul Kaye.  Kaye toured and performed with David “Honeyboy” Edwards up until his death in 2011. Edwards was the last of the Delta Bluesmen and the last direct link to Robert Johnston. 

Following the tribute to “Honeyboy" is Muddy Waters Disciples; Pinetop Perkins, Willie Big Eyes Smith and Mojo Buford will be remembered on the Petrillo stage in a set featuring: Muddy Water’s son, Mud Morganfield; Willie Big Eyes Smith’s son, Kenny Smith; Bob Margolin, Barrelhouse Chuck, Lil Frank and Bob Stroger.

Women have their day on June 10 with all female performers at the Petrillo Music Shell. Prior to Staples taking the stage, festival goers will be treated to a tribute to the Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor, who died in June of 2009. Koko will be remembered in a special performance on Sunday night by a select group of blues women featuring Melvia “Chick” Rodgers, Jackie Scott, Deitra Farr and Nora Jean Brusco.

A special tribute to Hubert Sumlin on June 9 at the Front Porch Stage will be a must see for blues fans. The set will feature Steady Rollin Bob Margolin, Eddie Shaw, Kenny Smith, Dave Spector, Johnny Iguana, Bob Stroger & Bob Corritore. 

In June 2011, Honeyboy and Hubert Sumlin were scheduled to perform together at the Chicago Blues Festival during a tribute to Robert Johnson; they were both unable to perform due to health issues. Both died in 2011.  

Sumlin was best known as the lead guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf and he inspired some of the great rock guitarists of the era:  Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. 

The full line up will be announced at a later date. The 29th Annual Chicago Blues Festival is presented by the city of Chicago and produced by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

More information is available by going to