Experience Blues Music “in the Key of Chicago” at the 37th Annual Chicago Blues Festival happening Friday, June 5 to Sunday, June 7, in Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St.) and Sunday, June 7, at Maxwell Street Market (800 S. Desplaines St.). The event is part of Chicago In Tune, the NEW 18-day celebration of music at venues and organizations across the city in conjunction with the 2020 Year of Chicago Music. With a diverse lineup celebrating the blues’ past, present, and future on six stages, the Chicago Blues Festival shares the great Chicago-born music tradition while shining a spotlight on the genre’s contributions to soul, R&B, gospel, rock, hip hop and more. Admission is free. For complete details, visit ChicagoBluesFestival.us.
“Each year, thousands of music fans come together for the Chicago Blues Festival to celebrate our city’s rich cultural legacy and world-famous blues tradition,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “In concert with the Year of Chicago Music, this year’s festival will also showcase the vivid rhythms and sounds being played across our entire thriving music scene, promising to make an unforgettable experience for music-lovers of all ages.”
A signature part of the Year of Chicago Music, “Chicago In Tune” will bring music organizations and venues across the city together to celebrate music of all genres and forms from May 21 to June 7. The event is anchored by three free-admission city music festivals – the Chicago House Music Conference and Festival (May 21–23), the Chicago Gospel Music Festival (May 26–30) and the Chicago Blues Festival (June 5–7) – that spotlight three genres of music born and innovated in Chicago. The 18 days of music will stretch to every corner of the city with free and ticketed events at participating venues and clubs. A full listing of performances and events will be listed at Do312.com.
“Chicago In Tune represents an outstanding opportunity to experience Chicago’s thriving music scene,” said Mark Kelly, Commissioner of DCASE. “Spanning genres as diverse as hip hop, indie rock, experimental, jazz, Latinx, classical and more, music will emanate from our stunning music halls, authentic neighborhood clubs, world-class festivals, and inspiring youth programs.
The headliners of the Chicago Blues Festival perform on the Jay Pritzker Pavilion stage from 4:30 to 9pm each evening. Music and entertainment throughout the park will begin at 11am each day.
Friday, June 5 – Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Award-winning Chicago blues and soul vocalist Shemekia Copeland will headline the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on opening day of the festival in Millennium Park. The Grammy® Award-nominated artist is her generation’s “Queen of the Blues.” The evening will also include performances by legendary guitarist Jimmy Johnson joined by blues harpist Billy Branch, electric blues from the Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling and St. Louis, Missouri, bluesman Marquise Knox.
Saturday, June 6 – Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Headliner Candi Staton, the Grammy® Award-nominated “First Lady” of southern soul will perform for the first time at the Chicago Blues Festival. Blues masters and legacy duo Steve Bell and John Primer and young Mississippi blues artist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram will also perform. Another festival debut includes Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra featuring Sugaray Rayford and San Francisco blues vocalist Terrie Odabi starting the evening with a dynamic and soulful set.
Sunday, June 7 – Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Making his Chicago Blues Festival debut, Memphis, Tennessee, guitar hero Eric Gales will close the festival with his unique blues/rock guitar sound. Other performances will include Erwin Helfer on the piano with Katherine Davis and Chicago’s world-renowned Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials. Vocalist Catherine Russell has been commissioned by the festival to celebrate classic blues women and the centennial of the 1920 hit “Crazy Blues.” The song, written by Mamie Smith, paved the way for decades of recordings by artists like Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday.
Local and national blues musicians will perform on five additional stages throughout the day and evening in Millennium Park.
The Budweiser Crossroads Stage presents a high energy mix of electric blues, blues rock, country blues and soul on Chase Promenade South, daily from 11:30am to 6pm.
On Friday, June 5, the stage will feature two festival favorites, Mississippi guitarist Castro Coleman, known to fans as Mr. Sipp, at 3:15pm and Chicago’s own John Primer and The Real Deal Blues band at 4:45pm. The lineup on Saturday, June 6, includes performances by the Montreal-based blues vocalist Dawn Tyler Watson at 2pm. Making his festival debut, Tab Benoit, the Grammy® Award-nominated artist, will close the stage with his gritty Delta swamp blues at 4:45pm. 2020 International Blues Challenge Group winner the Horojo Trio will open the stage on Sunday, June 7, at 11:30am, and Atlanta blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis will make his festival debut at 2pm.
The Visit Mississippi Juke Joint Stage showcases the sounds of the Delta blues on Chase Promenade North, daily from 11:45am to 6pm. Each day at 4:45pm, the stage will present a Mississippi Jam Session led by Kenny “Beedy” Eyes Smith along with other featured artists. Other stage highlights include blues guitarist Eddie Cotton Jr. on Friday, June 5, at 2:15pm followed by Cedric Burnside at 3:30pm. On Saturday, June 6, blues, gospel music, and R&B artist Dorothy Moore performs at 3:30pm. She is best known for her 1976 hit, “Misty Blue.” On Sunday, June 7, at 2:15pm, the Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band will bring the vanishing African American blues tradition that originated in the Mississippi Delta more than a century ago. Playing the homemade cane pipe, Shardé Thomas now leads the group in the steps of her grandfather and band founder, Othar Turner.
The Southwest Airlines Front Porch Stage highlights homegrown, Chicago-based blues artists, with a few surprises, in Wrigley Square, from 11am to 9pm on Friday, June 5, and Saturday, June 6, and from 11am to 7:30pm on Sunday, June 7. On Friday, June 5, the stage will kick off at 11am with Blues in the Schools and the New Rhythm Art Center. With performances throughout the day, the stage will close with Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular! with Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Matthew Skoller, Billy Flynn, Bill Dickens and Michael Caskey at 8pm. At 11am on Saturday, June 6, the 2020 International Blues Challenge Solo/Duo winner Hector Anchondo will perform. The youth showcase, Bridges to Blues will feature young artists performing blues fused with contemporary music styles at 2pm. For the final set of the day, blues guitarist and Rosa’s Lounge regular Melody Angel will bring her rock-infused blues to the stage at 8pm. On Sunday, June 8, Carl Weathersby performs at 3:30pm followed by the son of the legendary Willie Dixon, Freddie Dixon Chicago Blues Allstars at 5pm.
The Park Grill Stage features an array of acoustic and electric soloists, duos and trios in an intimate setting on the Park Grill Plaza, daily from 2 to 4:45pm. Performers include renowned blues artists like Eric Noden and Harmonica Hinds, among others. Just north of Cloud Gate from 11am to 9pm daily, Rosa’s Lounge showcases Chicago Blues legends and emerging artists that have called Rosa’s Lounge home over the last 35 years.
Remembering Chicago’s Blues Legacy and the 70th Anniversary of Chess Records
On Thursday, June 4, the Chicago Blues Festival will host a kickoff event at Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation at the Historic Chess Records (2120 S. Michigan Ave.) to celebrate their 70th anniversary and pay homage to artists who electrified the blues and put Chicago on the map. The special collaboration with the Blues Heaven Foundation and Chicago Blues Revival will include a Record Row walking tour, musical performances and much more from 6 to 8:30pm.
Bridges To The Blues 2020
Bridges to the Blues is a multi-generational program that challenges young Chicago musicians to re-imagine the blues. Program participants learn blues music fundamentals from Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, one of todays’ best blues drummers, as well as songwriting and performance practices from multi-Grammy® Award- and Oscar Award-winning artist Che “Rhymefest” Smith. They then collaborate on original music that merges the blues with contemporary music styles and audition for a performance slot at the Chicago Blues Festival on Saturday, June 7. This program is supported by DCASE and facilitated by Art of Culture Inc.
Maxwell Street Market
On Sunday, June 7, music fans are encouraged to stop by Chicago’s historic Maxwell Street Market located at 800 S. Desplaines St. for even more live blues from 1 to 2:15pm. The market, open Sundays from 9am to 3pm, is a Chicago tradition with an eclectic mix of handmade crafts, resale housewares and clothing, live music, family fun and some of the best street food in Chicago. For more information, visit MaxwellStreetMarket.us.
The Chicago Blues Festival is FREE and open from 11am to 9pm daily in Millennium Park. For complete details, visit ChicagoBluesFestival.us, join the conversation on Facebook at Chicago Blues Festival and follow us on social media with #ChicagoBluesFestival.
The Chicago Blues Festival is presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and sponsored in part by Budweiser, Chicago Jazz Magazine, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Tribune, Rosa’s Lounge, Southwest Airlines, Visit Mississippi, WGN-Television, 90.9fm WDCB Public Radio and 93XRT. Additional support is provided by The Blues Foundation and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency for the Year of Chicago Music.
Planning Your Visit to the Chicago Blues Festival
During the summer season, Millennium Park will implement additional security measures designed to improve the visitor experience at the park. Outside alcohol will be prohibited at the Chicago Blues Festival. Subject to bag search at the security perimeter, guests will continue to be allowed to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages to all events in Millennium Park. Visitors will have food and beverage options available for purchase at various price points inside the venue.
Visitors are encouraged to take CTA to Millennium Park. To plan your route, visit transitchicago.com. For those parking, Millennium Park Garages are located at Millennium Park Garage and Millennium Lakeside Garage at 5 S. Columbus Drive, Grant Park North Garage at 25 N. Michigan Ave. and Grant Park South Garage at 325 S. Michigan Ave. Pre-purchase parking at millenniumgarages.com and save up to 50% off drive-up rates.