Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chicago Blues Festival

My first trip to Chicago - a solid city that looks after its citizens. You can't but be impressed by the amount of outstanding public sculpture including a giant Picasso, a Miro, and a huge Chagall mosaic. There are plenty of playful pieces also that are clearly enjoyed by the people out for their weekend walks. There's the giant reflective bean by Anish Kapoor that catches the spectacular skyline and the fountain spewing water from the mouths of changing images of Chicago citizens. Add in the Art Institute with its wide-ranging permanent collection (Hopper, Van Gogh, Rothko, Seurat, Gaughin, and even Remington's paintings of the old West) and you get one of the best art destinations in the US.

The blues festival is entirely free. There were four or five venues going non-stop from early afternoon to late evening over three days. All courtesy of the city and its mayor, Richard M. Daley. All the venues had his name emblazoned over the stages. Who's your daddy. It was well policed and attended by a huge good-humoured and heterogeneous crowd. There were food and drink stalls, loads of toilets and a huge support team to organise the crowds and the traffic. (Lord Mountcharles take note.)

I hadn't heard of most of the acts but they were unfailingly excellent. The highlight was probably Magic Slim and I enjoyed Lurrie Bell and Jeremy Spencer as well. Magic Slim was a truculent looking old buffer (and far from slim) with a missing little finger (severed by a cotton gin apparently) but he made his guitar sing. He was helped onto and off the stage but once there commanded his band with good old-fashioned autocratic hauteur.

For those who liked it a bit more lively Lil' Ed with his fez and his Chuck Berry sound got the people bopping. Late on Sunday Jeremy Spencer did a set that was redolent of the old Fleetwood Mac, before they became a Californian pop group.

Moving around Grant Park over the three days of the festival you couldn't but be struck by how well-behaved and relatively sober the crowds were. And how you had every class of citizen from the professorial to the janitorial. Would we be able to do the same thing in the Phoenix Park? Would you get the same mix? I doubt it. It would be dominated by hordes of marauding cider heads and the older citizens would give it a miss.