Chicago Blues Fest

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Saturday, June 9, 2007

Chicago Blues Festival

After the Printer's Row Book Fair everyone I was with went their separate ways to do various things with the rest of their day.  I on the other hand had nothing to do...the book fair was the only thing I had planned for the day...and having started early, I still had much of the day left.  I headed back to my car, ready to leave....and then remembered that this weekend was the Chicago Blues Fest, a four day long free blues event.  I dropped off the books I had purchased and decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and all that Chicago had to offer.

I started out just wandering around...slowly making my way towards the north portion of Grant park where the event was.  I strolled around and took lots of pictures of Chicago in general.  I am kinda glad that I decided to walk around....I had never really explored Chicago before.  And exploring the city on my own...I was able to wander aimlessly like i like...and absorb everything around me. 

The first pictures that I took were of an art exhibit in the park called Agra.  Agra consisted of iron molds of peoples legs...blown up to a gigantic size and lots of them too.  I am not exactly sure what message or thoughts the artist was trying to convey but for once, it was nice to not feel so tall.  Standing among the larger than life rusting iron legs was a nice change.  People always say that they wish they were taller.  What they don't realize is you stick out like a sore thumb...especially when your not just tall, but a bigger guy like I am. The whole size thing makes it hard to blend into a crowd.  Of course, I wouldn't want to change the way I naturally am...but it was nice for a moment to feel what it would be like if I wasn't so tall.

As I continued to walk towards the Blues festival, I took more pictures of Chicago.  One thing that I have to give the mayor credit for is that he does a good job of making the quality of life in Chicago the best it can be. The city has hundreds of well manicured parks all of which are exploding with red, purple, and pink flowers of every kind.  Chicago is also one of the cleaner cities I have had a chance to see.  And of course, don't forget all the free events that the mayor's staff puts on for the city...like blues fest to name one of many.

Just before I got to the concert grounds I walked by Buckingham Fountain and took a few pictures.  Buckingham fountain always seems to be a popular place for people to take pictures.  As I was walking up to the fountain I noticed a wedding party that was taking pictures...they couldn't have asked for a nicer day. 

As I started to get into the Blues fest grounds area...I came across some interesting acts.  The section was called "Section E - Street Performances".  I sat for a good hour listening to a woman play both a Dobro and a steel guitar.  She was simply amazing with the slide...I had spent all my money on books and didn't have any cash to tip her and felt bad about it when I left.  Although Later on I came back after going to the ATM and having bought some food.  The other street performer I watched was surrounded by probably just shy of 100 people. He had a good spot...right in the shade.  He was also playing a steel guitar...but was not really playing much slide guitar.  It was still good...and a good rest in the shade from all the walking I had done.

After listening to street performers for a while, I headed into the main grounds.  My goal was to meet some people from meetin.org that I new were going to blues fest to see Irma Thomas perform.  The only fault of my plan was that I had not taken down anyones numbers since I was not sure I would be going.  I stumbled around for about 20 minutes looking through the crowd for them...and then gave up and got some food.  I then headed into the seating section of the event and found a seat up close to the stage in the shade.  Being in the sun all day...it was key to find areas that provided shade.  I was surprised that the seating by the stage was not packed.  There were a very good amount of people...but there could have been a few more.  I think the reason for this is because to get into the seating area, you have to go through a check point and it almost seems like you need a ticket.  Luckily, I figure this whole thing out last year and went straight to the front.  The lawn area is more of a party...but I was by myself...so seats it was.

I sat down...and was able to make friends with the people next to me.  They had flown in from Santa Barbra to see the Blues Festival.  I stayed and watched two very good sets from two blues artists.  The first was Nelli "Tiger" Travis a local Chicago Blues Diva.  Nelli belted out songs from somewhere deep insider herself...it was truly an unbelievable performance.  The crowd gave her a standing ovation when she was done.  I thought that things couldn't get any better after the last performance...but I was wrong.  Next in the lineup was Big Jay McNeely...check out the description from wikipedia to get an idea of how Big Jay is.  His set couldn't have started out better.  Big Jay plays a bright green and red Saxophone...and there is also another member of his band that plays a tenor sax.  The set started out, unknown to myself and everyone else, with Big Jay not on stage.  The Band begins to play and the tenor sax starts playing notes that...well...a tenor sax cant toot.  At first I was think...man that guy must be pretty good to hit that high of a note on a tenor sax.  Then the tenor sax guy stopped playing and started adjusting his sax.  My first though was...whats going on...are they playing off a tape reel?  Then, out of nowhere...I see Big Jay McNeely walking through the audience blowing on his sax.  He put the audience into a craze...going up and down the isle playing his sax and occasionally stopping to sing.  To close his set...Jay and his band threw down a really great tune which included Big jay playing on his knees and on his back.  Truly a great performance from a great performer...did I also mention that Big Jay is 82.

I stuck around for the first half of Irma Thomas's performance but was not really impressed.  Her music was more low key...more vocal than performance.  I guess that I was expecting her to be more than what she was since the people I was trying to meet up with came to see Irma.  So I left and headed back towards downtown and along the way strolled through millenium park.

Millenium park is a remarkable place.  It has a beautiful garden that almost makes it seem like you're not even in the city.  There is also the Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry where the city holds symphonies and outdoor music events.  Probably the biggest attraction to millenium park is the "cloud gate" sculpture...better known as the big bean.  Of course, I had to do what everyone else does...and took a picture of my reflection in the bean. The last stop in Millenium park that I made was by the fountain.  The fountain in Millenium park is unique in that the two towers of the fountain are actually screens that show faces of people smiling and blinking.  Interesting concept...although I don't think I would want my face blown up that big and put on permanent display.

After leaving the Park district, I headed back into the more urban downtown area and hopped on the red line train.  The red line train is one of a few trains that runs underground...as opposed to the majority of the train lines that are "L"evated.  To my surprise when i got down to the platform was the sight and sounds of more music and people dancing.  It was amazing...words can't justify what I saw...it warmed my heart in an unbelievably strong way.  Maybe it was the dim lighting from the subway platform, maybe all the people with smiles on their faces slow dancing, or the way that the music reverberated perfectly of the tiny tunnel walls...I don't know...but it was a perfect way to end my day.  After being lost for a little bit in the moment...i remembered that my camera takes video clips.  After maneuvering around all the dancing people I was able to catch the very end of their performances...timed perfectly just as the train was coming in.

It was a good day...
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