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12:30-1:45pm Lil’ Jimmy Reed with Ben Levin

Lil’ Jimmy Reed, born Leon Atkins in 1938 in Hardwood, La., began gigging around the area as a teenager, cultivating a local reputation for his unique style, based closely on that of the popular (and soon to be legendary) Jimmy Reed. But for many years he supported himself with day jobs, mostly as a barber;  he also served in the military from 1972 to 1992. After returning to civilian life, he re-established himself in Baton Rouge, and in 1996, he released his long-awaited debut album, School’s Out (Vent). He’s dropped four more since then, the most recent being 2023's Back To Baton Rouge (Nola Blue), and he’s continued to expand his territory, performing across the U.S. and overseas and establishing legions of new admirers along the way.  At 85, his musical chops are undiminished, and his trademark sound – rooted in the classic Reed style but embellished with personalized variations and re-imaginings that place his own indelible identity on everything he does – remains one of the most satisfying and distinctive in all of blues.  He’ll be accompanied here by his frequent musical compatriot, keyboardist Ben Levin. (DW)

2:00-3:15pm Ivy Ford

Posing like Robert Johnson on her 2020 album Club 27, Ivy Ford showed how much she appreciates music history. Also known as “The Blues Kitten,” her own music goes much deeper than surface appearances. A fierce guitarist and singer who moves effortless from energetic blues shouts to subtle soul, Ford has been a crucial player, especially throughout the Midwest. Originally from Waukegan, Ill., she started singing with The Real Deal (out of Kenosha, Wisc,) and began playing guitar at 20. Drums, piano and saxophone are also in Ford’s arsenal. While she was still in her late teens Ford joined a band that became her own Ivy Ford and the Cadillacs. And she sought out mentors, including J.B. Ritchie, her stage presence started turning more heads when she opened for Buddy Guy during his annual Legends residency in 2015. Ford’s strong sense of musical tradition came through in her 2019 album Finding My Roots and the follow-up, Club 27, was a tribute to artists in different idioms who left this world too early. As Ford told blues writer Linda Cain, “I think I bring a boldness that is big but not overwhelming or intimidating. I have a huge sense of pride in what I do and I try not to be crass or present it in a caricature type manner. My work should speak for itself, but it’s very authentic and especially in my original music I’m an open book.” (AC)

3:30-4:45pm Luke Pytel Band featuring Laretha Weathersby

A featured artist at Rosa’s, Blue Chicago and other Chicago clubs, guitarist Luke Pytel has been a crucial part of the blues scene as a bandleader and sideman as well as at high-powered jam sessions. Pytel built his reputation as a sympathetic player who could also deliver a sharp sting when he performed alongside Liz Mandeville 20 years ago. Word got out and soon enough he was accompanying such key players as Jimmy Burns and Ronnie Hicks. He started leading his own group in 2008 that became known for infectious R&B grooves on such songs as “Travelin’ Man.” Laretha Weathersby had started out as a gospel singer during her early days on Chicago’s South Side but became known as one of the city’s top blues singers in the late 1990s. Her album Dance The Blues Away featured her own mix of traditional blues and R&B originals. (AC)

5:00-6:15pm Sheryl Youngblood

Like many blues artists, Sheryl Youngblood got her start in gospel, but by the time she was in high school she was alternating her work as a keyboardist, drummer, and singer at Joliet’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church with sojourns to Chicago, where she’d play drums on blues gigs with artists such as Roy Hytower (a.k.a. “The Root Doctor”), Otis Clay, Bobby “Slim” James, and Artie “Blues Boy” White. In the mid 1990s, after moving to Chicago permanently, she formed an all-women’s aggregation named Ultimately Blessed and a funk/R&B/dance music show band called  SAYYES!  In 2013, she put together the Sheryl Youngblood Blues Band;  today she is also one of the lead singers (along with Inetta Visor and Daneshia Hamilton) of the internationally acclaimed roots-blues ensemble Mississippi Heat. Youngblood’s vocal delivery, shot through with emotion yet textured with the kind of subtlety and grace that are the hallmark of a true soul singer, lends itself to everything from church-infused testimonials through bluesy soul-baring to romantic pop balladry. She has performed previously at this festival as part of its Women in Blues showcase, but this is her first (and well-earned) appearance as a headliner.  (DW)

6:30-7:45pm Last Call With WDCB Radio and Carlos Johnson

As one of Chicago’s crucial media advocates for jazz, blues and arts coverage, public radio station WDCB (College Of DuPage) presents its Last Call sets with artists who are equally important to the community. Guitarist Carlos Johnson is the first for this year’s festival. Growing up in Chicago and Tennessee, Johnson spent his early years working with Koko Taylor, Son Seals and Little Johnny Christian. He also formed an early partnership with Billy Branch and the Sons Of Blues, including recording the mid-’80s stomper, Where’s My Money and Don’t Mess with the Bluesmen in 2004. Soon enough, Johnson’s own repertoire of deep blues, ballads and R&B brought him a global following. But he remains very much a part of the local scene here, having recorded two of his standout albums at a North Side club, Live At B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted (2007) and Encore! Live At B.L.U.E.S. On Halsted (2009). (AC)


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