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This year marks the centennial of Otis Spann, one of Chicago’s best modern blues pianists.   Spann, who died in 1970, was a key member of Muddy Waters’ 1950s and 1960s bands and also released stellar albums under his own name, such as the classic Otis Spann Is The Blues. Born in Mississippi, he moved up north at 17 and developed his own forceful two-handed style that caught the attention of leading musicians and audiences who would see him at such South Side venues as Smitty’s Corner. The musicians who comprise this tribute are brilliantly continuing his legacy, especially the four pianists who will lead the set. Johnny Iguana has worked with such blues legends as Junior Wells and Otis Rush while paying tribute to his city’s traditions on the album Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular! Roosevelt Purifoy has been a regular collaborator with a host of leading artists, including Lurrie Bell. Rie “Miss Lee” Kanehira, a member of The Cash Box Kings, has explored the entirety of blues history, including its early incarnation on her album Lee’s Boogie. Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi infuses his blues lines with uncanny rhythmic complexity. Along with these keyboardists, veteran singer Oscar Wilson, bassist Bob Stroger, guitarist Billy Flynn and drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith round out the ensemble. (AC)

6:30-7:30pm The Cash Box Kings

From house rocking party anthems to deep mournful blues, The Cash Box Kings have shown how this music thrives as teamwork, not just through individual stars. Chicago singer and songwriter Oscar “Mr. 43rd Street” Wilson and Madison, Wisc.-based harmonica player/singer/songwriter Joe Nosek lead the group. Wilson grew up on the city’s South Side and sat in regularly with such musicians as Melvin Taylor and Johnny B. Moore. Nosek founded the band in 2001 and Wilson joined six years later. Along with digging deep into the music’s past, their albums featured their original songs that reflect a deep knowledge of all of the blues’ branches. The Cash Box Kings are festival favorites around the world and has released 11 albums, including Oscar’s Motel (Alligator) in 2023. As an eight-piece group, the most recent recording provides a panorama of scenes and characters from Chicago’s South Side with a funky sound that reinvents a classic 1960s sound. Guests include vocalist Deitra Farr who delivers a lively exchange with Wilson on “I Can’t Stand You.” (AC)

7:45-9:00pm Buddy Guy

More than any other artist working today, Buddy Guy’s name has become synonymous with the blues itself. And just as he will turn 88 this July 30, Guy is living his best life and continues to burn up stages around the world. All of this while running his Chicago venue Legends and is also recording new music—the last few years have included The Blues Don’t Lie (2022) and The Blues Is Alive And Well (2018). The huge audiences who have heard his fierce stinging guitar tone and earthy yet gentle singing voice and know about his incredible influence on musicians all over the world know that his irrepressible energy never stops. Born in rural Louisiana, Guy moved to Chicago in 1957 and played on sessions alongside such mentors as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf at Chess Records. During the next decade his signature sound directly inspired such rock stars as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. A much wider audience embraced him in 1991 with his album Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, which included guest appearances from some of those rockers who idolized him. Over the years, Guy never stayed in one musical style: In 2001, he went back South to record Sweet Tea, a dive into the raw Mississippi Hill Country style of blues. His accolades include eight Grammy Awards, 37 Blues Music Awards, a Kennedy Center Honor and Rolling Stone magazine ranked him as the 23rd greatest guitarist of all time. This year’s festival may be Guy’s last major area performance and every opportunity to see him should be treasured. (AC)


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