On Music: Blues capital only an hour away

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

The Rockford music scene certainly has its bright spots. There’s usually a local, regional and the occasional up-and-coming national act playing somewhere in the city on any given night. Rockford also is the back yards of Milwaukee and Chicago, two of the country’s major entertainment markets. Milwaukee is a Midwestern rock hub, while few will deny Chicago’s claim of being an American mecca for the blues.

When South-born musicians began flocking to Chicago in the 1930s and ’40s, the city began a long and storied reputation as one of the blues capitals of the world. Greats like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy all broke out of the Windy City. Today, the tradition continues. Only a stretch of interstate separates Rockford from some of the best blues clubs in the land. Some almost never close, allowing fans to see a show locally and still have time to catch a legend or two at a Chicago club.

B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted

B.L.U.E.S. is a small, North-side haunt. In addition to weekend shows featuring players from around the world, the club features nightly performances from some of Chicago’s best musicians. Regular B.L.U.E.S. performers include Big Time Sarah, Vance Kelly and Pistol Pete.

B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted
2519 N. Halsted
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 528-1012

Blue Chicago

Among the best-known clubs in Chicago, Blue Chicago has two Clark Street locations. The bar at 536 N. Clark is open six days a week (closed Mondays), while 736 N. Clark features live music Monday, Friday and Saturday evenings. The two venues include regular appearances by Patricia Scott, Lindsey Alexander, Nellie “Tiger” Davis and Charlie Love.

Blue Chicago
536 N. Clark St. / 736 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 661-0100 / (312) 642-6261

Rosa’s Lounge

Rosa’s Lounge, on the northwest side, is minutes from downtown. The club is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings and features a regular lineup of choice blues by Chicago greats such as Rockford’s own Steve Ditzell, Melvin Taylor and Lil’ Ed Williams.

Rosa’s Lounge
3420 W. Armitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 342-0452

Buddy Guy’s Legends

Rockfordians are no stranger to the club owned by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy. Legends, since 1989, has enjoyed a storied history. Greats like Stevie Ray Vaughan, KoKo Taylor and Junior Wells, to name a few, have played its stage. Not much has changed today. Legends is still a popular Chicago circuit stage. Guy plays the club several times each year.

Buddy Guy’s Legends
754 S. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 427-0333

Kingston Mines

Kingston Mines features two stages and the top names in the land. Joanna Connor, J.W. Williams and Billy Branch play the club regularly. Open seven days a week, “The Mines” (as it’s known to locals) is across Halsted from B.L.U.E.S. and open until 4 a.m. One cover charge usually admits you to both bars.

Kingston Mines
2548 N. Halsted
Chicago IL, 60614
(773) 472-2031

Harlem Avenue Lounge

Twelve miles from downtown, Harlem Avenue Lounge boasts a large bar that spans the length of its intimate room. Featuring live blues every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday including the “Open Mic Blues Jam” on Thursdays, Harlem Avenue is a popular alternative to trips downtown. Chicago stars like Joe Moss, Pistol Pete, Sam Cockrell and Chris Harper are often seen on the Harlem stage.

Harlem Avenue Lounge
3701 S. Harlem Ave.
Berwyn, IL 60402
(708) 484-3610

Bill’s Blues

Approximately 13 miles north of Chicago, Bill’s Blues is an unofficial part of the Northwestern University campus. A small club, Bill’s is open seven days a week with a cadre of appearances by Chicago’s top acts, as well as shows from bands of other genres.

Bill’s Blues
1029 Davis St.
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 424-9800

Big Cities Lounge

Shocked? You shouldn’t be. Rockford’s Big Cities is more than a local club, and belongs on this list. Not only is Nino Gardona’s venue one of the most popular blues bars in the Midwest, top names from around the globe can say they’ve graced its stage. The question, therefore, isn’t who’s played the club over the years, but who hasn’t? If you insist, here’s a few who have played there: Duke Tumatoe, Studebaker John, Chris Cain, Maynard Ferguson, members of Cheap Trick, Pistol Pete and Steve Ditzell. Big Cities is open Monday through Saturday. There’s a dart machine, and Nino blows a mean trombone.

Big Cities Lounge
905 E. State St.
Rockford, IL 61104
(815) 965-6026

From the Feb. 17-23, 2010 issue

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