Inaugural Field of Blues Festival June 22 at Aviators Stadium

Staff Report

LOVES PARK, Ill. — The Inaugural Field of Blues Festival to be held at Rockford Aviators Stadium, 4503 Interstate Blvd., Loves Park, Ill., June 22, has finalized its lineup.

Crossroads Blues Society, organizer of the event, has announced that Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, Willie Buck and Taildragger with the Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, Toronzo Cannon, Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames, Aaron Williams and the HooDoo and the Flaming Mudcats will be the lineup for the event.

Gates will open at 11 a.m., and the fun begins at noon. Advanced tickets are $10 (at Aviators Stadium, Guzzardo’s Performance Music on Charles Street, Adriatic Live Music Bar on West Jefferson Street, Kryptonite Bar on West State Street, CD Source on East State Street Toad Hall Records on Charles Street, JustGoods Fair Trade Store on Seventh Street and Cumulus Broadcasting on Brendenwood Road); admission at the gate will be $15. Parking on site will be $2. Ample parking is available at the stadium.

The headline act is Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials. From working at Chicago’s Red Carpet Car Wash to appearing on national television, from gigging at the smallest ghetto blues bars to performing on the biggest international concert stages, master bluesman Lil’ Ed Williams has come a long way. Mixing smoking slide guitar boogies and raw-boned Chicago shuffles with the deepest slow-burners, Lil’ Ed and his blistering Blues Imperials — bassist James “Pookie” Young, guitarist Mike Garrett and drummer Kelly Littleton — deliver the blues, from gloriously riotous and rollicking to intensely emotional and moving.

Delmark Records are celebrating their 60th anniversary, and three hot acts from their stable of blues artists will be coming out to the festival. Two men with roots back to the heyday of Chicago Blues will be coming out to pay tribute to them. Willie Buck and Tail Dragger will perform in the Muddy Waters vs. Howlin’ Wolf Tribute with Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and his band backing them up.

Willie Buck hails from Mississippi, and after touring the “Chittlin’ Circuit,” wound up a devotee of Muddy Waters in Chicago.

James Yancy Jones, aka Tail Dragger, was born in Arkansas, landed in Chicago in the early 1960s, became part of many bands and was most influenced by Howlin’ Wolf.

In addition to the great Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, the band behind them consists of true veterans: Rick Kreher (rhythm guitar) played rhythm guitar with Muddy Waters for four years; John Sefner (bass) was formerly with Studebaker John and Eddie Kirkland; and Steve Bass (drums) also plays with Chicago blues legend Eddy Clearwater.

Growing up in the shadows of Chicago’s blues mecca, Theresa’s Lounge, had a lasting effect on Toronzo Cannon. As a kid, Toronzo would listen to the raw, soulful sounds of legends like Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. Inspired by the three Kings (Freddie, B.B. and Albert), a little Hendrix and some 1970s R&B/soul, Toronzo soon developed his own sound, a powerful, gospel-flavored vocal style and electrifying stage presence. After backing artists like Wayne Baker Brooks and Joanna Connor, Toronzo decided to form his own band, The Cannonball Express, and has been a nationwide success. This will be a funky, energy-filled set.

One thing missing from Lil’ Ed’s bio is that his co-conspirator in Westside and slide guitar and original band member was a guy named Dave Weld. As a child, Weld heard the blues on old records and determined he would become a professional musician. He teamed up with the Hound Dogs, the legacy band of Hound Dog Taylor, and also worked at one point with the Howlin’ Wolf legacy band. In the mid-1970s, he interviewed J.B. Hutto and fell under his wing, eventually becoming adept as a slide player. He also met up with fellow slide guitarist Lil’ Ed Williams, a nephew and also a pupil of Hutto’s. Weld, Williams and James Young, another of Hutto’s nephews, started playing together as Little Ed And The Blues Imperials. Caring for a terminally-ill relative limited Dave’s ability to effectively tour at times, but it also shows the heart and compassion of this great musician. Weld led his own band, which he named the Imperial Flames, and has toured internationally with them. The current band is staffed by veteran sax player Abb Locke, the smooth-voiced Jeff Taylor on drums , the sexy tones of Monica Mhyre on vocals, and the ever-funky Dave Kaye on bass. Weld and the band take traditional urban westside Chicago into a new direction with this superb lineup.

Aaron Williams and the HooDoo formed as a trio in May 2008; Aaron Williams (vocals, guitar), Eric Shackelford (drums, vocals) and Z (bass, vocals) have the blues deeply rooted in the music they love to play. The trio all met while Aaron was hosting a blues jam at the now-defunct club, The Cuda Café in Madison, Wis. Word spread quickly beyond their hometown, and the trio began to tour all over the Midwest, playing sold-out shows in North Dakota, Illinois and Indiana. As the band continues to grow musically, they’ve fused blues, roots and rock music into an original sound that a growing fan base is recognizing and following. What emerges isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, rather something undeniable, and the very definition of a force of nature. It’s real American music at its core and at its best.

Opening the day will be a firm favorite in Auckland’s Blues scene (as in Auckland, New Zealand), as well as at national and international festivals. The Flaming Mudcats are a band that is well versed on what it takes to please a crowd, exhibiting levels of professionalism and musicianship that make it easy to become a dedicated fan. The pieces don’t just fit together seamlessly, they belong together. Craig Bracken (vocals and harmonica), Doug Bygrave (guitar), Ian Thomson (drums) and Sean McCarthy (bass guitar) are a rip snortin’, fire breathin’ outfit that puts heart and soul into every note they play. Often gritty, sometimes raw, they hold nothing back, and play the blues like they had no choice in the matter.

Between sets, the illustrious Steve Ditzell will be featured to entertain the crowds. A blues guitarist with an inborn knack for timing and phrasing, Steve Ditzell has been part of the Fenton Robinson Band, Koko Taylor & Her Blues Machine, toured with Son Seals, Willie Dixon, Blind John Davis and Muddy Waters, and was later the lead guitarist for Big Mama Thornton & the Jay McShann Jazz Orchestra. Ditzell also toured the U.S. and Canada with the Junior Wells and Buddy Guy blues band and played festivals with Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Junior Wells. He formed his own band in the 1990s, the Blue Lightning Band, where most of his recent time and work have been focused.

The Crossroads Blues Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that primarily raises funds to host Blues In The Schools (BITS) programs in the greater Rockford area of northern Illinois. BITS is a nationally acclaimed cultural and musical appreciation program that helps students understand the rural and urban African-American culture. Crossroads works to raise funds through membership, donations and festivals.

Contact Crossroads Blues Society President Steve Jones at (779) 537-4006.

From the June 19-25, 2013, issue

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