Chicago Blues Fest 2019 In Review [Part Two]

By: Howard Greenblatt

If you're starting here, you came in the middle of the story.  Check out Part One here.

Born in 1935, Mary Lane knew (and sang with) greats like Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush and Elmore James, but her greatest success may be yet to come with the recent release of her hot new CD Travelin’ Woman.


At the Festival and on the CD, the No Static Band’s two guitar players, Michael Alkaraki and Minoru Maruyama exchange tasty licks while Mary’s husband, Jeffrey Labon holds down the bass.

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Toronzo Cannon burst onto the Chicago Blues scene with his electrifying performance at the 2015 Chicago Blues Festival. He then signed with Alligator Records where he recorded his hit CD The Chicago Way.


Cannon has collected experiences as a CTA bus driver and shared them with his audiences through his music.

Look for his new CD due out later this year.


Roomful of Blues has been around for 50 years with a focus on playing big band blues. Previous incarnations of the band included powerhouse guitar player Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard, Curtis Salgado and many more.

They are known for swing, jump blues, boogie, and old-fashioned rock-n-roll.


“You can’t hear this kind of music nowhere but right here”. 

That’s what they say in the Hill Country of North Mississippi, but we heard it at the Chicago Blues Festival when RL Boyce and Lightnin’ Malcom took the stage.

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Their sound is a repetitive, hypnotic marriage of rhythm and beat that mesmerizes audiences wherever they play.


One of the bright, new faces of the blues coming out of Mississippi, guitar slinger Jarekus Singelton played a few songs with his band before he brought up on stage another young Mississippi powerhouse, harp player Grady Champion. Together they torched the Mississippi stage.

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Another child of Mississippi, Zac Harmon played blues around in his home town, Jackson, sitting in often with visiting musicians such as Z.Z. Hill and Dorothy Moore. In the early 80s he moved to LA and began a successful career as a writer and producer. Coming back to his roots, Zac returned to blues and in 2003 he self-produced an album, Live at Babe and Ricky’s Inn. His next album, The Blues According to Zachariah earned Zac a Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut.


The favorites of the Festival may very well have been sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, performing as Larkin Poe. The pair of musicians, Rebecca on lead vocals and electric guitar and Megan on vocals and lapsteel, look way too cute to play so nasty.

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The first Chicago Blues Festival, held in 1984, honored Muddy Waters who had died during the previous year.

Since then, Chicago Blues Festivals typically honor a Chicago Blues artist who had recently passed. The 2019 Festival honored Michael Ledbetter, a rising vocalist and guitarist who was tragically lost earlier this year. His family was on hand to accept a City of Chicago Proclamation from Mark Kelly, Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.


Guitar player Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter were working to make the band they were in, The Welch Ledbetter Connection, a success. They played the Chicago Blues Festival Tribute to Otis Rush in 2016 to rave reviews.


They were good and their fans appreciated what they were doing. They got gigs, some at festivals, and generally enjoyed success.

Mike Ledbetter passed unexpectedly in January, 2019. Left to carry on, Monster Mike pulled together some friends and named the band The CONNECTION: Mike Welch and Friends. They played the Festival and sounded great!

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The recipient of a number of Blues Music Awards, Living Blues Awards, as well as many other honors, Ruthie Foster was chosen to close the festival on Sunday evening with a style that leaned away from traditional Blues towards soul.



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