The Bluebird sound, a pre-war forebear to rock n’ roll developed by musicians like Big Bill Broonzy, Washboard Sam, Tampa Red, and Sonny Boy Williamson at the famous Sky Club of the Leland Hotel in Aurora, is typified by a sly restraint and charming wit, providing a blueprint for the Chicago Blues. You can hear it in Chuck Berry’s guitar, thanks to his admiration for Tampa Red, a Bluebird player; Elvis Presley adapted the sound when he recorded a version of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right”; and Sonny Boy Williamson’s style of harmonica playing became a signature of the Chicago Blues thanks to the massive popularity of “Good Morning School Girl”.
John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson I and Big Bill Broonzy
“Some 300 plus songs were recorded in the Sky Club,” said Steve Warrenfeltz, owner of Kiss the Sky, a record store in Batavia, Illinois, and Board President of the Fox Valley Music Foundation. “The Leland Bluebird Sessions became significant in later years as historians took note of how some of the artists involved became highly influential in the development of post-war Chicago Blues.”
Of those 300 plus songs, “Good Morning School Girl” took on a life of its own.
“That song, in particular, has been recorded by hundreds of blues and rock artists over the years, from Muddy Waters to Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, and even the Grateful Dead,” Warrenfeltz said.
The tune also turned up on Jonny Lang’s auspicious debut album, “Lie to Me”, released when Lang was just 15 years old. This year, Lang headlines the second night of Aurora’s 21st annual Blues on the Fox festival at RiverEdge Park.
Steve Warrenfeltz has been involved in the festival from the beginning, first as a fan and later as a volunteer coordinator. In Warrenfeltz’s words, “Blues on the Fox is unique in that it was founded as a tribute to a specific set of recordings that took place 60 years prior to the beginning of the festival. It was grassroots in its creation and development, and was organized, managed, and promoted by Blues music lovers. It is a large urban festival located on the banks of the beautiful Fox River, shadowed by the building within which those Bluebird Sessions took place so many years ago.”
Ladies Night at Blues on the Fox
Mavis Staples via Facebook
Kevin Drendel, a Fox Valley Music Foundation board member, expressed excitement about the Friday night lineup at Blues on the Fox. “Shemekia Copeland and Mavis Staples are two powerhouse women who will rock the place Friday night.”
Mavis Staples has enjoyed a legendary career in music, recording transcendent hits as part of family-band The Staple Singers, influencing and collaborating with a who’s-who of artists including Curtis Mayfield, The Band, Bob Dylan, and the Talking Heads.
Staples’ catalogue as a solo artist has flourished over the past two decades, earning her first Grammy award for the album “You Are Not Alone” in 2011, and she shows no sign of slowing down, having released a series of critically acclaimed LPs produced by indie rock darlings M. Ward and Jeff Tweedy.
Shemekia Copeland via Facebook
Shemekia Copeland began singing and performing at an early age with her father, Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland. Her sophomore album, “Wicked”, earned three Blues Music Awards and set her up for future successes which culminated in a significant occasion five years ago on the Petrillo Music Shell stage in Chicago’s Grant Park, where Copeland was presented with Koko Taylor’s crown and officially honored as “the Queen of the Blues”.
Shemekia Copeland has continued to challenge herself vocally and creatively—her latest album, “Outskirts of Love”, showcases an incredible range: writing for NPR’s First Listen, Jim Allen describes Copeland as “extending her definition of modern blues to include a sort of pan-Americana approach”.
Of Friday night’s esteemed lineup, Warrenfeltz suggested a superstar duet would be welcome. “Shemekia Copeland and Mavis Staples. That is going to be fantastic. I’m hoping that Mavis calls Shemekia back out to do a number or two together. That would be very special indeed.”
Leave Your Worries At Home
Los Lobos @ Blues on the Fox 2016, Courtesy RiverEdge Park / Thomas J. King Photography
When asked if they had any tips for visitors coming to their first Blues on the Fox, both Warrenfeltz and Drendel had great advice to share.
“Hopefully, you have booked your hotel reservations already if you’re staying overnight,” said Warrenfeltz. “Get there early in order to get a good seat. RiverEdge Park is open seating, so bring your own festival chairs. There’s fantastic food and beverage available at the park. Bring your dancing shoes, and stop by the Fox Valley Music Foundation tent to say hello and check out festival posters and other merchandise.”
“Most importantly,” he said, “leave your worries at home.”
Drendel added: “If you haven’t had enough of the Blues when the headliners finish their sets, plan to head over to the Two Brothers Roundhouse for a nightcap of the Blues with Maxwell Mojo Blues Band on Friday and Planet Groove on Saturday.”
The 21st Annual Blues on the Fox is friday, june 16 and saturday, june 17 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora. For tickets and more information, please visit https://riveredgeaurora.com/events/botf-2017/.
Friday, June 16
Gates open 6pm.
Shemekia Copeland, 7pm
Mavis Staples, 9pm
Saturday, June 17
Gates open 2pm.
Nicholas David, 3pm
Guy King Band, 5pm
Elvin Bishop, 7pm
Jonny Lang, 9pm