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I've Got A Mind To Ramble
Memories of the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival are quickly fading into a blues blur, so I will share the highest of the highlights that occurred during the final day of the festival. The most memorable moment of this year's festival was the surprise coronation of the new "Queen of the Blues." I had gotten a clue of what was going to happen just before the festival opened on Friday morning, June 10. While walking along Columbus Drive by Koko Taylor's Celebrity Foundation booth, I met Cookie Taylor Threatt, Koko's daughter. We quickly got reacquainted, for we had been together on two of Koko's blues cruises to the South Side clubs in years past. Cookie had been a devoted daughter looking after her mother since the passing of Pops, her father. Koko died two years ago just before the 2009 Chicago Blues Festival. Cookie looked good, as if a burden had been lifted off her shoulders. Several divas have been proclaimed "Queen of the Blues," beginning with Bessie Smith, then Memphis Minnie and most recently Koko Taylor. After Koko died, who would carry on the tradition was in doubt. Cookie said, "It took two years to bring this recognition to closure." She had a premonition from her Mom to let it go and pass it on.
On Sunday evening, June 12, Shemekia Copeland was near the end of her set in the Petrillo Band Shell. She had just completed a gut wrenching version of "Ghetto Child," a song she always performs as a tribute to her father, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland, and the Harlem neighborhood where she was raised. She sang several stanzas a capella and without a mike. "I'm just a ghetto child/ Somebody please, please, help the ghetto child/ I'm just a ghetto child/ In this so-called free land." She received a standing ovation.
Then suddenly Cookie, Marie Dixon (Willie's widow), Rose (Jimmy Reed's daughter), Bruce Iglauer (Alligator Records, CEO), Sandra (Shemekia's mother) and John Hahn (Shemekia's manager) walked out onto the stage. You could tell Shemekia was in shock for she had a "what the hell is this" expression on her face. Cookie announced to the crowd of over 100,000 people that she wanted to make a presentation that was overdue. She said, "Tonight I'm doing something my mother would have wanted. I'm fulfilling her wish." Cookie turned toward Marie Dixon who was holding a gilded gold bag and unwrapped a rhinestone tiara that had belonged to Koko. She placed it on Shemekia's head. Shemekia wept and they embraced. Cookie went on to say that this ceremony was approved by the Chicago Blues Festival, the City of Chicago, and the State of Illinois, with official proclamations. So from that moment on Shemekia was crowned "The Queen of the Blues." The crowd roared back in approval. John handed her a bouquet of roses.
Shemekia was still overwhelmed and was ready to end her set without doing her last song, but John encouraged her when he said, "Listen to them, honey. They want to hear their queen." Shemekia finished with a triumphant version of "Two O'Clock," holding up her first two fingers during the song. Cookie wanted Shemekia to wear the crown the rest of the evening. So when the final set of the 40th Anniversary Celebration of Alligator Records concluded with Lonnie, Ronnie and Wayne Brooks, plus Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, Michael Burks and Rick Estrin, Shemekia joined them wearing her tiara. It was a night to remember. I hope with her new title, Shemekia will continue to mature and stay true to the blues like all the queens who preceded her.
Garvin Gate is Set.
Mike Suttles, who books the Garvin Gate Blues Festival, has just finalized the acts for October 7 and 8. Friday will open at 6:30 p.m. with Jimi V and Screamin' John. This energized duo will get the festival off to a blazing start. They will be followed by da Mudcats. This band has a long legacy going back to the Eighties, when Jim Rosen and Sue O'Neil were fronting the band. Today, Rob Pickett, Mike Lynch and Gene Wickliffe, who are all Sylvester Weaver winners, drive the band. The Walnut Street Blues Band will add a little R&B to the festival with Michael Wells' searing guitar, Greg Wells' driving keyboards and Artie Wells soulful voice. It will be a family affair. The evening headliner at 9:45 p.m. is Karen Lovely. This Oregon-based, rapidly rising star placed second in the 2010 IBC Band Competition and received three nominations from the BMA for Best Contemporary Female Artist and Best Contemporary Blues Album and Song, "Still The Rain." When you hear Lovely sing this no-holds-barred song, you will know why Mike booked her. If your tastes are somewhere between Etta James and Janiva Magness, you will like Lovely.
The King Bees will start the music on Saturday at 2:00 p.m., with most of the buzzing coming from Rick Cain on vocals and harp. This band just keeps getting better and better. The Travelin' Mojos will travel all the way from New Albany so Eddie Weigleb can blow his harp and stomp some down-home blues. Nick Stump and his Blues All-Stars are back making music again, after a long hiatus from the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars during the 1980s. It will be interesting to see who the All Stars will be.
If you are going to have a blues festival, you have got to have Lamont Gillispie & 100 Proof. Hellfish will follow at 7:00 p.m. with Jimmy Gardner stroking the crowd with his raspy vocals and rhythm guitar. Tullie Brae & The Medicine Men Review features multi-instrumentalist (guitar, keyboards and drums) and singer Tullie Brae from Old Hickory, Tennessee. This long, tall blond will dazzle your eyes and ears. Their original energetic, contemporary blues with a twist of country will bring a breath of fresh air to the festival. The closer for the evening at 9:45 p.m. is Grady Champion from Canton, Mississippi. I have seen him perform at the 2009 and 2010 Chicago Blues Festivals, the Blues Heaven Foundation in Chicago and recently at Stevie Ray's. He is a consummate showman who spends as much time playing off the stage as on the stage. He sings and blows his harp with a passion that immediately connects with the audience. Grady will bring the festival to a rousing climax.