Wednesday, June 14, 2023

KATY Trail 2023 - Getting There

Max and I are going to ride the KATY trail across Missouri. I'm writing this on the Amtrak train to Kansas City. This is basically a college visit road trip, where I convinced Max he should check out Washington University in St. Louis so I would have an excuse to ride the KATY. Might as well since we are out there anyway, right?

We were also going to visit the University of Chicago and Northwestern, which I talked them into doing on the weekend which just happens to be the Chicago Blues Fest. Might as well go to Blues Fest since we are out there anyway, right?

I drove out to Chicago on Wednesday, and Max and Debra flew out on Sunday morning, because Max had training for his summer job on Saturday. So I got three days of Blues Fest, and Max and Debra only got to go on Sunday. Debra flew home last night.

My base for the Chicago visit was my sister's house. She lives in Winnetka, which is an hour north of downtown Chicago.

Winnetka is a crazy place. Friday was the last day of school. They have a tradition of holding a community festival in the village park for the kids on the last day, which is really nice. But in Winnetka, the festival included camel rides.

On Saturday, we went to the Farmer's Market, where I got these fabulous treats (which I plan to make for myself with food from my garden.

Bread and butter Jalapenos are brilliant!

The Blues Fest was fantastic, I have wanted to go for years and years. It's in Millenium Park by The Bean.

There are three stages. The main stage is a huge seating bowl, with a giant lawn behind it. It has an impeccable sound system. There are two additional temporary side stages on either side of The Bean, the Visit Mississippi Juke Joint Stage, and the Rosa's Lounge stage, which is inside a big tent.

I explained to Max that the music sounded much better on the smaller stages since blues should be played very loud (and it sure was!) in front of an intimate audience, and not before a huge crowd in a fancy pavilion with a perfect sound system like it was a Taylor Swift concert or something. Max wore earplugs and said I am going to lose what hearing I have left.

The Blues Fest has amazing music. Here are some standouts:

1. Ivy Ford, my favorite act of the weekend:

She sure looks like she got lost on the way to Honfest in Baltimore and wound up in Chicago. This getup is great. Shimmy dress, jewels, crown, red sunglasses, POLKA DOT GUITAR! I wasn't sure what to expect here... Turns out she is an incredibly kick-ass guitar player, and she has a very, very strong voice which is not overwhelmed by her incredibly loud band. This was in the Rosa's lounge tent on Sunday, when it was 50 degrees and rainy out. It was plenty warm in the tent by the time her set was over! Ivy is only 30 years old...

2. Duwayne Burnside. He's from northern Mississippi, on the Juke Joint stage. He's the son of the RL Burnside, and he used to be in the North Mississippi All Stars. He did some great Mississippi primitive drone/stomp numbers, and a couple songs by his dad and by Junior Kimbrough. 

3. Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames, at Rosa's Lounge. This guy got his start playing with Little Ed and the Blues Imperials 30 years ago. Super high energy nonstop whaling away on his guitar. He was actually much better than Little Ed, who played on the main stage the next day. I now think of Little Ed as "Little Ed and his Geriatric Sidemen." I saw Little Ed 30 years ago, and it was like Dave Weld is now, not like Little Ed is now.

4. Lynne Jordan and the Shivers, also at Rosa's Lounge. She's an amazing singer with an amazing tight band. She did a great version of "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James. I've seen Etta James, and Etta singing "I'd Rather Go Blind" is the best vocal performance I've ever witnessed in my life, so usually when somebody tries to do this song I am horrified because it will dilute my memory of Etta James. But Lynne Jordan can sing it. Other highlights were "Fine Brown Frame" from the 1940s, which Ruth Brown recorded, which is ostensibly about a woman who sells antique furniture. It goes "If I can't sell it, I'm going to sit on it, why should I give it away." Lynne Jordan had the whole crowd raucously singing along at the top of their lungs, it was awesome. 

She also paid tribute to Tina Turner with a couple of her later songs, including "Simply The Best." Note that Ivy Ford also paid tribute to Tina, but Ivy did not mess around and knocked it out of the park with "Proud Mary" while both singing like Tina and playing guitar like Ike.  (I've also seen Ike Turner live. He's an incredible guitar player, and also probably the most scary evil guy imaginable. If there was anybody you would believe sold his soul to the devil down at the crossroads....)

5. Jontavious Willis. He performed on the main stage with just him and a standup bass player. He plays slide. Imagine if Elmore James showed up at Elvis Presley's Sun Studios sessions. This guy is only 24 years old. 

6. Vasti Jackson. He's a young guy from Mississippi, on the Juke Joint stage. He started shredding away before he finished climbing the steps onto the stage. Sometimes his guitar sounds like Hendrix, sometimes like Prince. The music is pure blues though. Except for the gratuitous I-can-do-stuff-besides-blues tune, which was Bob Marley reggae in his case.

Other performers that were very worth it were Mud Morganfield (Muddy Water's son), Little Ed and the Blues Imperials (Max's favorite), Los Lobos (legitimate blues/Chicano/Tex-Mex! not an 80's nostalgia act like you might think!), The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra featuring Terrie Odabi (a real orchestra with horn section, on the big stage, as it should be).

There was sufficient food and drink on site, although they pretty much ran out of everything on Saturday when there were 70,000 people there. Food and drink was expensive, with a default 20% tip for ordering at a counter and this:

I'm looking forward to the day when proper wages and benefits for the workers are built in to the tab, and the profits for the vendor are an option added by the customer when paying.

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