Photos By Susan Walker
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There we sat on the bridge. The Fox River was rushing beneath us. Over us was pouring the sweet sounds of Blues music. In “Blues Alley” at historic Stolp Island, my wife and I were seated on our lawn chairs on the Galena Boulevard Bridge in downtown Aurora at the annual Blues on the Fox - Blues Festival.
For a “smaller” blues festival, Blues on the Fox has become famous for presenting 6 – 7 top name entertainers in a 10 hour period spread over two days. And, all the music is free of admission!
Kudos to the City of Aurora for this year’s outstanding music festival where an estimated 10,000 people attended. Abounding civic pride is so obvious in the beautifully redeveloped Fox River area at downtown’s Stolp Island and in the festival, held in roped off streets, presented by a multitude of Aurora’s volunteer citizens.
The event is organized by a committee of volunteers, along with the Mayor's Office of Special Events. The Blues on the Fox Festival offers the best in national and international Blues entertainment. It was started in 1997 by the Fox Valley Blues Society headed by Mark and Dede Baum. It celebrates the historic RCA/Bluebird recordings made by artists like the late Yank Rachell and John Lee (Sonny Boy I) Williamson in 1937 and 1938 in the Sky Club at Aurora's skyscraping Leland Hotel.
Blues on the Fox has grown to become one of the western suburb's most popular blues festivals. It is scheduled annually between the Chicago Blues Fest and this year’s June 29, 30, July 1 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival (Quad Cities) attracting fans from all over the world.
Plenty of food from vendors was available, and there were nearby accommodating restaurants. My wife and I had both Friday dinner and Saturday lunch at La Quinta de los Reyes Mexican restaurant. Friday’s dinner hour featured a mariachi band providing some pre-blues music.
Having two or three first-rate groups plus local acts would be reasonable, but Aurora brought in a spectacular lineup again this year. This year’s top featured artist was four time Grammy Award winning Robert Cray who was introduced to the stage by producer Dick Shurman. Cray’s singing, sometimes in falsetto, and guitar playing demonstrated why he has become so popular.
WC Handy (Blues Music Award) winning Tab Benoit (2007 “Entertainer of the Year”) and the North Mississippi Allstars also brought big excitement to their audiences. N.M.A., closing Friday night, had the 20-Somethings dancing in front of the stage like their feet were on fire.
Benoit made a surprise appearance on guitar during the afternoon set of BMA nominee Eric Lindell. Lindell, who was introduced by his Alligator label president Bruce Iglauer, wisely kicked off with the title track from his nominated album, “Change in the Weather.”
92-year-old (on June 28) David “Honeyboy” Edwards took us back to the delta with the deepest blues of the event. Accompanied on harmonica by Michael Frank, his manager and owner of Earwig Records, Honeyboy showed no signs of slowing down.
71-year-old veteran Billy Boy Arnold was accompanied by Chicago Blues master Billy Flynn, veteran bassist Bob Stroger, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith’s formidable son Kenny on drums. Arnold learned to play the harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson I, who cut the original “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” at the Sky Club, atop the Leland Tower.
Multiple BMA nominees Nick Moss & the Flip Tops were the musical openers for the fest. From the stage, Moss said that of all the awards for which they were nominated, he was most proud of the “Band of the Year” nomination. Nick, Gerry “Mr. Versatile” Hundt, and Piano Willy Oshawny then demonstrated why by trading instruments and leads during their dynamite set. Their drummer is veteran Gary Carter.
To keep the blues alive, a teenage band opened the Saturday afternoon festivities, the Hix Brothers Junior all Stars.
The mayor announced there will be another Blues on the
Fox next year. Plan for it in June.