The Windy City celebrates the holidays big with beautiful events, carols, festivals, markets, a Christmas train and truck that travel through the city with Santa Claus on board. Zoos offer festivals of lights and seasonal songs, of course the Blues in Chicago cannot be missed. Several concerts were announced in various places in the city for this month and this time I will tell you about the event I attended.
The label in collaboration with Navy Pier announced a few months ago a free Christmas Blues concert for December 15 of this year and the list of guest artists was luxurious: Toronzo Cannon, Shemekia Copeland, Billy Branch, Ivy Ford and Lil ‘ Ed. They also announced some special guests who turned out to be extraordinary musicians: Phillip Burgess, Cole DeGenova and Brian Quinn. Of course I couldn’t miss this Blues concert.
So that day in the afternoon I took the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) train at the Damen station on the blue line to get to the city center. The intention of taking the train there was to be able to travel on the Christmas train that I mentioned before. It is a very nice experience, especially for children. The ticket to use the train costs 2.25 dollars, which is equivalent to approximately $38.00 pesos, the cars are illuminated inside and out and Santa Claus travels in his sleigh in the middle of the cars, as long as the weather permits.
Everything is enlivened with Christmas music, people are happy taking photos, singing and wishing Happy Holidays, and if you are lucky you can take a photo with Santa before the train continues its path. I achieved my goal, after taking photos and enjoying the tour I arrived at the center where I took a bus that left me at the entrance to Navy Pier, which is one of the most important tourist places in Chicago and about which I wrote in detail in my last review from the Mavis Staples concert.
The invitation to the event called “A Blues Christmas” said that the concert began at 7:00 p.m., that the doors opened at 6:00 p.m. and that there would be chairs available for the first people to arrive, as well as a place to buy drinks. The place was the largest ballroom on Navy Pier located at the end of the pier, called “Aon Grand Ballroom”, where music festivals, conferences, health fairs, etc. are normally held. I have had the opportunity to attend countless events at this place, but never a Blues concert.
My surprise was great when upon arriving at 6:10 p.m. I saw that there were already many people in the room and there were not only chairs, there were also tables. There were already many secluded places, fortunately I found a free seat in the front row on the left side of the stage. People were happy, there was a very bluesy atmosphere (so to speak) I saw how some people arrived with luxurious, festive, elegant outfits, some of them very Christmassy, the event deserved it.
Maestro Billy Branch arrived to check out the stage accompanied by his wife Rosa. As friendly and organized as ever, she had her merchandise for sale which included CDs and LP records. I was observing the place that looked beautiful with blue lights when Shemekia Copeland passed by me and went to greet some people who were standing behind me, and it is in moments like that when I always think, it is now or never. I waited for her and approached her, after greeting her I asked her for a photo with me to which she accepted very kindly and smiling. I have already mentioned it on other occasions, but I like to highlight the kindness with which Blues artists respond to me when I greet them or ask for a photo.
Shortly after 7:00 p.m. Bruce Iglauer, producer and founder of Alligator Records, appeared to welcome us and invite the first musicians to the stage, with the applause of the excited people, Phillip Burgess on drums, Cole DeGenova on keyboards and Brian Quinn on bass appeared to us. They delighted with some Christmas tunes including the classic “Jingle Bells.”
Then, Toronzo Cannon appeared on the scene with a red jacket, black hat and his beautiful guitar with the Chicago flag printed on it, people shouted and applauded with great joy, at that moment we only left our seats to go take photos or videos but, We returned to them, the place was almost full, there were already many people standing.
With a great sense of humor and a mastery of playing the guitar and Christmas bells, Toronzo, accompanied by the extraordinary musicians mentioned above, elevated the concert to another level. Personally, it is the first time I have seen him and I was struck by his performance, his charisma and his talent, apart from him, with his white beard he looked like the Santa Claus of the Blues.
Torozo Cannon no longer left the stage and it was he who announced to the other artists, who one by one came to perform their melodies and left, giving way to the next guest. Then it was the turn of the extraordinary Ivy Ford who, with her energy, sympathy and that magical way of playing the guitar, delighted us with what I can say is so far my favorite version of “Silent night” in Blues version. I felt so lucky to be there and experience that moment!
But the best was yet to come, the next guest artist was the harmonica master Billy Branch who captivated us with some melodies, but my favorite was “Oh Holy Night”, a Christmas classic performed by Billy with so much feeling that the applause They didn’t wait long, there was a very good vibe in that place and it was he who invited us to come and dance in the space that was in the middle of the stage and the tables. We immediately got up and approached, from that moment on I never returned to my place.
The great Lil’ Ed Williams arrived on stage, elegantly dressed in red with his guitar and performed “I’m your Santa” among other songs. One of the most unexpected and beautiful moments was when Lil’ Ed came off the stage and was joined by Toronzo Cannon, they walked through the large room where people made way for them, they shouted, took photos with them and some lucky people were lucky enough to that both musicians played their guitars right in front of them.
Back on stage the great Shemekia Copeland appeared. The joy was overflowing, among other songs she delighted us with “Stay a little longer, Santa” and then my favorite “Have you heard the news?” which was originally recorded by the Queen of the Blues: Koko Taylor. To close the concert, all the artists returned to the stage and together they gave us unforgettable moments to end their performance with a song that is not Christmas at all, but very representative of the Windy City, “Sweet home Chicago”, they joined their voices with a lot of energy and all of us present sang with them.
That’s how this Christmas Blues concert ended in an emblematic place in Chicago, with excellent artists, with people singing and dancing Blues on the eve of Christmas 2023. Thanks to the organizers Alligator Records and Navy Pier, thanks to the city of Chicago , thanks to each of the artists for their dedication on stage, because you can’t imagine the joy they gave me that day. I left there with my batteries recharged and a happy heart. No matter the time, place, day or weather, the Blues is always the perfect refuge.
Thank you for your attention, I wish you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2024 with health to be able to enjoy life, love, work and lots of Blues in your heart and soul…