Chicago’s summer festivals have seen their share of downsizing this year, but the Chicago Blues Festival lives on as a weekend-long summer standby. Though budget constraints have left out some of the big names of years past, there are still a number of acts that shine, including a few home-grown performers:
Nora Jean Bruso: If you need to be inspired today by some powerhouse singing, check out Nora Jean Bruso Friday afternoon at the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage. Born in the Mississippi Delta, Bruso comes from a family of blues musicians. Her father, Bobby Lee Wallace, was a professional blues singer, and in historic Southern style, a sharecropper. Her uncle, Henry "Son" Wallace, also sang and played blues guitar, encouraging and inspiring Bruso in her own exploration of the musical genre. She's known for her throaty voice on tunes like "Can't Shake These Blues" and "It Makes Me So Mad," from her 2003 album, "Nora Jean Bruso Sings the Blues," but expect new material from Bruso, who plans on unveiling a new album this summer.
3 p.m. Friday at the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage
Saturday morning blues at the Crossroads Stage: Yeah, it's early for a Saturday, but there's not a better way to wake yourself up than to find a spot in front of the Bud Light Crossroads Stage at 11 a.m. for a jam session with Ronnie Hicks & Masheen Company Band with Bob Jones, Cicero Blake, Brown Sugar and Jesi Terrell. Expect a lot of Mississippi-flavored tunes from Blake and a bit of R&B from Terrell.
11 a.m. Saturday at the Bud Light Crossroads Stage
Dave Specter Band featuring Jimmy Johnson: It's a Chicago blues showcase when the Dave Specter band and Jimmy Johnson step on stage at the Petrillo Music Shell on Saturday evening. It's also a merging of older and younger blues styles, as Johnson started playing on the West Side in the 1950s (though he didn't release a full-length U.S. album until he was 50 years old) and Specter hit the Chicago scene in the mid-80s. With his clever jazz- and blues-based guitar riffs, Specter should garner loads of appreciation from the crowd on the bandshell lawn.
6 p.m. Saturday at the Petrillo Music Shell
Shemekia Copeland: Shemekia Copeland brings some youth and femininity to the Blues Fest. Born of legendary blues roots, Copeland, the daughter of Louisiana bluesman Johnny Copeland, has established herself, at age 31, as a mainstay on the national blues circuit. Fresh from an appendectomy last month, Copeland is back on the stage, her voice back to inducing head bobbing on songs like "All About You" and "Broken World."
6 p.m. Sunday at the Petrillo Music Shell
40th Anniversary Celebration of Alligator Records with Lonnie Brooks, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, Michael "Iron Man" Burks and Rick Estrin: These guys have been singing the blues for decades, but you wouldn't know it from their seemingly infinite amounts of performance energy. Clearwater -- often marked by his signature Native American "Chief" headgear -- has been rocking Chicago with his lefty-playing guitar self since the 1950s, and Brooks has been magic on the guitar for just as long. Estrin burst onto the Chicago blues scene in 1970 when he had the chance to break out his harmonica with Muddy Waters on the South Side, who subsequently told him, "You outta sight, boy!" The trio pays tribute on Sunday night to the 40th Anniversary of Alligator Records, which in its last four decades has become a Grammy-winning, legendary Chicago-based blues label.
7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Petrillo Music Shell