B.B. King is closing the Chicago Blues Fest tonight, and he hasn't played it for twenty years.
Here from local alternative paper The Reader:
Even though the first blues fest in Grant Park—an almost forgotten all-star extravaganza whose organizers included local African-American luminaries like the late Willie Dixon—was held in 1969, the city considers this the 25th anniversary of the Chicago Blues Festival proper. And in that spirit, several headliners—Sunday-night closer B.B. King, many of the players in Friday night’s “Blasts From the Past” old-school soul revue—are older-generation stars.
Their peak years, at least in terms of their popularity with black audiences, are behind them. Many of them—along with fest artists like Koko Taylor, Duke Robillard, Johnny Winter, James Cotton, and lesser-known but gifted figures like Sharon Lewis and Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones—have benefited from the blues’ modern-day success with mainstream white listeners. This audience crossover, though often cited as evidence of the music’s universal appeal, is at least as frequently held up as “proof” that it’s no longer an authentic form of African-American cultural expression.
That conclusion, however, is hard to justify in light of the great number of contemporary stylists, both in the blues and its related genres, whose audiences remain mostly black. A healthy sampling of those artists are also included in this year’s fest lineup, including national figures such as Theodis Ealey, Charles Wilson, and the still-potent Cicero Blake, as well as locally renowned acts like Jo Jo Murray, Shorty Mack, and Patricia Scott. Rugged jukers like Joe B, Willie D., and the Taylor family are living proof that the music is still an important social and cultural force in the neighborhoods where it originally arose.
That’s not to say that everything on the bill fits into one of those two categories. Artists like Little Willie Littlefield, Louisiana Red, and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, each steeped in a heritage that predates postwar electric blues, are so resolutely rootsy they’re essentially timeless—they appeal not just to the white Chicago blues crowd or the black soul-blues crowd but instead transcend genre and generation.
B.B King in 1990. And from Rattle and Hum 1987.