Destination: Blues. Chicago, Illinois

By Georgetown Fats
June 2014

My day job does not suck.

Given my line of work, I have been afforded the opportunity to fly all around North America on someone else’s dime and provided the opportunity to immerse myself in the local blues culture and scene. I’m a giver, gladly throwing myself on this live grenade to hopefully get people out of their hotels to see live music. While certainly not impossible to find bad blues in Chicago, even well past the City of the Big Shoulders’ musical heyday, you’d have to be working hard to find bad music in the Windy City.

But first, a travel tip.

Much like Boston where nothing is really on the level or square, when securing the services of a taxi from the airport I suggest either taking the train or taking a prix fixe taxi. That taxi company you call that tells you only sedans are available, you’ll pay for it. Not to mention the route from O’Hare to Navy Pier seems to suffer from debilitating traffic 24/7. You’ve been warned.

Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven - 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago Il - (312) 808-1286
There are just some locations always worth the cab ride. With limited hours, especially around festival time, calling ahead for tour availability is always suggested. Since 1997 the Blues Heaven Foundation purchased and restored Chess Records Studios at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, IL. Under the watchful eyes of Marie Dixon (also known as Mrs. Willie Dixon), it is hard not to get goosebumps walking through the old studio and offices of Chess Records as her insistence to to detail is as awe-inspiring as her determination to continue the work of her late-husband’s foundation.

Buddy Guy’s Legends - 700 South Wabash, Chicago Il - (312) 427-1190
Upscale Southern Comfort Food in a down home environment, Legends knows how to cater to its clientele. Quick with offering up a suggestion of what local Chicago beer best complements their spicy jambalaya, long on a straight answer when asked if the guy sitting at the corner of the bar sipping an X.O. really is Buddy Guy, it is hard not to fall hard for this place.

Never fear though, while you may not get a straight answer from the bar and wait staff, when the entourage moves towards the stage and the black with white polka dot Fender Stratocaster makes its first appearance of the night, then your answer is right there in front of you.

Kingston Mines - 2548 North Halsted, Chicago Il
Established in 1968, the Kingston Mines now stands as the oldest blues club in Chicago. Having just recently celebrated their 46th anniversary too, this will be a badge Kingston Mines proudly will wear for a long time. With a unique two room set-up where the opening act often trades sets with the headliner, with the closed circuit television linking both stages and rooms together, the Kingston Mines does it different than other clubs and in my own opinion does it better. I mean on the night of their 46th anniversary, Eddie Shaw, former tenor player for Howlin’ Wolf, and The Wolf Pack were opening for Byther Smith on the main stage. While there isn’t one piece of blues Byther has produced I haven’t enjoyed, any fan would be hard pressed to put Smith’s resume up against Shaw’s. Shaw is a legend in his own right, having been on Muddy’s payroll for his tenor work and having written half of the tracks on Howlin’ Wolf’s The Backdoor Wolf.

Anyway sit back, order up the fried cat fish from Doc’s Rib Shack (a take-out counter in between the two club rooms), get an ice cold bucket of beers and introduce yourself to the people around the bar. Just remember to stay hydrated and and stack the OTC energy shots properly. The Kingston Mines is open until 4 AM or 5AM during the weekend.

And as you sit back in the cab pondering the validity of the $50 fine ordinance for vomit, remember to never taunt a cabbie or desecrate a cab. Don’t be that guy. Sit back and marvel at the latest conspiracy theory while always being polite. Cabbies are always a wealth of knowledge as you are the stranger in a strange land.

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