2022 Rockwell Street Stroll – Delmark’s 2nd annual Blues & Jazz Festival – September 3, 2022
Bob Koester, Sr. was smiling down from above during the wildly successful blues and jazz festival that took place in his long-time Chicago north side neighborhood, and right down the street from the home of his historic Delmark Records, the world’s longest running independent label. This was the 2nd annual Delmark Records’ Rockwell Street Stroll, which was expertly organized by Bob’s successors at the historic label, Julia Miller and Elbio Barilari, who took over operating Delmark from Koester in 2018. Julia & Elbio and the Delmark team have successfully ushered in a new era for the label, making some great improvements and steps to modernize, while still focusing on the goal of recording the treasured traditional blues and jazz talent our great city (and beyond) has to offer.
This free (!) fest presented a full day of superb live music from predominantly our favorite Delmark artists, from noon ‘til 9:30 pm on a beautiful Saturday during a festive Labor Day weekend in Chicago. This year the fest took place inside and outside the Burning Bush Brewery along the Chicago River in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. Delmark, Michael Frank’s Earwig Records, CHIRP Radio, and Wang Dang Doodle Tees all had popular booths. We were very fortunate to have a very well attended event, full of diehard blues fans and neighborhood friends, families, and their pets. Yes, kids and even the dogs seemed to really dig the Chicago blues!
To kick off the festivities, Gerry Hundt’s legendary one-man-band played to a full crowd inside the brewery. You may know the talented multi-instrumentalist Gerry from his longtime work alongside Corey Dennison, Nick Moss, and the Cash Box Kings, but he also just released a killer new independent recording called The Dig 3, a powerful new trio with Hundt, harp master Ronnie Shellist, and supreme vocalist/guitarist Andrew Duncanson from the Kilborn Alley Blues Band. Up next inside was acoustic and slide guitarist extraordinaire Donna Herula with veteran bassist Harlan Terson (Lonnie Brooks, Dave Specter, and more) along with soulful blues/jazz/r&b vocalist, diva Lynne Jordan. And closing out the inside afternoon fest was veteran folk blues singer/guitarist and Earwig Records artist, Andy Cohen.
The awe-inspiring award-winning Chicago jazz vocalist/composer Dee Alexander and her quartet with guitarist John McLean kicked off the outdoor stage entertainment. Then we switched tempos a bit and brought the house-rockin’ slide guitar fueled boogie blues sounds of crowd faves, Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames. This veteran all-star band has a fantastic new Delmark album just released called NIGHTWALK, which captured the full sound they have perfected with the J.B. Hutto influenced guitarist/vocalist, Weld, 2nd vocalist Monica Myhre, drummer and 3rd vocalist Jeff Taylor, keyboardist Harry Yaseen (who studied under the late great jazz/blues pianist and Delmark artist Art Hodes,) saxophonist Rogers Randle, and bassist Kenny Pickens. Next, Chicago’s colossal titan of tenor sax, Frank Catalano and his quartet threw down an amazing set of hard and soulful jazz. Can you believe the 45-year young Frank has been with the Delmark family since he was a teen on his ’98 Delmark debut, Cut It Out!
One of the most anticipated acts of the fest was the ever popular and legendary bluesman, Bob Stroger, fronting The Headcutters, a superlative traditional blues band in town all the way from Brazil, who have backed up Smilin’ Bob Stroger for years. It was a very special set seeing the inspirational 91-year young Bob as the stand-up lead singer, with his infectious ever-present smile, dancing front and center (as opposed to his usual role of bass sideman) fronting the amazing talented band of harp ace Joe Marhofer, guitar star Ricardo Maca, standup bassist Arthur Catuto, and drummer Leandro Cavera. Extra special guest performing the entire set was young rising star of blues piano, Ben Levin, from Cincinnati!! Bob Stroger & The Headcutters were celebrating their successful Delmark recording, That’s My Name, which has deservedly received rave reviews and steady airplay worldwide! Congrats and to many more years, Bob!!
The Delmark All-Stars brought a rousing close to the night with many of Chicago’s favorite blues singers taking main stage. The All-Stars represented are true living legends of Chicago blues and soul, including Bob Stroger on bass, Willie “The Touch” Hayes on drums, Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy on keys, and guitarist Dave Specter. Linsey Alexander, took center stage first, bringing his winning stage smile and humor with his Delmark hit, “Call My Wife!” Jimmy Burns seemingly hasn’t aged at all, with his warm soul-drenched vocals and distinctive guitar work, sounding way younger than his almost 80 years. We also were treated to the tough and swingin’ harp work from Martin Lang, who played and recorded with Burns, and Johnny Burgin for years, and still regularly plays with Tail Dragger and Willie Buck, while also fronting his own traditional Chicago blues band.
Inspired and riding a wave of excitement about her recent crowning of the KoKo Taylor “Queen of the Blues” award from the Jus’ Blues Foundation and a brand new stunning Delmark sophomore recording, Doin’ What I’m Supposed To Do, Demetria Taylor had the crowd in the palm of her hand, with her unique and funky singing style and charismatic stage presence. The legendary Eddie Taylor’s youngest daughter and niece of Jimmy Burns, Demetria truly brought down the house with her mix of originals and tasty covers, and was the big highlight of the fest, in my opinion. Her powerful and emotional version of her dad’s “83 Highway” from her new Delmark album literally brought tears to my eyes. Special guest guitarist Jon McDonald (Magic Slim’slong time 2nd guitarist) was an added bonus to the proceedings, with his guitar/slide guitar skills packing a powerful punch alongside Specter’s tasty playing. We then brought up two of Chicago’s fave veteran traditional stand-up blues singers, the excellent vocalist Milwaukee Slim (Silas McClatcher), and the amazing and ubiquitous Willie Buck, both singin’ their hearts out with their Muddy Waters styled deep Mississippi blues. Both Slim and Buck are always dressed to impress and look and sound unbelievably way younger than their 80 plus years!! The Headcutters, Ben Levin, and Dave Weld all returned to the stage at the end with Buck’s band, consisting of Martin Lang, his long-time impressive guitarist Thaddeus Krolicki, and rising star bassist, Yoshimi Hirata. Willie Buck is always a big hit with the crowd, walking out and singing right up close to his fans during “Champagne and Reefer” making for an exciting conclusion to a very entertaining and gratifying festival. See ya next year!!
- Kevin Johnson, Proud Papa Promotions & Publicity, Delmark blues promotions