by Greg Wahl
January 21st & January 28th
While Chicagoans are a more than a little spoiled with all of the music festivals that happen during the warmer months, our hibernation season offers few comparable options for large and impressive lineups of live music. But that’s just one of the reasons why this month’s Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival is a welcome addition to winter’s cultural calendar. This festival brings to town some of music’s most unbridled talents to show just how much bluegrass and the blues have in common. Both genres produce music that transforms loneliness, hardship and misery into sweetness, revelation and catharsis, and this festival’s spectrum of artists cover all that territory and more in supremely entertaining fashion.
Chicago’s blues heritage is widely celebrated in local festivals and live music venues, and while Chicago-style blues is typically associated with a gritty, urban, and mostly electrified sound, this festival focuses on the rootsier side of things. Similarly, while Chicago’s contemporary country style tends to fall into the “Alt Country” category, the bluegrass element of the festival brings to town some complimentary, yet more deep-seated, traditional sounds.
The Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival is in its fourth year, and unlike most festivals that occupy one location for one very busy weekend, the CBB Fest stretches out over two Saturdays at two different venues. The first line-up of performances will take place on Saturday, January 21 at the Auditorium Theatre and the second performance collective happens at the Congress Theatre on Saturday, January 28. Headlining on January 21 is the “Big Mon Jam” tribute to Bill Monroe, featuring the Del McCoury Band and David Grisman. For bluegrass fans, there is arguably no better torch-bearer for the high lonesome sound than 72-year-old Del McCoury, who boasts a devoted cadre of followers known as “Del-Heads.” Grisman, who also performs that night with his Quintet, is well-known among another set of “’Heads,” having teamed up with Jerry Garcia for several recordings highlighting Jerry’s well-known appreciation for Americana.
The January 28 bill features Skynyrd-esque rising stars Drive-By Truckers, as well as local favorite Joe Pug, Laurel Canyon faithfuls Dawes, the Texas Country-style Great Divide, Chicagoans Van Ghost (with Phish collaborator Jennifer Hartswick) and several other roots artists. Tickets for the 21st are $39.50-$59.50, and tickets for the 28th are $35-$45.
Saturday, January 21
2:45 – 3:45: Majors Junction
4:00 – 5:00: Henhouse Prowlers
5:15 – 6:15: The Giving Tree Band
6:30 – 7:30: Joe Purdy
7:45 – 8:45: David Grisman Quintet
9:00 – 10:00: Del McCoury Band
10:15 – 11:00: “Big Mon Jam” feat. the Del McCoury Band & David Grisman
11:15 – 12:00: “Bluegrass Ball” The Travelin’ McCourys (featuring Bill Nershi of String Cheese Incident and Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band)
Saturday, January 28
5:00 – 5:45: Michele McGuire
6:00 – 6:45: Paper Thick Walls
7:00 – 7:45: Band Called Catch
8:00 – 8:45: The Future Laureates
9:00 – 9:45: Ben Ripani Music Co.
10:00 – 10:45: Jon Drake & The Shakes
11:00 – 11:45: Great Divide