CHICAGO (CBS) — The Blues Festival is officially underway in Grant Park, with five stages and tributes to two legends.

The 28th annual festival began at 11 a.m.

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This year’s festival celebrates what would have been the 100th birthday of Robert Johnson. Rick Sherry, Rocky Lawrence, and the Duwayne Burnside Band will play as part of the tribute at the Petrillo Music Shell.

Johnson was born May 8, 1911, in Hazelhurst, Miss., and made a number of landmark blues recordings in the 1930s.

He trekked across the country – including a stop at Chicago – but was sent to an early grave at the age of 27 after drinking poisoned whiskey.

David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 96, played with Johnson and was there when he drank the tainted whiskey. Edwards had been scheduled to play at the Blues Festival on Friday evening, but he is sick and cannot attend.

Also being honored at the Blues Festival this year is Pinetop Perkins, a blues piano master who died this past March at the age of 97.

Perkins was a member of Muddy Waters’ band during the 1970s, and helped form the Legendary Blues Band with several other former Waters backup band members in 1980.

He will be honored Saturday afternoon with a performance by Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, also a former Muddy Waters sideman. He will appear on the Pepsi Front Porch stage.

Later Saturday evening, the Dave Specter Band with Chicago guitarist Jimmy Johnson, Carl Weathersby’s Blues Band, and Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues with special guest Magic Slim take the stage at the Petrillo.

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On Sunday, singer Shemekia Copeland will appear, followed by Lonnie Brooks, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Michael “Iron Man” Burks and Rick Estrin with a 40th anniversary tribute to Alligator Records.

Alligator Records was the subject of a Chicago Reader feature article last month. Still operated from Chicago by its fonder Bruce Iglauer, Alligator has counted Big Walter Horton, Koko Taylor and other legends among its artists over the years.

The first ever blues festival in Grant Park was held in 1969, and featured Taylor, Waters, Junior Wells, Willie Dixon and Bo Diddley, among others. The Blues Festival in its current incarnation has been held annually at the beginning of June since 1984, and John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry and Keith Richards have been among the many superstars to take the stage at the Petrillo Band Shell over the years.

The Blues Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. each day it is in operation. As always, there are five stages.

Also kicking off Friday is a must-go festival for barbecue lovers. The 13th Annual Ribfest gets underway at 5 p.m. Friday on Lincoln Avenue at the three-way intersection with Damen Avenue and Irving Park Road.

An assortment of restaurants – primarily from Northcenter, Ravenswood and Roscoe Village – will serve up 50,000 pounds of ribs at the three-day festival. But that’s not the only offering; you can also find everything from pulled pork empanadas to footlong corn dogs, according to the Centersquare Journal.

Bands will also be set up on two stages, among them Jukebox & the Ghost, the Waco Brothers, and Tapes ‘n’ Tapes. And the only professional rib-eating competition in the entire Midwest kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday.


Chicago Blues Festival


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Check out the CBS Blues Festival Guide for line-up, food and transportation information.
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