Singing the blues in the Southwest Region
The Southwest Region southwest side of Chicago and the southwest suburbs) continue to grow, adding to their assets including Midway Airport and Toyota Park. The most recent addition is the new Lyons BluesFest which kicks off on Sept. 22, 2018, in the Village of Lyons. The organizers have broken with the City of Chicago’s BluesFest where they booked 22 percent and the best acts that performed in Chicago. Now, they are out in the suburbs where they belong
By Ray Hanania
The Southwest Side and Suburbs (Southwest Region) are often disrespected by everyone from state government, national businesses to the mainstream news media. I’ve written about this topic a lot because I’ve lived in the Southwest Region since the late 1960s and I have seen firsthand how our region is disrespected.
The Southwest Region has a lot of jewels starting with Midway Airport, which is the economic engine of our area. It’s a major asset that also fuels our community pride.
Toyota Park, which opened its doors in Bridgeview in 2006, is another jewel that puts a spotlight on our region. The stadium has tremendous potential and continues to become a major focus of Southwest Region activities. Soon to be renamed SeatGeek Stadium, it features the Fire Soccer.
This month, our treasures will grow. On Sept. 22, some of the biggest names in music will headline the Southwest Region’s newest big name venture “Blues Fest” which will be held in the Village of Lyons at Cermak Park in Lyons along Ogden Avenue just west of the Des Plaines River.
The organizers, the Windy City Blues Society, were a major part of the Chicago Blues Fest since 2007. Founder Dave Madlener told me provided more than 22 percent of the talent at the Chicago Blues Fest and their stages were the most popular. But they became fed-up with the hassles from the city. So, they scouted out new locations and chose Lyons in the Southwest Region as their new home.
And we should welcome them in a big way.
The Chicago Blues Fest today is more of a memory or a lingering aspiration. A lot has changed since it was launched in 1984 by Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. In truth, the Blues Fest spirit was given its foundation by his predecessor, Mayor Jane M. Byrne.
Byrne outlined the blueprint to re-energize Chicago’s spirit with festivals. After initially trashing ChicagoFest, because of politics (it was the brainchild of her predecessor Mayor Michael A. Bilandic), she relaunched it and also launched Taste of Chicago, both featuring major music talent, including a blues stage.
Byrne was instrumental in helping make the 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers” possible. Till this day, the movie is the official icon of Chicago Blues. I remember Byrne with Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi at City Hall promoting the movie that revived Chicago’s energy as a movie-city and donating money to the city.
Had she won re-election, Byrne would have launched the city’s Blues Festival. She talked about it enough.
Today, though, the spirit of “the blues” has moved from Chicago to the outlying neighborhoods and the suburbs. (I consider the Southwest Side as a part of the Southwest Region, by the way, and wish we could transform them into a suburb of their own.)
The new two-day Blues Festival in Lyons promises a great experience for blues lovers that will tap that history. You can focus on the music instead of on other issues that have wrapped themselves around Chicago these days.
Carlisle Guy, the daughter of blues legend Buddy Guy, an Orland Park suburbanite, is one of the more than 30 headliners. She and her group the NuBlu Band join a packed performance schedule that includes Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Lurrie Bell, The Mike Wheeler Band, Tomiko Dixon (granddaughter of blues legend Willie Dixon) and Deak Harp & Quicksand from Clarksdale Mississippi.
I was born in Chicago on the Southeast Side. I grew up with music in the 1950s and 1960s before moving to the suburbs, moved by the Blues. Blues was in my blood and I played lead guitar with several bands at high schools like Evergreen Park, Reavis, Oak Lawn, Queen of Peace, and Marist and grammar schools like Tobin and others I can’t recall.
But I do remember when I was a teenager, our band was having trouble playing in our garage in Burbank. When Bridgeview Mayor John Oremus heard we were having trouble, he gave us the keys to his garage and we practiced there.
The Blues are bigger than Chicago, and are now in your suburban backyards, too.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. You can reach him at his personal website at www.Hanania.com or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)