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Sunset For The Blues?

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 8, 2005 4:01PM

The Chicago Tribune’s readers nominated “Chicago blues” as their fourteenth and final nominee for the 7 Wonders of Chicago. But Chicagoist is wondering if we’ll soon speak of the blues as an ancient wonder of the city instead of a living one.

2005_09_07_blues.jpgThe Tribune laments that “the heyday of the city's most celebrated blues clubs is long past” and “most of these first-generation blues masters are gone now.” Indeed, the blues’ most visible presence in the city of Chicago is its annual Blues Fest. Yet at a time when the Chicago blues scene really needed a showcase for the best it has to offer, the city chose to make British blues artists the centerpiece of this year’s event.

To our minds, the loss of the soul of Chicago’s blues scene is symbolized by the city’s treatment of the Maxwell Street Market. Last month, the Chicago Journal looked at the current state of blues there and found that despite the city’s efforts, street side Chicago blues still survives. Rather than creating new multi-million dollar tourist attractions, the city would do well to revitalize the places where living history remains.

There is encouraging news. Buddy Guy’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Mavis Staples’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy have brought renewed attention to the Chicago blues sound. Gregg Parker’s Chicago Blues Museum in Bronzeville continues to expand and the relocation of Maxwell Street Market (again) may mean a permanent spot for blues musicians to perform.

For better or for worse, the Clark Street contingent of tourist blues bars is responsible for equating “Chicago” with “blues” for many outside of the city. In the last few years, clubs like the Checkerboard Lounge, Koko Taylor’s and Blues Etc. have closed with no new venues filling the void. Legends, Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted are now the most likely destinations for visitors who want authenticity but don’t want to venture too far outside their comfort zones.

If you’re playing host and want to introduce some friends to local Chicago blues, Chicagoist recommends the following:

Rosa’s at 3420 W. Armitage Ave.
Lilly’s at 2513 N. Lincoln Ave.
East of the Ryan at 914 E. 79th St.
Lee’s Unleaded Blues at 7401 S. South Chicago Ave.