FitzGerald's Continues to Promote the Blues with Successful Second Annual Festival
Updated: Jan 13
All photos courtesy of Howard Greenblatt/Imagine Pictures
The second annual Berwyn Blues Festival at FitzGerald’s was one for the books! From Friday’s opening riffs by “Blues Kitten” Ivy Ford to Sunday’s epic Hill Country blues jam by Grammy-winner Cedric Burnside with Dave Herrero, Anne Harris, and J. Rock, the entire weekend was a smashing success that left folks marveling at the depth of talent that came out to play at the renovated roadhouse on Roosevelt Road.
As a recent recipient of the 2022 Blues Foundation’s “Keeping the Blues Alive” award, FitzGerald’s owner Will Duncan stayed true to the club’s mission to promote the genre by booking both local favorites as well as a slew of nationally known artists like JD McPherson, Ruthie Foster, Larry McCray, and others.
The weekend’s emcee, Tom Marker, who is also a tireless booster of the blues, noted on his weekly “Blues Time” show on WDCB how exciting it was to see all these incredible performers play FitzGerald’s cozy confines.
Friday’s lineup was loaded with local talents like Ford, Lil Ed, and the Nick Moss band, but the evening also featured performances by Georgia’s Jontavious Willis and Texan Ruthie Foster. Playing outside on the patio stage, Foster took the crowd to church with some spine-tingling, a cappella spirituals but effortlessly segued back to belting out full-throated blues. Foster’s voice has often been compared to legends like Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, and Mavis Staples but this powerhouse has her own unique sound and style that kept the crowd enthralled.
Before Foster’s riveting performance, you’d find Alastair Greene inside the iconic club where he mesmerized the crowd with amazing guitar licks that showcased his swampier, funkier brand of blues. So, it’s not surprising to find that he has a close association with Tab Benoit, including putting out his New World Blues on Benoit’s Whiskey Bent Label. Take a deeper dive into Greene’s website and you’ll find a long list of all the folks he has performed with and it’s pretty darn impressive.
What’s even more impressive is the breadth and diversity of talent that gave it their all on both the patio and indoor stages. In addition to Ford’s fantastic opening set, the patio stage also welcomed Georgia’s Willis who took that crowd back to the proverbial roots of the blues fruits.
The Chicago Blues Angels, Nick Moss Band and Lil Ed and his Blues Imperials all impressed during their sixty-minute sets, adding further proof that the crowd’s cups of Revolution beer were running over!
One must also give huge props to emcee Marker for keeping the crowd clued into each act with heartfelt introductions peppered with interesting facts. Marker’s been one of the genre’s leading promoters and proponents dating back to his “Blues Breakers” show on WXRT, which began in 1984. Sadly, the Chicago blues community learned a few days later that October 2nd would mark his last day on XRT. Thankfully, Marker will continue to be broadcasting the blues on Saturday nights with WDCB as well as being its de facto ambassador at several events including hosting FitzGerald’s “Bluesday Tuesday.”
Circling back to Saturday’s action, the raves were rolling in for a fully loaded lineup that boasted six acts on each stage with versatile Gerry Hundt kicking things off on the patio followed by Larry Taylor, the Altered Five Blues Band, Melody Angel, Larry McCray, and JD McPherson.
Several diverse styles of the blues were on display inside the club on Saturday. The six featured performers included Rick King’s Royal Hustle, Joe Pratt and the Source One Band, Dom Flemons, Akina Adderley, Indigenous, and Mud Morganfield.
Truth be told, my personal FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) was on overload that day since I was at a lovely wedding celebration that had long been on the calendar. In an interview with WGN news, Duncan noted that they selected the last weekend in September after hearing that those dates offer the best chance for stellar weather.
It was back to the business of digging the blues on Sunday. Once again, there was so much to take in starting with Gwennifer Raymond on the patio followed by Bee Taylor in the club. Local blues fan, Melissa Cook, had high praise Taylor and the band and singled out their “gutsy” performance that included “great original tunes, presence and confidence.”
Following Taylor in the club was the ever-popular Smiley Tillmon band and then up-and-comer Lauren Anderson. Like so many of the performers on the bill, the native Chicagoan has an interesting backstory. She is a classically trained vocalist and pianist who received a master’s degree in music therapy. She went the safe route for a while before following her passion for performing and made the move to Nashville. During her set, she told stories about how her original songs came to be and showcased her vocal range with a chill-inducing cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart.”
Closing out the club was another local favorite---the Corey Dennison band. They were on fire throughout their set, which to the delight of many, went longer than the rest. Always an impassioned performer, Dennison broke a few guitar strings during the evening, but this didn’t deter him, the band, or the many shaking their hips on the dance floor.
The patio performances also received an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Ivan Singh did a sizzling set and was followed by Alligator recording artist and local favorite, Toronzo Cannon who had attendees up-and-moving to popular songs including “Missus from Mississippi.” “Bad Contract” and more from his The Chicago Way and other releases.
The Chicagoan made way for Austin’s Carolyn Wonderland who has a long list of musical accomplishments including being the first female guitarist to front John Mayall’s band during his sixty-year career.
Grammy-winner Cedric Burnside wrapped up the 2022 edition of the Berwyn Blues Fest with a few surprise guests--as violin virtuoso Anne Harris, guitarist Dave Herrero and drummer J. Rock joined Burnside on stage. The steady beat of authentic Mississippi Hill Country blues had the crowd on their feet. As Burnside let out his familiar “well, well, well” it could also serve as a metaphor for another “well done” Berwyn Blues Festival,