What started as a street fair in 1996 exploded into a colorful, world-renowned festival, drawing blues fanatics from around the globe to appreciate the genre’s soul, grit and power, right here in the Fox Valley. Now, we’re celebrating 20 years of red-hot blues legends like BB King, Buddy Guy and Mavis Staples rockin’ in Aurora, so this time, it’s more than just a two-day-long party. It’s a celebration of where the blues have been, where the blues are, and where the hell the blues are going, and it’s all happening just down the Fox River from the place that put Aurora’s blues scene on the map: the famous Leland Bluebird studios.
Friday, June 17
Thru May 31: $10. Starting June 1: $20. Gates Open: 6 p.m.
MARCIA BALL: 7 P.M.
The New York Times says Texas-born, Louisiana-raised Marcia Ball sings “about all the trouble men and women can get into on the way to a good time,” so let’s get this weekend of good times started. Marcia’s musical gumbo of Tex-Mex flavor, swampy Louisiana beats and wild piano-playing landed her a recording contract with the world-famous Alligator Records, 5 Grammy nominations and countless more honors in the blues community. What else would you expect from an artist with songs titled “Peace, Love & BBQ,” “The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man” and “Crawfishin’”? When her massive band takes the stage, her fingers hit those keys and her blues-soaked voice resonates through the Park, you’ll see why she’s been invited to perform alongside legends like Leonard Cohen, BB King and Irma Thomas – and then you’ll want to get up and dance.
THE ROBERT CRAY BAND: 9 P.M.
You might recognize them from their countless performances with Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan. You may know them as the frat party band Otis Day and the Knights in National Lampoon’s Animal House. But everyone knows The Robert Cray Band as the sexy, soulful blues rockers who makes audiences around the world get up and swing their hips. After shredding in blues band after blues band – including a short stint in The Master of the Telecaster Albert Collins’s backup group – bandleader Robert Cray was signed to HighTone in 1983 and released the rock-tinged blues album Bad Influence. But his true mainstream success exploded from 86’s Strong Persuader, which would go on to win two Grammys and make Robert and his massive band into blues sensations. Their crossover appeal jump-started the modern blues movement, with signature hits “Smoking Gun” and “Phone Booth” entering the rock radio rotations. Over the next 30 years, The Robert Cray Band would go on to record 17 more studio albums, join the ranks of Blues Hall of Famers and change the future of contemporary blues music forever.
Saturday, June 18
Thru May 31: $30. Starting June 1: $40. Gates Open: 2 p.m.
lELAND: 3 P.M.
We’re getting Day 2 of Blues started with a band that was literally created to pay tribute to the Fox Valley’s blues roots. “The Leland Sessions,” a collection of blues staples recorded in downtown Aurora’s Leland Hotel in the 1930s, brought together the Midwest’s finest, including Robert Lee McCoy, Walter Davis, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson and countless others. Nearly 80 years after “The Leland Sessions” took place, Cornmeal and Magic Box guitarist Scott Tipping decided to re-record the songs these icons created in Aurora with the area’s top blues musicians… and Leland was born, and reborn. It’s going to be something really special when these blues die-hards give these recordings new life, live on a stage just down the street from the very place they originated.
LARRY MCCRAY: 5 P.M.
When Larry McCray’s sister introduced him to the sounds of blues royalty Albert Collins, Magic Sam and BB King, he knew he had to make this kind of music himself. So he dropped his General Motors supply line job and decided to make the blues his full-time job – and we’re lucky he did. The bold guitar riffs and warm, spine-tingling vocals on his 1990 debut album Ambition threw Larry into the spotlight, landing him a tour with none other than Albert Collins himself. His gut-wrenching ‘93 cover of Warren Haynes’s “Soul Shine” sealed the deal and blasted Larry into worldwide fame. Since then, this guitar master opened his own recording studio, released 7 more albums and, in 2000, won the impressive Orville H. Gibson Male Blues Guitarist of the Year award.
LOS LOBOS: 7 P.M.
Not only is East L.A.’s Los Lobos known for their never-ending tour schedule, but they know how to rock a live show. Originally called “Los Lobos del Este,” a group of high school pals started playing birthday parties, weddings and making their rounds on the Hollywood club circuit… and then “La Bamba” happened. The band’s Richie Valens cover shot up the 1987 charts, coming in at #1 in both the U.S. and U.K. After the song’s success, Los Lobos further crafted their “soundtrack of the barrio” style, weaving a tapestry of blues, rock and R&B, adding thought-provoking, poetic lyrics and finishing it off with a Mexican folk flair. Their fresh fusion approach was met with super fandom from worldwide audiences, critics and fellow musicians alike, including Mavis Staples, Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett. Los Lobos’s 2015 release Gates of Gold is a cool collection featuring the bandmates’ stories of the road, which they’ve never really left, touring for nearly 40 straight years.
TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: 9 P.M.
What happens when two incredibly successful blues artists bring their talents together, add 9 members to their musical family and pump their southern passion into each and every performance? You get Tedeschi Trucks Band. Led by husband-and-wife duo Derek Trucks – slide guitarist from The Allman Brothers Band – and guitarist/vocalist Susan Tedeschi, this “deeply skilled groove machine” (Los Angeles Times) of a supergroup took the blues-rock scene by storm with their 2012 Best Blues Album Grammy win for Revelator. Since then, their reputation as the next big thing in blues and roots music only continues to climb. They’ve rocked Bonnaroo with their roots-meets-funk-meets-gospel take on the blues, shredded at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival, released 2 more critically-acclaimed albums and sold out 2 Chicago Theater shows earlier this year in just a matter of minutes. TTB closes out the 20th anniversary of Blues on the Fox with soul, talent and grit that would make Muddy, Buddy & BB proud.