Recording legends and promising newcomers will take the RiverEdge stage June 27 and 28 to bring the rich blues history of Aurora to life.
The 18th annual Blues on the Fox festival will showcase the city's blues legacy that stretches back 80 years to when Aurora was home to the Sky Club, a top-floor lounge in the historic Leland tower where Chicago blues artists would record for the excellent acoustics.
If you goIf you go
What: 18th annual Blues on the Fox festival
When: 7 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, June 27; 3 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, June 28; gates open one hour earlier
Where: RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway St., Aurora
Cost: $20 per day
Info: (630) 896-6666 or riveredgeaurora.com
7 p.m. Joe Lewis Walker
9 p.m. Jimmie Vaughan
3 p.m. Samantha Fish
5 p.m. Tab Benoit
7 p.m. Taj Mahal
9 p.m. Los Lonely Boys
Famed performers were regulars there, including bluesman "Sonny Boy" Williamson, who recorded "Good Morning, School Girl" there in 1937.
The city became a hot spot for prospective blues artists, but U.S. involvement in World War II and more advanced recording technology in Chicago eventually drew many of them away from Aurora. A brief revival of the studio spurred interest in 1997, and soon the Blues on the Fox festival became a staple of Aurora summer programming.
"The blues have such a rich history here in Aurora and in Chicago," said Jim Jarvis, vice president of marketing and sales for the Paramount Theatre, which runs the event. "This festival is really an appreciation and celebration of that."
Like the blues itself, the festival has adapted and migrated to continue thriving. It now appears to have found a permanent home at the new RiverEdge Park, and officially inaugurated the venue when it was held there last year.
The 10-acre venue, completed in 2013 with a pavilion and expanded lawn seating, allows for concertgoers to bring lawn chairs and bags games.
"It's a great system because it really allows for a festival atmosphere," Jarvis said. "We have audience members who have come to have a good time but, at the same time, are reverential to this music. The moment the music starts, everyone drops their things and immediately starts to focus on the artists."
That audience, Jarvis says, is expansive and proof there is widespread appreciation for blues music in the area. A Dutch couple has for years toured the U.S. and scoured for excellent blues festivals, and always makes Blues on the Fox a priority during their visits.
The festival is expected to draw 15,000 concertgoers from at least 31 states over its two days and has booked a varied lineup. Artists performing this year include Jimmie Vaughan, brother of famed Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and an acclaimed artist in his own right with a raw signature style.
Bluesman Taj Mahal has performed with luminaries such as Etta James and Howlin' Wolf in addition to collaborating with rock icons The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. And up-and-coming roots and blues performer Samantha Fish is looking to make a big splash as the festival's youngest performer.
"She's the real deal," Jarvis said. "She's got an old soul and a voice and guitar style to prove it."
Food will be available to visitors as well, with a planned 12 vendor tents being headlined by Aurora-based brewpub Two Brothers Brewing Company. But, Jarvis emphasizes, the focus will be on the blues, as it has been since the festival's beginning.
"This really is a great variety and scope of what modern blues offers today," he said. "The art is alive and well and we have so much fun putting this on every year."