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Tab Benoit residency helps usher in return of live music in Chicago

The Grammy-nominated Delta blues guitarist — recently named one of the 30 best in the world today by Guitar World magazine — is bringing “The Chicago Takeover” to town, a six-night stand at City Winery.

“It’s time to get back out there and do something for people’s souls,” Tab Benoit says, about his return to in-person concerts. “I can see the relief on people’s faces when they come back to shows and know that they can enjoy something normal again.”
“It’s time to get back out there and do something for people’s souls,” Tab Benoit says, about his return to in-person concerts. “I can see the relief on people’s faces when they come back to shows and know that they can enjoy something normal again.”
Jean Frank Photo

Live music is finally back in Chicago — and Tab Benoit is wasting no time getting things plugged in again. The Grammy-nominated Delta blues guitarist — recently named one of the 30 best in the world today by Guitar World magazine — is bringing “The Chicago Takeover” to town, a six-night stand at City Winery June 1 and 4-8. “It feels like an old friend,” Benoit says about getting back on the road and in front of audiences.

Though the Louisiana native has done a few gigs since November, including a special series of concerts with Samantha Fish at Nashville’s illustrious Ryman Auditorium, the upcoming summer trek will be his first fully fledged multi-city tour since 2019 and comes as COVID-19 restrictions are eased across the country — as of press time, City Winery will still be enforcing masks, temperature checks, a wellness questionnaire and sitting only one party together per table.

“It’s time to get back out there and do something for people’s souls,” he says. “And I think that’s really what it is. I can see the relief on people’s faces when they come back to shows and know that they can enjoy something normal again.”

Benoit, who recently co-authored the book “Blues Therapy” with Anita Schlank, Ph.D., about how much blues music can be therapeutic and healing for people, says there’s a lot to be said about how live music will be a boost to the mental health of both bands and concertgoers after a year of the industry going dark.

“I think we’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel the energy of other people around you when there’s live music playing. That’s why festivals are so great, there’s thousands of people all feeling the same thing — it’s really special and you can’t replicate it at home.”

So, even though Chicago’s Blues Fest unfortunately has to take another year off – the city has announced a smaller, one-day event for 2021 on Sept. 18 as part of a new music celebration initiative called Chicago In Tune — Benoit hopes to create some of the magic of that traditional weekend in his mini-residency in June.

“Every show we do will be a different experience. I don’t have a set list, and we always play requests from the audience. Allowing people to be part of the show is important to me,” he says, noting that all the blues legends he grew up listening to like John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins did it the same way. “They played what they felt, and played in the moment. And that’s what drew me to the blues more than anything. That raw emotion.”

Of course, Chicago is a special place for Benoit who has played the hallowed blues venues a number of times over the course of his incredible 30-year career, and the city was purposely chosen for this unique multi-night event. “I love Chicago, and it gives us the chance to see friends around the city like Buddy Guy,” says Benoit, noting deep roots with the Guy family since all hail from Louisiana.

In much the same way Benoit experienced the tutelage of those that came before him, he also provides those opportunities to the artists on his Whiskey Bayou Records label, including bringing signee Alastair Greene out for the upcoming tour (you can also see Benoit play drums during Greene’s set).

Though Benoit doesn’t have immediate plans to release any new music himself — most of his downtime was spent “doing things around the house I couldn’t do in the 30-something years I’ve been on the road” — he says right now his biggest focus is to just get out on the stage and help get the music scene going again. “And I mean the entire music scene, not just the blues genre,” he says. “We just happen to be some of the first out there. But the backbone of all live music in this country is the blues so it’s in the right hands. Let the blues bands go out there and get it running again.”

Here are more in-person shows in the coming weeks:

Wave Wall Wax

Starting May 29, Navy Pier’s Wave Wall platform hosts free Saturday night showdowns with some of the city’s top house music DJs like Cordell Johnson (June 5) and Selah Say (June 12). 5 p.m. Starting May 29, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand. Free. navypier.org

Waco Brothers

The rousing alternative country statesmen led by The Mekons’ Jon Langford play two can’t-miss hometown shows where anything goes. 6 and 9:30 p.m. May 29, Reggies, 2105 S. State St. $30. reggieslive.com

KingTrey

Local rapper from Evanston got his start at the age of 17 with his first EP “The Good Word” and is poised to become one of the next scene standouts. 8 p.m. June 3, The Promontory, 5311 South Lake Park Avenue West. $40-150. eventbrite.com

Piqniq 2021

Rock station WKQX will host their annual summer bash at the Lakeshore Drive-In with Lovelytheband, Shaed and Letdown. 7 p.m. June 4, Lakeshore Drive-In, 1362 S Linn White Dr. $40-300. 101wkqx.com

Billy Flynn

The incredible guitar/mandolin/harmonica player and vocalist brings an unforgettable set and some special guests to a venerable blues club. 8 p.m. June 4, Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage. $20. rosaslounge.com

The Claudettes

Timeless act infusing American roots music with rockabilly and punk all set to rollicking piano and sultry vocals is as good a reason as any to get out and see live music. 6 and 9 p.m. June 12, City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph. $30 per seat. citywinery.com