McHENRY – The grills are firing up, the brews are chilling and the stage is being set for the eighth annual McHenry Rotary Blues, Brews & BBQ.
The three-day festival begins Friday at Petersen Park, the John Todd Band kicking things off for the music portion. The music, craft brew and food festival is the premier fundraising event for the Rotary Club of McHenry and has raised more than $250,000 for local and global charities since 2012.
This year’s festival offers a new VIP tent which includes craft beer and appetizers as well as an opportunity to meet and mingle with the day’s performers.
New to this year’s schedule is Ivy Ford Band, opening for the Saturday night lineup. Demetria Taylor Band and The Dave Specter Band with special guest Jimmy Johnson will follow.
Ivy Ford, a 26-year-old lead singer and electric guitarist, is known for her Chicago blues style which incorporates strong elements of showmanship and entertainment on top of playing the music.
“The whole show and experience are a little flashier,” Ford said.
Ford began singing at age 4 and taught herself to play the piano at age 9 in order to accompany herself. In junior high and high school, she took to local restaurants and festivals to see live music which drifted her toward the blues scene.
“I always had a liking for it,” Ford said. “At around 17, I started to specialize in blues and roots music. When I turned 21, I was able to go to Chicago and go to blues bars and clubs and my love for it just kept building from there.”
One day, Ford sat in with a band at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago. Rumors of a “little blonde girl tearing it up” reached one of the bookers and Ford was contacted and offered an opener slot.
“I was excited, obviously, and when I asked them who I would be opening for, they were just like ‘oh, you’re opening for Buddy Guy.’ ”
Insert gasp here.
“It was a big success of a show and a monumental stepping stone in my career,” Ford said. “I proved myself as someone to look out for. Since then, I’m a regular at Buddy Guy’s Legends and I’m even friends with some of his family. I like to think I’m a household name in that circuit.”
Ford, now a brunette, has a very sultry and smoky sounding voice even when speaking, a voice almost meant to sing the blues. Along with her 57-year-old drummer and 70-year-old bassist, Ford takes the stage at 4 p.m. on Saturday, promising to give an assertive, bold, take-charge performance to the likes of Freddie King. The band will play a mix of covers and originals, including songs from Ford’s latest album, “Harvesting My Roots,” which has been submitted for a Grammy nomination and Blues Music Award.
“This album is a little different,” Ford said. “There’s a lot of traditional blues foundation, but it also has a newer touch on things. It’s a nice cross-over album as far as the music and the genre.”
Ford said people have listened to her music and said, “I didn’t realize I liked blues.” She’s hoping to broaden the blues audience not only by genre, but also by age.
“People are really diggin’ it,” Ford said. “I’m 26, but I play in places where they make me feel old. You don’t have to be a certain kind of way or old to enjoy blues music. Blues is very timeless. It has a lot of history. It’s the only genre of music that is Americana. It’s original American music. People fail to recognize that a lot in modern music. The phrasing and hooks have a lot of blues music roots. It’s very influential on how today’s music sounds.”
The Waukegan native now lives in Kenosha with her husband and daughter and can’t wait to cross the boarder for her first Blues, Brews & BBQ performance, coming off a top eight spot win at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, as well as a festival in Iowa.
“I used to play a lot in McHenry County so I have a lot of fans there,” Ford said. “I think our performance on the Blues, Brews & BBQ stage has been a long time coming.”
Ford said she looks forward to playing, eating anything that involves pulled pork, and inspire attendees to understand that blues is not a dying art.
“I hope that mindset will go away,” Ford said. “There are plenty of young people that like blues music and are whole-heartedly digging the music and genre and giving it a fresh face and fresh take. People think you can only play a blues song one way, but I’ve heard ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ played so many different ways.
“I hope people stop thinking blues is just for old folks. It’s for everyone. I’d love to see it continue with the young people grabbing it and putting their own spin on it. At the end of the day, good music is good music. I don’t care what genre you put it in.”
For information about Blues, Brews & BBQ, including event and sponsorship details, visit mrbbb.com. To learn more about the Rotary Club of McHenry, visit mchenryrotary.org.
When: Friday through Sunday
Where: Petersen Park, 4300 Peterson Park Rd, McHenry, IL 60050
Tickets: $10 at the gate; VIP tent tickets are $75 on Eventbrite.com
5 to 6:45 p.m. - John Todd Band
7 to 8:45 p.m. - Jimmy Nick & Don’t Tell Mama
9 to 11 p.m. - Corey Dennison Band
4 to 6 p.m. - Ivy Ford Band
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. - Demetria Taylor Band
9 to 11 p.m. - The Dave Specter Band with special guest Jimmy Johnson
Noon to 1:45 p.m. - Wall of Denial
2 to 6 p.m. - Kevin Purcell and the Nightburners plus Kevin Purcell and the Root Doctors and Soulshine