During the winter, you’d have to be pretty observant to notice the banners and silhouettes while riding the Michigan bus through Chicago’s south loop. However during the summertime, the corner of Michigan Avenue and 21st Street buzzes with the sounds of music and fans of the blues.
Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, located in the old Chess Records building, started a museum dedicated to blues legends of years ago. Grammy Award winner, bassist, guitarist, and vocalist Willie Dixon is credited as being one of the most influential artists to bridge the gap between blues and rock and roll after World War II. Willie started the foundation to help promote blues music and support blues artists. Additionally, he organized the first Chicago Blues Festival, the Blues in the Schools Program, and the Muddy Waters Scholarship foundation.
The museum on Michigan Avenue is open Monday to Friday from 11am to 4pm and on Saturdays from 12pm to 2pm. Admission to the museum is $10 and donations are also accepted on the foundation website. You can check out records, awards, performance outfits, and other memorabilia from your favorite blues artists as you peer through the glass cases.
The outdoor music garden is located next to the museum and hosts outdoor concerts on Thursday evenings in the summer. Both seasoned and aspiring blues musicians perform their interpretations of the blues on the outdoor stage. I had the pleasure of attending one of these concerts, which featured some great entertainment acts and was very well attended. There weren’t enough folding chairs set up in the small garden area so fans overflowed onto the sidewalk. Passersby would do a double-take to see where exactly the music was coming from and often stop to listen in as well.
There’s no denying that winters in Chicago are long and miserable, but people seem to stay for the amazing things that pop up when the mercury rises. Periodically check the foundation’s website for upcoming events and keep the Willie Dixon’s Blues Garden in mind for an evening of blues and history in the months ahead.