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“We are Kings” is refreshing blues film set for CIMMFEST 2016

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, Chicago Crusader

The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMMfest) announces its Jazz and Blues movie and music lineup for the eighth edition, running April 13-17 across 20 different venues in many of Chicago’s culturally-diverse neighborhoods, including Logan Square, Wicker Park, Hyde Park, Lakeview and Pilsen. Individual event tickets start at $8 for concerts and $12 for films; passes start at $79 with VIP passes at $149. Festival passes and a la carte tickets are available at

One film that is part of the slate that I was able to screen is called “We Are Kings,” which is a heart-warming, hard-to-resist, down-home indie blues odyssey about a group of disparate–and broke–souls who come together to save a Mississippi blues club and themselves. Winningly off-kilter and chock-full of non-actor faces, this refreshing film about one couple’s struggle against financial distress reminds me of the 1993 film “Heart and Souls” with Alfre Woodard and Robert Downey, Jr.

I B KING AND the folks he picked up along his route back to Mississippi play in front of his Winnebago.
I B KING AND the folks he picked up along his route back to Mississippi play in front of his Winnebago.

Lilly and I B King own the Blues Bucket, but after a few successful years, they are now trying to hold on to their livelihood and neighborhood bar in Mississippi. Lilly, played by blues singer Rita Graham, who was once a Raelette, is the wife who has a stroke, probably after learning that the club is going up for auction. The husband, played by Sammy Blue, sets out on a quest in their Winnebago called the Blues Bucket to Chicago to cinch a record deal and have enough money to get them out of the hole.

In Chicago, the executive who offered the deal decides instead to dismiss King, calling his music “not commercial enough.” King gives up, gets drunk, passes out in a parking lot and nearly freezes to death. Two homeless musicians, Layla and Dustin, are guided by an angel to save King and, after taking on Sam, a runaway rapper, they begin traveling around the Chicago area, playing impromptu gigs in an effort to raise the money needed to help King get back to Mississippi and make everything right.

The group runs into many obstacles, but in the end with the help of crowd sourcing, King raises enough money to save the bar, gaining national attention in the process. “We are Kings” was given its start through an online funding campaign, and the film will screen Friday, April 15, at 7:00 p.m. at the Logan Theater, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.

During a live performance, the Taj Mahal Trio performs at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 14, as the Grammy winner and Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient brings his eclectic mix of blues, roots, and international sounds to the Old Town School of Folk Music. One of the most celebrated American musicians of the 20th Century, Taj Mahal plays more than 20 instruments and has made a lifelong habit of exploring and incorporating musical traditions from around the world into his uplifting, danceable brand of blues. Joining him in the Taj Mahal Trio are Kester Smith on drums and Bill Rich on bass. The Old Town School of Folk Music is located at 4544 N. Lincoln Ave.

SAMMY BLUE AS I B King goes at his guitar. (Photos courtesy CIMMfest.)
SAMMY BLUE AS I B King goes at his guitar. (Photos courtesy CIMMfest.)

On Friday, April 15, at 9:00 p.m. at Burlington, 3425 W. Fullerton Ave., Made To Break (featuring Ken Vandermark), Brian Case and Kurzmann Daisy Duo will perform.

Chicago reedman Ken Vandermark is one of the world’s most prolific purveyors of improvised music. One of his many ongoing projects Made To Break combines saxes/drums/bass trio with the warped electronic genius of Austria’s Christof Kurzmann, whose loops and keyboard flavors keep things bubbling and unpredictable. Pausing from ripping on the guitar, Brian Case will bring his synth-pop experimental sound to the festival. Playing solo, Case will use guitar loops and sequencing to craft minimal soundscapes that are, as he calls “imperfect” and aren’t driven by the momentum generated from the sound tools. One half of Vandermark’s quartet Made To Break, Kurzmann (drums/percussion) will “take you on an uncharted voyage to who knows where…”

For information about other films and performances on the schedule, including Avery R. Young and Chicago Loud 9, who perform on Saturday, April 16, at 9:30 p.m. at Emporium Arcade Bar, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave., visit the website.

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