By Bassey Arikpo
Photo by Stephanie Paul
Nov. 6, 2017
Continuing their Midwestern tour, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials graced the modest stage of the Zoo Bar on Friday and Saturday night.
Hailing from the great city of Chicago, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials have been a modern staple of the blues scene for over 30 years. Lil’ Ed Williams got his start as he grew up on Chicago’s tough west side when he joined with half-brother James “Pookie” Young to play music together as teens, forming the first incarnation of the Blues Imperials. As the years rolled on, the group grew two more members, adding guitarist Mike Garrett and drummer Kelly Littleton before going on to become the band as it is currently known today.
On Friday, the Zoo Bar was dimly lit with decorative lights, packed to the brim with an audience, young and old, all excited to hear a band that has graced their stage multiple times over the last 20 years. The band began with their first song and the atmosphere was set. Their infectious rhythm brought patrons up front to move and groove. Everyone was there to have a good time. By the second song, the crowd of dancers had grown, with one patron beckoning more to join in on the fun. If someone was lucky, Lil’ Ed himself would brighten your night up with a smile and wink, something he did multiple times throughout a song. He and his group were there for the same reason the patrons were. To have a good time.
As the night wore on, the dancing grew stronger as the band played material off his new album, “The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials” and some of his classics. Eventually, the dancing crowd has completely been replaced by new people looking to move their bodies like all that existed were themselves and the soulful music Lil” Ed has performing. The walls were lined with patrons that moved their heads with giant smiles of contentment on their faces. One patron described the show as “the highlight of my month, every time Lil’ Ed comes to town, I make it a priority to come.”
At one point, Lil’ Ed himself decided to engage the crowd to play along with him, by having them clap along the beat of one of his songs. And of course, the crowd happily obliged. Lil’ Ed’s performance ranged between fast-paced rhythmic beats, and slower paced tunes that allowed patrons to intimately dance with one another.
Lil’ Ed himself considers the Zoo Bar to be one of his favorites.
“I keep coming back, because I appreciate this place’s longtime love of blues. The crowd is always a treat to see, and I’ll keep coming back.,” he said. “We’ve been coming back here since 1988-1989, and we love it”.
Their last Lincoln performance was at The Zoo Bar in early September for the KZUM’s Blues Blowout Concert where they put on an equally entertaining performance.
Between sets Lil’ Ed and the band were more than happy to take photos, or have a conversation with, all adorned with happy smiles. The night waned on a couple more hours, as Lil’s Ed kept feeding the crowd what they were hungry for, Blues.
The next night felt no different, as the bar was again packed with eager patrons, some from the night before, and some new ones. And that Saturday night performance was needed as plenty of patrons seemed agitated that the Nebraska football team had lost a game, but all frustrations were lost when Lil’ Ed and this group donned the stage again, playing many more intense and fun songs off their many catalogs of tunes. The crowd once again washed away into different styles of dancing, looking to get lost in the sea of Blues that Lil’ Ed loved to supply. The atmosphere was that of one where you forget anything negative in your life, and instead get into the mood of the blues.
It’s always a treat to watch Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials in concert, and lucky for Lincoln, they keep coming back to spoil us. The band has won the Living Blues award for Best Live Performer in 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as winning the Blues Music Award for Band of the Year in 2007 and 2009, clearly making them a strong staple of the Blues community.
Bassey Arikpo and Stephanie Paul are interns with KZUM.